To go even further on the topic of team introspection, I thought I’d share some guidelines or tips to help you and your team. The challenges we want to overcome are: to create trust and dispel fears of negative consequences in order to allow an open and truthful sharing, encourage deeper explorations, and find sustainable and meaningful solutions to any team issue (not a small feat).
1) Create your team framework of ethics together
It is quite simple to do and often overlooked because we think it is already there. I recommend asking the team to define the rules of engagement that will make them more comfortable to share within the team. I usually see included things like: confidentiality (it stays within the team), listening and no judgment, benevolence, being constructive, and support. The important part is that the team is involved in building this framework. I have a little trick where I make everyone sign the paperboard on which these rules are written; it is symbolic only but helps show we commit to each other.
2) Do not stay stuck in debating right/wrong, opinions, and perspectives
When starting to share about a team issue, people tend to stay on the surface level and debate about their perspectives and try to convince others of their point of view. Even though we are more used to these mind-games because they can solve many technical, strategic, or operational issues, they might not be useful for solving team dynamics. And can also continue to antagonise and divide team members. This first step of exchange can serve as a basis for identifying topics to address and deepen (see step 3).
3) Share feelings and emotions
Ok, so that’s usually the hard part in teams if you haven’t set up step 1). I keep it simple and ask how you feel about one of the issues that emerged at step 2). To make it easier, I facilitate that step with either emotions cards or post-its or scales so people are guided in how they can position themselves and know it is acceptable to use this "emotional vocabulary." This step is key to acknowledging people and the nature of being human (even at work ;o). This step is critical to get to the next step.
4) Identify the needs behind the emotions
Indeed, the emotions are the observable faces of the hidden needs that are not fulfilled. And these needs are the key to finding the sustainable and meaningful solutions. When you ask teams what do you need, they tend to ask for things at surface level as maybe discussed in step 2) of the opinions and perspectives sharing. So to guide them in really talking about needs (and not requests) I usually give them the list of universal human needs put together by Marshall Rosenberg for use in non-violent communication.
5) Co-create solutions together
Once the needs have been identified, we can start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I usually help the team address and respond to those needs on a voluntary basis as it allows for a truer commitment. Each team member writes offers for each need of others: "what can I do (that is realistic and within my zone of influence) to contribute to fulfil that need?". It can be big or small gestures, what is important is that it is offered. Participants then discuss the offers and wishes and start making action plans.
6) Last piece of advice: Invest your time
Do not try to get a quick fix to make you and the team feel better, it is important to acknowledge the potential discomfort and the need to explore deeper and longer to find long-lasting sustainable solutions. Maybe one session will not be enough, but at least you are stimulating good practices and supportive mindsets, so your team can engage in a healthy direction and solve complex human dynamics issues.
* Full disclosure: this approach is inspired by the mediation U-process developed by Ballreich.
** For remote teams, I wrote this article at the beginning of covid to ensure subjects such as emotions and connection didn't disappear behind our screen.)