Well-being – what it is and why it matters
So what is well-being, because it seems to be a phrase on the tip of many people’s tongues these days? Well it depends who you ask but well-being is pretty well-defined by the New Economic Foundation: “…how people feel and how they function, both on a personal and a social level, and how they evaluate their lives as a whole.” A number of people have tried to define well-being in terms of the domains of life that we’re talking about here. CIPD – the body that represents HR professionals in the UK, for example, includes in its model of well-being at work domains of: health, good work, principles and ethics, social aspects, personal growth, lifestyle and financial (https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/culture/well-being/factsheet#gref).
Psychologist and modern father of positive psychology Martin Seligman in his research on flourishing has found that well-being is affected by five separate areas, which are similar to, but different from, the CIPD’s domains:
- P – Positive emotions
- E – Engagement
- R – Relationships
- M – Meaning
- A – Achievement
And I cover his model in more detail at Season 11, episode 9: ‘What is the PERMA model of positive psychology?’ – it’s one of the most downloaded episodes ever so go and have a listen if that piques your interest.
So why does all this well-being business matter? There’s a growing body of research showing a clear, positive link between employee well-being and organisational performance. For example, the London School of Economics in their 2019 collaboration with Gallup found strong links between reported employee well-being and customer loyalty, employee productivity, profitability and retaining people (https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/businessreview/2019/07/15/happy-employees-and-their-impact-on-firm-performance/). These findings are consistent with other studies but what was notable about this one was its size: a meta-analysis of 339 independent studies that included observations on the well-being of over 1.8 million employees and performance of over 82,000 business units.
What is team well-being and how can we define that?
So if individual well-being at work makes a business difference, what is team well-being when it’s at home? Well as of right now, there is no definition of team well-being. This seems to be typical in workplace research – most often, well-being is seen as being an individual thing rather than something that a group or team can report apart from aggregated individual data. But teams can be psychologically healthy or unhealthy right? They can develop cultures and values that are well-agreed upon and lead to a feeling of inclusion and belonging, or that are flimsy or even non-existent. So if we riff on the New Economics Foundation definition for individual well-being, maybe team well-being can be defined as:
“…how people in teams feel and how they function at team level, and how they evaluate their experience of being part of the team overall.”
I’m flying blind here, there’s literally nothing out there that defines team well-being that I’ve found anyway. But building on the definition I’ve just suggested, I’d like to spend some time on the practical aspects of how to develop well-being in a team, whether it’s your team, or a team you’re working with. I’m going to cover: purpose and achievement, psychological safety, fun and play and self and team care.
Team well-being focus area 1: Purpose and achievement
Purpose and achievement are two interlinked topics that I’d like to touch on first. First of all is our fundamental human need for meaning, to be connected with something more important than just us, to reach beyond. We’re told that while this was important for Gen Y (millennial) employees, it’s even more important for Gen Zs to have meaning in their work, their teams and their organisations. So make sure that your team has a purpose, a reason to be. This creates a sense of well-being because team members will feel proud and hopeful about being part of the team’s mission and objectives.
By getting clear on the team’s purpose and objectives, you can also help people link their day-to-day activities with achievement of the team’s goals. Another important aspect of well-being is to feel that you are achieving something meaningful, ideally something challenging, but not out of reach. So if your team’s purpose is compelling, and you have stretching team objectives which each team member is clear on their role in delivering, you have created a solid foundation for strong team well-being.
Another vital aspect of well-being here is to celebrate successes for individuals within the team and for the team as a whole as those successes come along. Acknowledging success and spending time building a sense of pride in, and connection with, the team’s journey reinforces those positive emotions that help keep the team connected.
Team well-being focus area 2: The crucial role of psychological safety in teams and how to develop it
Psychological safety = “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking”,Amy Edmondson, Harvard Business School.
Psychological safety is about feeling you can speak your mind openly, share your thoughts, brainstorm out loud, describe your experiences and challenge others’ thinking without feeling anxious that you will be judged, humiliated or that anything you say might backfire on you later. And it’s a vital element of team well-being as it relates to a sense of inclusion, belonging and connection. And those are the feelings that stimulate the neurotransmitter oxytocin, which can bring you to that sense of deep well-being.
So how can you create psychological safety in your team? Well for the all-in version, check out my podcast at Season 12, episode 6: What is psychological safety and how can you get it? For now though, my tips for psychological safety in teams are: 1. for the team leader to acknowledge that they’re not perfect; 2. to discuss problems or issues as ‘learning challenges’ so there’s no sense of fail or pass, right or wrong; 3. to encourage the team to ask questions, stay curious and to listen well, so that everyone’s views are heard and 4. encourage debate and constructive conflict as a way of getting to good decisions and solutions.
Team well-being focus area 3: Fun and play in teams – why it’s needed and how to do it
I’ve just talked about the importance of the connection hormone, oxytocin. Another surefire way of helping a team to feel more connected is for them to spend quality, non-work time together…getting to know each other on a personal level, laughing and enjoying shared experiences, just hanging out as humans.
It really is as simple as that. As an example, I worked with a globally dispersed team for around 5 years and we would meet annually in Switzerland before making our way to the retreat venue where we’d spend 3 days in business planning and team development activity. One of the most valuable elements of this annual event for the team was the time spent travelling together as a team across Switzerland on several train journeys, where they would re-connect on a personal level, update each other on work but also on life. And also all of the evening meals, which became events in their own right. The final day would see the team spending time engaging in a fun activity together – walking in the local area, crafting activities, creating a film together, competitive cooking, sushi-making, we did plenty of fun, connecting stuff that created share memories and shared connections for the team which they could refer back to when they were back in their far-flung global work locations. And in today’s hybrid working world, this has never been more relevant or more important.
Team well-being focus area 4: Prioritising self-care and team-care within teams
A central aspect of well-being is to make sure that you are looking after yourself, spending downtime in a way that you’ll find relaxing and which will bring you joy and making sure that you keep your energy levels topped up by organising your work so that you can play to you strength areas and have enough work to do that you love…Marcus Buckingham’s latest research on this with Harvard Business School suggests that 20% of your time spent on the things that you love to do is the minimum to aim for in a working week in order to feel engaged and positive about your work.
The team aspect of this is to do something that most teams don’t do enough of, even in today’s more enlightened times…to spend time developing the team in its own right. Checking in on how the team is doing, how are relationships, how is communication, what stage is the team at in terms of its development? Does the team have a ‘charter’ of expectations for behaviour and are people sticking to it.
Taking care of the team as a team…beyond the individuals in it…is essential for team well-being and organising team-development activities really help with this.
Strength sharing and strength borrowing can tick a number of team well-being boxes as this connects team members in a way that helps the team overall achieve its objectives and purpose, as well as promoting understanding and complementary working between colleagues, building psychological safety because to ask for help or to offer a strength requires you to be vulnerable and that builds trust and a sense of safety over time.
My final point here relates again to good strengths practice, this time when dealing well with pressure and stress. As we know, strengths in overdrive can show up when a team is under pressure and individuals’ strengths can get inadvertently dialled up to 11 when they’re in the grip of stress. Encouraging colleagues to share their overdrive risks and asking others to call them out when it’s happening and help them find coping strategies is another great way of developing the team’s overall sense of connection, psychological safety, trust and well-being.
In conclusion: Team well-being is alive, kicking and needs attention
So I hope I’ve made the case that team well-being is real and that organisations and team leaders need to take it seriously and plan around it. By following the simple focus areas I’ve covered today: purpose and achievement, psychological safety, fun and play and self and team care, you can go a long way to developing well-being in your team and with it, a positive, productive team climate. If you’ve enjoyed today’s content, please whizz over to the resources page on the Strengthscope website: https://www.strengthscope.com/resources where you’ll find much more to get stuck into. Till next time, stay strong.
New Economics Foundation (2012) Measuring Wellbeing: A guide for practitioners, London: New Economics Foundation.