Traits of successful teams and a new daily standup

Charles Duhigg recently wrote for the New York Times about Google’s Project Aristotle which set out five years ago to define what makes a successful team.

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Is everyone in your team being heard?

In what would seem an easy task for a company that prides itself on using data to answer all the world’s questions, it struggled to define exactly what made some teams achieve their goals and others to fail spectacularly.

Duhigg reports in his article titled “What Google Learned from It’s Quest to build the Perfect Team”  that the research showed the traits that made two different teams successful could be at the same time in conflict with each other. A team of introverts could kick goals on one project, whilst the same group may not be cohesive and fail on another.

However, the researchers found there were two standouts that successful teams shared. Firstly, members spoke in meetings and tasks in roughly the same proportion, defined by the researchers as “equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking” 

Secondly, psychological safety, where members feel they can express feelings and ideas without feel of retribution, was a defining factor in all top teams.

The article prompted me to reflect on our team at the AIS European Training Centre. I was extremely proud to hear throughout 2015 from both current team members and visiting athletes and team staff, that the team was in the best shape it’s ever been. Duhigg’s piece got me thinking about why we have been successful. Looking closely at Google findings, I have to agree that these are the traits that contribute to the success of our team, based in Northern Italy in the small town of Gavirate.

We definitely have a culture of psychological safety where the entire team is empowered to challenge the status quo and proffer new ideas for how we do things, without fear of being judged. But what do we do to make a team member feel safe? The Australian Sports Commission’s values of Respect, Integrity, Teamwork, Excellence form the basis of a culture that promises safety to a team member speaking out or voicing their opinion, but over the coming season I want to look closely and gain some insight into what day to day behaviours contribute to this.

On a more practical note, I wanted to share one technique we use that gives everyone an equal chance to be heard, although it’s not so much in a conversational sense. That’s our daily stand-up meeting or dieci alle dieci (10 at 10) as we call it. At 10 am sharp every day, the entire team meets for 10 minutes to share their priorities for the day. It’s a technique I adapted from the Scrum software development methodology and the daily project meeting.

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Ten minutes is all you need

In our meeting, everyone has a maximum of up to three priorities to share but you only get one minute for your update. We’re all equal so whether you are responsible for Australia having a sports medicine network in Europe for our athletes, or you’re the receptionist preparing room keys for our guests, you get the same amount of time to talk. One thing we do as a group well is that everyone respects everyone’s contribution. 

For me, as the Centre Manager, it sets the scene for the day and from this one quick meeting, I get an instant picture of how the day could play out.

No-one is allowed to say “I’ve got a ton of things to do”. We all do. The point of the meeting is to share specific and clear priorities so that the entire team gets a sense of your workload and important activities. For instance, it maybe someone’s priority that they have to go to the Post Office to pay a bill for the centre. “Big deal” I hear you say, well then it’s clear you’ve never lived in Italy where sometimes the only way to pay a bill is at the local Poste Italiane. Without going into details, having this as a priority tells everyone else that you may not see them for 2 hours or more!

I tell the guys that for me no priority it too trivial but as long as it is their true priority. From time to time I may ask a team member to adjust their priorities to fit in something new that has come along in the past 24 hours.

Having a daily meeting can seem overwhelming to some managers but it’s so easy to implement it.

At last Monday’s standup we had two team members dialling in from Australia, one on FaceTime via, iPhone and the other on Skype for Business on a laptop. We did this all in Italian, and one of the team members translated for a new staff member whose is learning Italian. The meeting was attended by everyone in the team. If we can do that, you can find a way to make a daily standup work for your team.

Oh and you have to stand-up (unless you can’t or you have an injury/physical reason) which helps avoid becoming too relaxed and the meeting turning into a social gathering, although as Google found out, if that happens it’s not much as bad thing.

This technique can be introduced with minimal effort and I think it’s an essential activity for any successful team. 

A colleague at Service NSW once said that if you aren’t coming to work every day thinking about your priorities and how you can contribute to the success of the business then you are in the wrong place for both you and the business.

Author: patbirgan

Australian living in Italy and managing the AIS European Training Centre. In my spare time I like to watch, write, tweet, commentate, manage, immerse in all things athletics.

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