Thirty per cent of teams are unhealthy, according to a new report from Atlassian. It’s time organisations stopped trying to tackle wellbeing from an organisational perspective alone. We need to think on a team level.
The state of teams across the globe is quite shocking, according to a new report from Atlassian. Thirty per cent of respondents indicated that their teams were unhealthy – meaning they felt they didn’t connect with each other and that they couldn’t express themselves, among other things – and 54 per cent said they were only ‘partially healthy’. Only 17 per cent reported having mentally healthy teams.
These less-than-ideal climates that teams are operating in also impact performance, with 57 per cent reporting that their teams weren’t working efficiently and 12 per cent indicating they’d let stakeholders down as a result.
In-person teams reported the worst conditions, with only 15 per cent of office-based teams identifying as healthy. Hybrid teams were the healthiest (20 per cent), followed by remote teams (18 per cent). (See graph below).
It’s interesting that in-person teams were the unhealthiest considering that Atlasssian found that poor connection and alignment was the biggest indicator of an unhealthy team. This suggests that where people work isn’t as important as how they’re working, says Dominic Price, a futurist at Atlassian.
Source: Atlassian, The State of Teams.
The benefits of focussing on teams
Most organisations overlook the importance of teams, says Price. Instead, they’ll try and tackle issues from an organisational level – which can often be an overwhelming, mammoth task – or they’ll stop at offering individual support.
“I’ve seen some organisations go down the ‘let’s build a personalised approach for every employee’ path,” says Price. “I think that’s dangerous. I don’t think it’s sustainable or scalable.”
“It’s a lot easier to ask an individual, ‘How are you?’ and with organisations we just do [the same thing] on aggregate,” says Price. “We tend to miss the level in between.”
Employers are too caught up on issues such as The Great Resignation and mapping out future flexible work policies, says Price. They should be zeroing in on the needs and friction points of the teams that make up their organisations.
Leaders (both management and HR) also need to move beyond the narrative that it’s on them to fix everything.
“Stop trying to do it all yourself. This isn’t you, as a leader, putting on some weird superhero cape and saving the world,” he says.
Instead, you should be empowering middle management and providing them with the tools, knowledge and language to address poor wellbeing in their own teams. We also need to acknowledge that employees need to be an active part of this discussion; they are responsible for their wellbeing, too.
“One of the stats you’ll see in the report was that teams that were [included] in open decision-making were significantly more engaged,” he says.
“Most businesses I’ve spoken to were like, ‘We’re pleasantly surprised at how our workers adapted’. And I’m like, ‘Yeah, because you hired fully formed adults!’” – Dominic Price, Workplace Futurist, Atlassian
Taking a teams focus also allows you to test new initiatives on a small group, such as a new productivity tool or asynchronous work days, and opens the doors for more experimentation, which we know does wonders for employees’ motivation levels.
Atlassian found that 97 per cent of respondents who said their culture supported innovation made time to reflect and incorporate learnings from previous projects.
A teams approach also reduces the paralysis that can manifest when organisations try to radically transform themselves overnight, says Price.
“The old school HR way is ‘How am I going to roll this out across the whole organisation’, therefore it never gets done [because it’s too big of a commitment].
“Just start with one team. If the change works, do more of it. It if doesn’t then ask, ‘What did we learn?’” says Price. “Then try again and keep going, one team at a time. Suddenly, the momentum you build is crazy.”
For a teams-based approach to be successful, leaders need to be prepared to openly discuss when initiatives fail.
“Find one thing to do in one team. And if it works, tell everyone about it. And if it doesn’t work, tell even more people,” says Price.
“That gives the organisation permission to experiment. Once we experiment and explore, I think the world is our oyster.”
(Read HRM’s article on conducting retrospective reviews here).
Building healthy teams
Atlassian found eight different factors that can make up a high-performing, healthy team. They are:
- Trust in leadership
- Respect for diverse viewpoints
- Transparent decision-making
- Skill and personality fit
- Well-defined roles
- Clear goals and strategies
- Coordination in and outside of the team
- Psychological safety
So how can you get your teams to this point? Price has some suggestions:
1. Conduct a health check up
Before you go about making changes, it’s worth getting an understanding of your team’s baseline health.
To do this, Price says you can use the Atlassian team health monitor, a free tool designed to determine how healthy your team is.
He doesn’t want to add anything else to HR or managers’ already-full plates. The culture check up tool is designed to slot into your existing team meetings, he says. It’s set up to give you a quick view of where you’re at, while also removing the chance of groupthink skewing your data.
2. Consider a ritual reset
This is a spring clean of your team’s existing meetings and processes. You want to determine what’s working for you and what’s holding you all back.
For example, Price worked with an organisation that decided to give employees every third Friday off to combat burnout. However, this didn’t address the problem.
“The problem was that people had too much on their plates. If you give someone a day off, you’ve taken nothing off their plate,” he says.
That’s why it’s important to do a sweep through of all the potential roadblocks that are preventing teams from doing high-value work. Ask yourself, what processes could be streamlined? What meetings could be canned? Does the way we’ve always done this still make sense?
Giving your team the opportunity to set new rituals that make sense to them is a great way to improve planning and collaboration abilities, Atlassian found. A new ritual could be the introduction of a mandatory period of deep work for a team, the introduction of skip level meetings or consolidating your meetings, for example.
When the teams within the organisation Price mentioned above conducted a ritual reset, they found many employees weren’t needed in all the meetings they were being asked to attend, and so removed about 10 hours of meetings each week, freeing people up to get stuck into high-value work.
3. Don’t be afraid to operate without a road map
Every organisation is unique, as is every team within it. This means that sometimes you need to design your plan as you go, says Price.
“[Atlassian is] trying to build a hybrid model for a large scale company at the moment, but we can’t find any precedent of anyone having done that successfully,” he says.
“We’re still going to do it though. Just because no one else has done it yet, that doesn’t mean it’s not [possible].”
If you’re ever worried about how your team might operate without a road map, keep in mind how well they performed during the previous 18 months.
“Most businesses I’ve spoken to were like, ‘We’re pleasantly surprised at how our workers adapted’. And I’m like, ‘Yeah, because you hired fully formed adults.’” says Price.
4. Other quick wins
Atlassian’s report also includes great advice for leaders on areas to focus on, including:
- Make sure teams know that diverse perspectives are valued. You need to “make space for respectful dissent”.
- Before implementing any changes to processes, or ritual rests, assess for burnout or change fatigue, the report says. For example, the end of year might not be the best time for a team to introduce new processes, but it might be appropriate when they’re back and refreshed in early 2022.
- Allocate time to try new ideas, individually and as a team, and then discuss what you learned as a team.
Be an enabler, not a doer
In 2019, Price spoke at AHRI’s national convention and presented Atlassian’s team health monitor as a tool for HR.
After the event, an attendee reached out to Price to tell him how she planned to implement the tool with a number of teams at once but changed her mind.
“She said, ‘I don’t have to be the doer of everything. I can be the enabler of everything,’” Price says.
Instead, the attendee only implemented the tool with her own team and wrote an internal blog post explaining what she did and how.
“Fear of missing out kicked in and everyone else said, ‘I want to do that’. All she did was train the leaders and then gave them the tools to implement it themselves.”
This is the mindset Price would like to see all HR professionals and leaders take.
“We don’t need to build these 18-month plans about how we’ll change organisations – just start with one team.”
HR doesn’t need to “put their arms around the whole organisation,” says Price. They’ll have much more success acting as the enablers.
Does your HR team need to brush up on some of their skills? Check out AHRI’s selection of short courses.