In order to create true organisational cohesion, you need your teams to practice co-elevation and embrace ‘teamship’, says upcoming AHRI National Convention and Exhibition speaker Keith Ferrazzi.
One of the most impactful ways HR can make a difference in an organisation is to transform people’s thinking about teams, says Keith Ferrazzi, author, entrepreneur and Chair of US-based consulting and coaching firm Ferrazzi Greenlight.
“Most HR leaders are working on increasing individual or role-based competencies, but we have squeezed a lot out of that. We need to start working on making teams the format for the transformation of a business,” he says.
That means shifting focus away from individual performance metrics and capabilities, and moving to a team-based view.
Think of it like a sports team, says Ferrazzi.
“The power of a sports team is that the most important coaching goes on in the locker room among peers. They’re not talking behind each other’s backs. They’re talking in the open, they’re replaying the plays, they’re wrestling over ideas, and they’re pivoting.”
We can’t have a team full of superstar Michael Jordan-types who are hogging the ball to prove how talented they are, he says.
“[The Chicago Bulls] didn’t start winning until Michael Jordan learned to pass the ball. When he was just keeping his own score, he was winning, but his team wasn’t. That’s where we need to shift our attention.”
Ferrazzi gave attendees of AHRI’s National Convention and Exhibition in August the tools to make the most of ‘teamship’ as part of his keynote address and hands-on masterclass.
Co-elevation and teamship
When redesigning ways of working to centre around teamwork and team-based goals, it’s important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Leadership is still critical, he says.
“I think we’ve radically under-curated our focus on teamship. I believe you can get a team to go a long way just by awakening them to this new way of working together and winning together.”
Ferrazzi rejects what he describes as “old-school Jack Welch thinking” of leadership – putting the individual on a pedestal, or playing one individual against another to maximise performance.
“Upgrading teams is one of the most under-leveraged opportunities for accelerating business outcomes today. We’ve over-indexed on leadership and all but ignored how to extract billions of dollars of shareholder value from the interdependency of talent in teams.”
Research backs up the power of teamship. A 2006 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association, found that groups of three, four or five people outperform an individual on a complex problem-solving task.
A separate study from Stanford University found that working in teams increases energy, engagement and persistence levels. The participants who worked collaboratively were 64 per cent more likely to stick with a task than those who worked alone.
“I think we’ve radically under-curated our focus on teamship.” – Keith Ferrazzi, Chair, Ferrazzi Greenlight
However, Ferrazzi’s own research shows that most organisations aren’t set up to capitalise on these benefits. Over the past two decades, his consultancy has analysed the behaviour of thousands of teams, and found that 71 per cent of team members weren’t committed to elevating their co-workers by offering feedback on their work, and 74 per cent said their teams didn’t have shared goals. An overwhelming majority (81 per cent) felt their teams “weren’t using anywhere near their full potential” operationally.
Enter HR. By coaching managers and employees to adopt a mindset shift, such as redefining what winning looks like, HR leaders can help teams direct their focus to “winning for the enterprise” rather than working with their head down, gunning for their next pay rise or promotion.
“I always say at least 20 per cent of your head has to be on each other’s success.”
This is what he calls co-elevation – the philosophy that teams should be clearly aligned around the commitments and outcomes they need to work towards, and understand the trade-offs that need to happen to help them get there.
That could mean putting a personal priority on the backburner, shining the spotlight on someone else or agreeing, as a team, on the rules you’ll hold each other to in order to complete a project effectively and with psychological safety at the core.
A new social contract
In order to agree on the ways a team should hold each other accountable, and the unhelpful norms you want to move away from – such as conflict avoidance, information hoarding or siloed ways of working – Ferrazzi suggests a process known as ‘recontracting’.
Employees always have a social contract with their teams, he says. For example, say two people report to the same manager and one team member critiques their colleague in front of their mutual boss.
“Under our old social contract, that might mean that [they were] throwing their colleague under the bus – it would be seen as rude and inappropriate. But under your new contact, [which you’ve created and agreed on together], the colleague might say to their peer, ‘I respect you and care about your career. Your outcomes are my outcomes. We’re all trying to get better. If I challenge you, it’s because I care about your outcomes.’”
Each recontracting process will look different, but some things you might consider getting consensus on include how and when you will communicate with each other, how you will invite candour into your conversations, expectations around calling out potential risks/things that could derail your project, how you will help co-workers get back on track if they’re not pulling their weight and expectations about how much time each person will dedicate to the work.
“You become dedicated to holding each other accountable.”
Driving outcomes with high-return practices
Once you’ve agreed on how you’ll work together, you need to implement high-return practices (HRPs) to meet the outcomes you’ve set out to achieve as a group, says Ferrazzi.
HRPs are simple, repeatable behaviours you can adopt as a team that help bring about a positive outcome.
In an article for Harvard Business Review, Ferrazzi shared some examples of HRPs, including:
- The power of three. If you have an important challenge to resolve as a team, break the meeting up into groups of three for half the session to problem-solve together. People become less inhibited when sharing ideas in smaller groups, he says. Come together for the second half to share ideas and offer each other immediate feedback. This is critical, he says, and leads to…
- Bulletproofing. This is the process of getting honest feedback on an idea from a group of people. You’re essentially bulletproofing an idea by having people point out potential risk areas, missed opportunities, barriers to success or alternative paths you might consider.
- Candour breaks. It’s incredibly important that all members of a team feel safe to speak up if they notice an issue or feel their co-worker is taking the wrong approach. These can be difficult conversations, but they can also save companies from losing money, suffering reputational damage or, in a worst-case scenario, jeopardising the safety of employees or customers.
Ferrazzi says by adding candour breaks into a meeting, you signal to your team that it’s safe to speak up – in fact, it’s expected. Ask, “What’s not being said here?” or “What might we have missed?” Then use the ‘power of three’ approach to give team members a safe environment to share their concerns.
How else can HR shift towards a culture of co-elevation?
“Ask questions like, ‘How would you lead a meeting if you were maximising the interdependencies of a team versus maximising individual performance?’ How you [the leader] show up for the team needs to change. That’s not something we teach people,” says Ferrazzi
“We need to realise that the org structure is not the way we work anymore. Now, we work in networks.”
This article was originally published in the June 2023 edition of HRM Magazine.