Team health remains a top priority
Team health is at a premium these days. When I say health, I mean as in well-being as well as performance for individuals in a team and for the team overall. This year has been unprecedented in its demands on teams to flex and bend into all sorts of shapes they’re not used to. People leaving, joining, objectives changing, changing again, and for many teams, all in the context of zero physical in-person contact.
Checking-in on team health virtually is definitely trickier than in person but it remains more important than ever, given today’s uncertain climate, so that everyone in the team can really truly see each other and listen to and hear each other. So, if you’re in a team, if you’re a team leader or if you’re working with a team, then this blog is for you. The topic is disarmingly simple – how to do team check-ins well.
Humans needs social connection
Humans need social connection, we crave it – we need and want to be a part of a group that means something to us. It’s partly how we define our identities. For many people, seeing ourselves as part of a meaningful group is how we feel well and stay well. We even have feelgood hormones that are invoked by social connection. Oxytocin, brought about by social connection, sometimes called the love hormone, reduces cortisol levels and other stress responses in our bodies, also reducing feelings of anxiety and psychological discomfort.
When we’re separated from our team or we feel reduced belonging because we are physically distant, even isolated, the effects on our health and on our colleagues’ health can be significant and for some, severe. So checking in on the team is really important to keep everyone in good mental health and to ensure the team continues to perform at its best.
Three sets of tips for team check-ins
I want to divide today’s tips-laden podcast into three sections: 1. checking in on team members in each and every meeting; and then 2. individual check-ins in monthly meetings; and finally 3. collective team check-ins in monthly or quarterly meetings.
Tip set 1: Day to day meeting check-ins
My first set of tips relates to every meeting, or as many as possible. There are 4:
1. At Strengthscope, we have a simple way of connecting at the start of meetings. Firstly, we ask people at the meeting to ‘check in’. What I mean by that is to ask how are you right now, how are you feeling, what’s going on for you? Being heard in this way, having your emotions validated and feeling that other people are paying attention to you all serve to build a sense of connection and well-being. Nancy Kline’s book ‘Time to Think’ is a great source of inspiration for positive behaviours when people need to be heard. In groups, Nancy talks about suspending judgement, listening without talking and allowing the person to finish completely what they are saying before speaking. In fact, she’s developed a whole methodology around better team behaviour which is well worth checking out.
2. During as many meetings as possible, we also ask ‘What strength will you bring to this meeting?’. This gives everyone a focus and allows them to contribute more than just their job role or technical knowledge. It can help create an additional sense of purpose for people in the meeting.
3. We repeat this process this by asking how well using their strength worked at the end of the meeting and just listening to people’s reflections. Sometimes we give feedback to each other too, on the strengths that we saw or those that we found particularly valuable during the meeting.
4. My final general meetings tip is to finish off by asking people to give a one word checkout on how they are leaving the meeting, like ‘energised’ or ‘focused’ or ‘aligned’ or ‘confused’, ‘low’ or ‘hyper’. Whatever people say, it’s a good way of letting their emotion be heard before they move on to the next task.
I can’t tell you how helpful these simple tips can be in identifying where people are struggling or where they’re really energised and other team members responding accordingly. It’s often possible to spot people who are having difficulty from a well-being POV long before it’s starting to manifest in their work or relationships by just allowing them to talk about their feelings.
Tip-set 2: Monthly meeting check-ins
My second set of tips relates to monthly meetings, or at whatever frequency your team meets all together. In forums like these, there are some great team check-in questions to be had, like:
1. What are you most proud of in the last month? Normalising people feeling proud of their achievements and contribution is a powerful way of building a sense of purpose and connection in the team and has a very positive effect on self-esteem. People love appreciating people, so the consequence of sharing stories of achievement is a great big dose of oxytocin and a feeling of calm for everyone at the meeting.
2. What has been your biggest challenge? Who has helped? Asking about team members’ challenges is important because it gives an insight into where they may need help. It also normalises vulnerability, rather than people feeling that they need to take responsibility for everything personally and not let others share the burden. Particularly at a time when many teams are physically distant, it’s super important that the team is encouraged to openly share any concerns about workload being too much or tasks being too challenging, so that they can access the support they need.
3. What’s your biggest challenge that’s coming up? What help will you need? This is the future flip of question 2, except that this time, you’re getting team members to actually ask for help and encouraging the rest of the team to volunteer specific support for challenges ahead. By vocalising challenges and by getting the whole team to hear what those challenges are, support and insights can come from all sorts of places and what might have felt like an insurmountable challenge can quickly become reframed as something more doable.
Tip-set 3: Team offsite/team development check-ins
My final set of tips relates to less frequent team meetings, but meetings that should still be happening, probably more regularly than they were last year to ensure that that sense of team belonging and inclusion remains high. So team away-days or events where everyone gets together to not just talk work. In this context, my check-in suggestions relate to three areas of team health: emotions, objectives and behaviours.
1. For an emotional read on the team, why not try Marc Brackett’s mood meter (below). This is basically a matrix with pleasantness along one axis (high or low) and energy along the (high or low).
- The first quadrant is for unpleasant, high energy emotions, feelings like anxiety, rage, frustration, anger, and fear.
- The blue quadrant is for unpleasant, low energy feelings like disappointment, sadness, discouragement, hopelessness, and loneliness.
- The green quadrant is for pleasant, low energy feelings like calm, relaxation, serenity, contentment, and balance.
- The yellow quadrant is for pleasant, high energy feelings like joy, excitement, enthusiasm, elation, and empowerment.
Get the team to mark where they are at right now to get a read on the team’s current state of happiness and energy. Whatever they say, make it ok, all feelings are valid right? This activity also gives you a sense of what might be needed to support the team emotionally, if there are groups or a majority in a particular emotional space.
2. As regards the team’s delivery of objectives, have a conversation about ‘What’s gone well?’ and ‘What hasn’t gone so well?’ recently. And ask the team what can we do with both? How can we build on the positives that have gone well and how can we address the negatives? This way, team successes can be celebrated and challenging areas can be faced into. And in both cases, the team feel enabled to work together to learn from and build on what is working well, as well as finding solutions for any challenges that have come up.
3. Finally, when checking in on team behaviours. If your team has a behavioural charter or set of values that it lives by, check in with the team against those behaviours or values – ask their views on what are we doing well and not so well and what one thing should we do before we next meet that will make the biggest difference? This holds the team to account for their ‘how’ as well as their ‘what’ of team performance, making sure that everyone gives similar weighting to both. If your team doesn’t have a team charter or team values yet, then that’s an activity for another day – both have great value in helping a team to gel around shared ways of working.
So there are my team check-in tips – for everyday meetings, for monthly meetings and for team development sessions. If you just take one or two of these tips forward, it will make a big difference to team morale. Any more and you’ll really start to see a cultural shift happening within the team.
Better to go for fewer actions and do them well so that they become part of everyday team life. I hope you’ve found today’s podcast useful. Look out for next week’s podcast on how to build trust in virtual teams. Till next time, stay strong!
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