The Behavioural Design of a Great Team

The team is more important than the individual

I wrote this blog on why personal coaching is rather pointless, a liitle while ago. I tried to argue that it’s much more important to put the effort in the coaching of a team, than to coach individuals. Great teams have figured out ways to harness the collective creativity and intelligence of a group. But a team can only transform into a great team if the individuals in the group have sufficiently overcome their need for security, recognition and belonging.

In the fascinating Project Aristotle, Google discovered that two behaviours that separate great teams from mediocre teams were psychological safety (the ability to take risk and feel safe with eachother) and dependability (the shared feeling that the team depends on each other to meet the high standards of the company).

The role of the leader is to coach the team. I had the privilege to work for such a leader in the last three days. She defines her role as a leader as serving her team.  She does mentor the individual members of the group but only to the extent that they can become better team players. It’s so fascinating to see this at work.

More on the Behavioural Design Blog:
How Jeff Bezos designs team behaviour
How to design an innovation habit?

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Speaking of which, I usually wouldn’t waste an evening watching football on the TV, but I’m always happy to make an exception when Liverpool FC is playing. Watching the Liverpool team play is the closest football can get to art. The way this team transcends the individual qualities of its players is beyond anything I’ve ever seen in the game. The secret behind their success is the German coach Jurgen Klopp and his Dutch assistant Pepijn Lijnders. They have injected a shared passion for outperformance into this group. They managed to get even the biggest ego’s in the team to subject themselves to the importance of the team. This group has become so incredibly good that even their B-team can compete with the best teams in the Premier League. Fascinating stuff.

How to receive feedback like a boss?

Feedback can be hard and painful. But they are at the same time a precious gift. This is a list of behaviours on getting better at receiving feedback, we shared with our alumni:

  1. Prime yourself for positivity: Frame getting feedback as a gift, not as a criticism. How often do you have the opportunity that someone cares enough and is brave enough to teach you something about yourself?
  2. Block your first reaction: Never explain or defend. When you’re doing that, you’re not accepting the feedback. Digest it.
  3. Always thank the person for giving it. Every opportunity to learn and to improve is awesome.
  4. Ask questions to deconstruct or clarify their feedback. Don’t assume you understand too early.
  5. Always try to reverse engineer it to specific behaviours: “It was become you said x or did y, that it made me feel z”. Past behaviour never lies.

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Culture: you are what you repeatedly do

We think of Company Culture as a set of behaviours that shape the way that people think, feel and behave in the long run. If you can trigger feedback behaviour in a team and turn it into a habit, then you will eventually create a feedback culture. If you can find ways to trigger criticism in a team to force them to make better arguments, you will develop a culture of excellence. A great example is a re-team blue team set-up. The red team is instructed to come up with the arguments against going on with the project. This set-up – or behavioural design intervention, if you will –  triggers the proponents to come up with better arguments.

The point I’m trying to make: Transforming a company culture is very abstract. But if you can succeed in triggering specific behaviours, and if you can build simple habits, a cultural transformation will follow. You are what you repeatedly do.