My new favorite show is “Ted Lasso” on Apple TV+ (the new season is coming out on Friday, July 23rd). If you need a pick-me-up and a true belly laugh, this is the show for you. One of my favorite Ted Lasso quotes is: “I think if you care about someone and you got a little love in your heart, there ain’t nothin’ you can’t get through together.” The show is even sparking conversation in the sports world about positive team dynamics, including bullying, managing failure and positive self-identity.
In the social sector, we often come together as individuals for important work, but are we really working together as one team? This is even more important right now. With COVID-19 and social justice issues, we are facing many unknowns and need to work together to build a productive culture for everyone. As Ted Lasso says, “There is something worse out there than being sad. And that is being alone and being sad. Ain’t no one in this room alone.” To really make a difference, we need to be intentional about maximizing our efforts in our department and executive team meetings as well as in our community collaborations to be “one team.” To that end, we wanted to share our tips and tricks for building (or rebuilding) your team this year.
One of the elements we often find missing in teams, especially those formed for collaboration, is shared culture. Individuals have conflicting visions, expectations and ideas about appropriate behavior. In his book, The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge called these notions “mental models.” We all have our own ideas about how to best work together as a team. At Social Impact Architects, we have found the most important first step for any team is to align expectations on key elements needed for teams to succeed. It takes some time upfront but saves time in the long run when team dynamics are aligned and expectations are clear. Below we address key areas where teams fail and provide solutions that help create shared understanding and a collaborative structure.
Different Visions of Success → Visioning Exercise:
When social sector professionals attend a meeting to discuss a new project, we are often optimistic about the opportunity to work together, but this enthusiasm fades if we don’t share the same vision for success. To prevent this from happening, we like to spend the first meeting brainstorming what success and impact mean in tangible ways (e.g., we get media coverage). This helps put everyone on the same page and builds energy for the work. We also encourage a “joint therapy” session in which individuals share what has worked before (so it can be replicated) and what has not worked (so it can be overcome) in teams and collaborations. This also helps the group bond as a team.
Different Mental Models of Working Together → Ways of Working Agreements:
When we come together, we have different past experiences and expectations. For all teams, it is important to agree upon “ways of working” (i.e., how we will work together most efficiently). This process should define our purpose and goals as well as set guidelines for behavior. It should also address how the team will approach conflict or hold members accountable for results. While it is ideal to create “ways of working” at the beginning of projects, it can be done at any point to establish or reset the group’s norms.
Different Rules of Engagement → Ground Rules Agreement:
Ground rules can be very simple and helpful to set group expectations for behavior in retreats and meetings. Our favorite is the “ditto” rule for when you share the same feelings with the person speaking. Instead of rehashing an argument with different words, just say “ditto.” We also like creating a “parking lot” to place tangential conversations for later discussion. We recently heard one from a client that Ted Lasso would love – “Don’t yuck my yum!” In other words, don’t criticize something just because you have different tastes. Of course, if something is harmful to others, speak up against it, but if it is just a matter of taste, try not to kill someone else’s joy.
Teamwork not only makes things easier, but it is also just more fun. As I often say to my clients – we come together for the mission, we stay together because we enjoy each other. So, in addition to a shared vision, ways of working and ground rules, add a dose of fun and personality to your meetings. Start with a fun icebreaker, bring toys and take a break with cookies and ice cream. This is a serious business, but we are better able to tackle it when we build trust, play together and enjoy our time together. To that end, don’t be shy – share your best Ted Lasso-style trick or tool for increasing team productivity for others to use!

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