Centaur Stage Season 2 Ep. 5 - What I’ve Learned About Teams, a Special Episode with Marilyn Zakhour
Centaur Stage is a weekly video series produced by Cosmic Centaurs, and this second season is all about the magic of teams. Each Thursday afternoon, on LinkedIn Live, at 3:30 PM UAE-time, Marilyn Zakhour, CEO & Founder of Cosmic Centaurs, is joined by incredible guests who share insights, opinions, and perspectives about what makes teams cohesive, high-performing, and happy.
In this special episode where Marilyn wraps up the first chapter of the season all about team dynamics to introduce the next chapter about building teams, she shares her own insights and reflections on what she’s learned about teams, as well as key learnings from our previous Centaur Stage Season Two guests.
You can watch the full video here.
Here is what she had to say:
As I was preparing for this episode with my team, I really wanted to create a meaningful recap for us to have a foundation to go from teams to this kind of mythical creature.
We don't always understand teams really well, and we don't always have the same agreement on what the definition of a team is. One thing we know for sure is that not every group of people working together are a team: that's why when we started this first chapter, we hosted Connie Hadley, who's an organizational psychologist and a friend of mine. We wanted to start with a definition of what teams are. I'm going to try and recap some of the things she taught us for you here. In her words, she said, “a team is the sense of synergy that you get when you combine different outputs”. I really love that sentence. If you take time to break it apart, you'll understand why, and I'll come back to it in a minute. Connie also referred to Richard Hackman's model for defining a team.
According to him, teams have a few sets of criteria. Groups of people working together can be called a team, if they have one clear and motivating direction, a shared goal or objective, knowing where they're headed together, and a sense of boundedness. That means knowing who is on the team and who isn't in it. In many of our interventions with clients, when we ask people, “what team are you on?”, they don't always have the same answer. They don't always call their team the same thing. Sometimes, people just don't actually know what team they're on. That sense of boundedness is so important. Another one of his criteria - the third one - is having a sense of stable membership. That means that when you're a member of a team, you don't keep being moved around. Of course in today's organizations, that's not as obvious as it sounds. Companies are constantly reorganizing, task forces are coming up with group projects and so on.
It's often the case that people are members of many teams, and don't have a sense of that core team that they contribute to. Number four is clearly defined roles. That's another one that, again and again, we see in our work with our clients that it's not always clear what everybody does. Sometimes, people overlap, which frustrates everyone, and also it doesn't take advantage of everybody's ability to contribute. Number five is a sense of integration. Now, of course, having all of the characteristics of those teams put together isn't enough, right? I think that the big question around the difference between group work and teamwork requires something more than just the definition of what a team structure looks like. I think that's what Connie meant when was talking about the sense of synergy that you get when you combine different outputs. I think that definition is really valuable because it's more than just putting people together in a group and saying, “here you go, you're a team”. I think some of the elements that really make a group of people come together as a team is this idea of interdependence.
Jo Santos, a professor of mine from INSEAD and someone I've been talking about these topics with since practically the beginning of the pandemic, defines teams as being on the one hand, a small group of individuals acting together. On the other hand, as having interdependent performance, and shared accountability. That interdependent performance piece is really important because it says that it's not about people coming together and each of them producing a piece of the puzzle. Speaking of puzzles, Jo has a really nice metaphor about teamwork and puzzles: let's say that we gave different pieces of the puzzle to the different team members in group work. Everybody just has one piece. They have to figure out where to put it in. Once they put it in the right place, their work is done, but in teamwork, the metaphor that he uses is that every time one of the team members puts down their piece of the puzzle, the shape and color and size of the pieces that the other people are holding change.
Interdependence is the idea that my contribution is made different by the contribution of others in what we create. Synergy is such an essential part of teamwork. Jo and I actually wrote an article, which was originally for me and my team to keep as an internal document that we could think through, but we've published it recently on our website. We wrote this article to also push the definition of a team, and to understand what teamwork is. Theoretically, you put people together in a team so that they can provide teamwork. Something that we wrote about is that a team is a structure. It's a group of people structured in a certain way, but teamwork is a process. It's equally important that we think about the process in which people co-create, in which they create in an interdependent mode. Teamwork in that sense, is not just the output of a group of people that we call a team. It's the process by which this output is created.
Another metaphor that Tala brought into our vocabulary, because she's always been the athletic one in the company, is that we can compare group work to an Olympics gymnastics team. So that's a team where each athlete is scored for their distinct competitions, and their individual scores are put together to produce the final score. Teamwork is more like a football or a basketball team. That's because everybody plays in sync, and what someone does influences what the other person does, going towards achieving that common goal. I also wrote in that article that a really beautiful quirk of the English language is that group work is two words, whereas teamwork is a single word. I think that the act of melding words together is so symbolic of how teamwork is constructed. On the topic of what makes teams what they are, we also wanted to reflect on whether or not teams need leaders. I see that there are a few questions in the audience.
Karma asks, can teams form without a conscious decision to start one, if people simply find themselves working towards the same goal for example, with combined efforts. I'm sure that there have been more than one team in history that just started off without saying, “Hey, let's create a team”. But I think that very quickly, you end up needing to be intentional about the fact that this is a team, clarifying who the members are, how you are going to make decisions together, and making sure that you are actually working towards the same goal. It's easy to assume that you are. I do think that sometimes teams come together from a sheer connection to a purpose, but I don't think they could stay together for very long if they don't clarify their team structure, the way they want to work together, and their process. The idea of that stable membership is so important. You might come together coincidentally, but I don't think you stay together. Coincidentally, Billy asks, what's the best way to create synergy when your teammates work remotely. We have a whole section planned on this, that I'll come back to you in a second.
The next question that I asked our guest, as we were exploring the definition of what a team is, I wondered whether teams need leaders: do we need a team leader for a team to be called a team? The reason why I asked that question is because in most typical organizations we always have a leader. You will always have somebody who's the manager or the leader, and then a team reporting into them. It's neither good nor bad, it’s useful. It creates structure, it creates coordination. It creates paths for information to be shared, and good leaders know how to use your key to get things done. But there are other types of organizations and other types of teams. Here I'm thinking more about scrum or agile teams, where if you ask purists in that field, there is actually no prescription for them to have a leader. In fact, if anything, those teams want more independence and more decision-making within the team. They flattened the hierarchy in that sense. You can find that also in Holacracy and other kinds of more flattened organizations, that they don't believe in having leaders. I wanted to ask our guests and think about it myself, whether teams do need a leader, or not. When we talk about that shared goal, do we need someone who is accountable for that shared goal?
Again, in teams like agile or scrum teams, those roles disappear. Instead, there are new roles that emerge that take some part of a leader's role. For example, scrum masters, take care of getting burdens out of the way and making sure that everybody's aligned. Agile coaches will take care of making sure that everybody has the right mindset, engagement, and is following the right process. In that sense, those teams can survive quite well without a determined leader.
I think all teams need a sense of leadership, and that was something that was echoed by a few of our guests here. Connie mentioned that it's not necessary for every team to have a leader, but that is as long as the team members have a sense of leadership, through aiming towards the same goal in which they feel accountable and responsible. When David Munir Nabti, CEO & GM of Bloom EMEA, was our latest guest last week, he told us about how he works towards making sure that every person on his team is a leader. Everyone is taking ownership of their space, and is able to make decisions. I really don't think that a determined leader is always necessary, but I think that as teams grapple with more complex tasks or bigger tasks, they might need one. I fully understand how a software team might not need a leader in the end: the way that the output of a software team is measured is whether their increment, the product that they're working on, its addition to the existing software, creates an improved performance. The way that their work is validated is about its integration to the code, and if regression testing can be done. There's a lot of automation and validation in the contribution of a software team, but I think that in other industries, in other contexts, you do need a leader sometimes to just move things forward.
I think one of my favorite definitions of leadership, again, coming here from Jo Santo’s class, is one that I remember from 2017. It meant a lot to me. Funnily enough, it was echoed by our guests Sam Yeats, Founder of TeamForm, and Sylvia Burbery, Regional President of Emerging & Seeds at Royal Canin. They both said that the role of a leader and a manager is to protect the team from the uncertainty of the world so that they can do their best work. Sam defines good team leaders as people who help their teams perform well by focusing on pushing away external blockers and making the space for them to be creative and innovate. It's about that leader creating that space for everybody on the team to do their best work. Sylvia, who’s a globally distributed team manager, spoke about how her personal goal as a leader is to create the conditions for people to succeed. She put it very beautifully, she said that means that most of the time, her job is importing stress and exporting calm. That echoes with the definition that I love. In the last few years, we've all been through the pandemic together, went through moments of incredible uncertainty, and had to navigate teams through that. I think leaders who were able to somehow create a sense of calm and a sense of limited certainty, because of course they could never provide full certainty, were able to help their teams through that moment.
If you watched any of our episodes, we also asked at the end of each of them a series of rapid fire questions, and one of them was what makes a great team leader. I'm gonna read here some of the answers that we got. For Connie, a good team leader is someone who's not constantly trying to impress - someone who can take criticism, wants the best for others, and does everything they can to help the rest of the group be successful. To Sam, it's someone who unblocks things, to Sylvia it’s someone who's empathic, open, and creates space for team members to be heard. To Munir, it's a listener.
Of course, we can go back to academia, which is something we love to do here at Cosmic Centaur, to see what Richard Hackman, who's one of the leading academics on the topic of teams, had to say about what makes for a great team leader. Hackman here mentions personal qualities that distinguish really great team leaders from others. Number one, is that the team leader is aware of the components that form team effectiveness. Number two, is that they have the ability to narrow the gap between the present capability of their teams and where they could and should be. Meaning, they're able to build on top of those capabilities and understand what the team should be able to do in order to get the job done. They need to know how they can make sure that they acquire those skills. I see that Benny has asked a question here about acquiring skills without going for a course, and I'll come back to it in a second.
The third criteria for great team leaders is that they have the emotional maturity to lead, and they're able to cope with anxiety provoking situations. They're able to manage their emotions, and to take those instances as learning opportunities. The last one is really a personal favorite, which is that they have to have personal courage and have the ability to challenge group norms. I think that we would not disagree with any of the things that Richard Hackman said. Again, it comes back to that point about how you are able to manage complexity, uncertainty, and ambiguity, and how you're able to lead your team through those moments. That's what makes a great team leader. I'll take a few questions from the audience before wrapping it up on this question of team leaders.
Benny, you asked how team members can learn more skills without going for a course. I think I've always been self-taught for most things that I've learned in life, except for when I went to do my executive MBA, mostly because I couldn't remember what EBIT is every day of the week until I took a real course. I think that the beauty of the internet is that it is an abundant place. The community of the web is quite generous in sharing their lessons learned and important highlights and insights about any topic. I've learned most of what I know from Googling it, to be honest. I think if you're curious and you understand that for most problems, unless you're truly creating something that's never been innovated on before, a lot of the problems you face on a day to day basis, a lot of the skills you want to acquire, have been spoken about. If you have the patience and the courage to be curious, and to learn in and of yourself, and then to start trying to apply these new skills that you find as you go, I think that goes a long way.
To wrap this up, I also want to talk about that one vision of a leader that I really love. I always link it in the workshops that we do, especially when I'm talking to executives, who really feel the pressure of that anxiety. This comes from Andy Grove's High Output Management, and he says something really interesting about how leaders should lead. He says that when complexity and uncertainty and ambiguity (VUCA) are low, meaning there's a certain level of predictability in your industry or in your market, then a team's performance should be influenced by expectation setting. That means being super clear on the objectives, the goals, the KPIs, the timelines, and sticking to them. When complexity and uncertainty and ambiguity are high, then he says that the way that managers should lead and create performance for their teams is through their cultural values.
The pandemic has really brought that home for us, because at the time where no one could predict where their market or industry was going to go, the only thing we really had was our values. That's what we came back to, and that's how we lead. Tala asks me what I have learned from some of the teams that I've built or led or participated in, I'll try to answer her by the end of this. Rhea is asking how team members can also show up for their leaders, since it's a two-way relationship and the leader needs some protection as well. For those of you who know me, that's a question that's very close to my heart. I've always felt like there was this kind of duality or opposition between people in their teams and their leaders or their managers. I think this comes from our systems of management that make the manager responsible for reviewing performance, but not always responsible for creating the right conditions for performance and taking ownership of those conditions.
In that sense, the manager or the leader takes on this role of judge, and separates from their team. As a leader myself, I am very invested in the success of my team. I also often find it hard when I'm left out of the team, whether it would have been for a social event, or in this software that measures engagement. I don't get asked any questions because I'm the leader, only my team does. I really don't think that's a healthy relationship. I don't like it that way because I'm equally part of the team as everybody else. In the same way that I have power to improve things, I do believe that everybody on the team does too.
I think that the way that team members can show up for their leaders is to remember to ask the human questions - leaders aren't super people. They just try really hard to create great environments for others, and they can have lonely days, bad days, shameful and angry days. Sometimes all it takes is just to ask them “how are you doing today?”, and to mean it, to want to listen to their answer. Leaders need that support too, and it can get very lonely sometimes. So, thank you for asking that question. That wraps it up in terms of what a team does, and if it needs a leader. The next piece is about understanding that when a team exists, it is an entity. I always like to think of a team as an organic living, that has its own rules, and its own nature. It's so important to understand how we make teams thrive. It's almost like having a plant: you need to know how much sunlight, water, and conditions it needs to be in order to thrive. It is really an ecosystem in that sense.
We're going to talk about what we've learned in terms of what can make teams really thrive and over-perform. On one hand, we're going to talk about the first half of Andy Groves’ recommendation, which is around shared goals, the expectation setting, and then giving team members the right resources to be able to thrive. On the other hand, we'll talk about something that's really close to my heart, and has been proven to be equally important as expectation setting: the engagement piece. It is about creating high levels of mutual knowledge, and high levels of connectedness in teams, because we know that has just as much impact on performance as hardcore KPIs. Let's start with the KPI side.
Teams need the right context. They need the right environment. They need the resources to be able to collaborate and create value. They really should be treated as entities in and of themselves. An observation that we had when Sam was our guest, is that so many of our corporate leaders today are hardwired to think about their organization in terms of who reports to whom, and how are people grouped. But there is rarely a sense of the teams within their company, even though teams are most likely to be the ones that are delivering real value. I remember an interview with Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google: he was saying that most innovations that came out of Google started in a team of three or five people. Yet so many organizations don't have the tools or even the understanding to think about their teams in that sense. It's necessary to understand these things in order to help this group of people create something that's larger than the sum of their parts, that true magic of teams, the true synergy, and processes and systems are important.
Sam, who founded TeamForm, gave us some perspective also on how important it is to be able to measure the health of teams, and to be able to make data-driven informed decisions about how teams are performing, and how they can be helped. We talked about the importance of sharing goals and having access to resources that allow teams to be autonomous. Sam really emphasized how high performing teams are ones that don't have to rely on other teams in order to get the job done. We all know the cost of coordination, and how much we have to spend on - just the inner politics of organizations when our team isn't able to deliver what they need to deliver without having to onboard five other teams. That's why it's so important to think about building teams that are cross functional, diverse, that are given clear goals and resources, outside of just thinking about who reports to whom. Sam talked to us about how data can be a great tool for measuring that efficiency, productivity, and engagement within teams.
Most companies will measure this at an organizational or an individual level, but we really need to think about how to measure these things at a team level. One of the tools that was recommended by Sam that is quite useful is the Atlassian Project Team Health Check. It helps in identifying the weaknesses and strengths of teams. Here's what it measures: having a full-time owner (that's a leader who more than 80% of their time is dedicated to a project), having a balanced team in terms of the diversity of the resources and capabilities, and a shared understanding of why everybody is here. Do we have a shared purpose, a clear goal that we're working towards, and do we know the value that we're trying to create, and how we measure it, what our metrics are, what our KPIs are? Do we have a problem that we're trying to solve that is super clear to us? Have we summarized this in a one pager? Are we good at managing the dependencies that we have as a team and the speed at which we operate? This is a health check that you can run with your team members, who either give the components a thumbs up, a thumbs down, or a sideways thumbs. That's an option on how you can get a sense of whether your team is really being given what it needs in order to do its best work.
That's on the performance side of things. We're talking about the hard side of management, the objectives, the goals, the desired outcome. There's a really great Gallup survey where they surveyed 8,000 employees and actually found that the highest performing managers and therefore the highest performing teams are managers that manage both the performance and the engagement. These managers are not just focused on KPIs, but also on energizing, motivating, and connecting their team members. In that case, they found that when a manager does both, employees are 17 times more likely to be engaged. We know that engaged employees are more likely to perform better. I'll give you more data about that in a second. That brings us to our second piece, which is about how it's important that we all know what we're working towards, but it's equally important that we're able to build connection and community with each other. This piece will be on having high levels of mutual knowledge, high levels of connectedness, and high levels of psychological safety, which is a word that has come up a lot and we'll discuss it here, and it is one that really matters. Having happy and cohesive teams really has an impact on your top and bottom lines.
Let's talk about psychological safety first. It is a term that was coined and popularized by Amy Edmondson. She ran a research project for Google, where they were trying to figure out how they could create the best performing teams: what were those ingredients, what was happening in teams that were high-performing inside Google? We have a tendency to think that if you put the A-players together, that you'll have a great team, which actually wasn't the case at all. Project Aristotle, which was the name of the study, wanted to identify and uncover what credit criteria make really high performing teams. It found many different points of influence, but the one single highest determining piece was this question of psychological safety. Psychological safety in teams means that the team and its leader have been able to create a space where people are comfortable admitting mistakes, where they can learn from failure, where everybody openly shares ideas, and that leads to more innovation and better decision-making.
The idea here is that if you provide the basic hygiene for a team - clear structure, access to resources, a great team leader - the next step to having a team that over performs, is creating that safe space. This leads to having a team that has more of a learning behavior, a team that's more open to failure or open to innovation, and shares ideas more freely. That's what leads to high team performance, as that is kind of the link between psychological safety and team performance as an outcome. Connie, who's researched and published quite a bit on the topic, said about psychological safety that is something that needs to be intentional and established as an explicit norm for team members. You need to let them know that they can speak up, and that they can share their thoughts and ideas. It's a norm that it is better to establish it as early as possible from the very beginning of a team, it is hard to walk back from a space where people don't feel safe. There's going to be four times more work to be done.
Psychological safety is such an important piece. The way that you can create it, outside of leadership behavior and creating spaces with rituals such as retrospectives and so on, is also through the level of interpersonal knowledge. How much do we know about each other's stories, and how much do we connect with one another? The concept of mutual knowledge is so important for that reason. Last August, I wrote an article in Wamda about this. The idea behind mutual knowledge is that it's knowledge about each other that is shared, and it's known to be shared. It's really a vital factor in facilitating effective team interactions and team performance, and I think that's especially true in remote or hybrid environments.
We know for a fact that the greater mutual knowledge within the team, the more team members have context for interpreting others actions and words, and the better the performance and the quality of the decision-making. Sylvia, who manages a team across 14 different time zones, highlighted the importance of taking that moment to break down those personal barriers. She talked about how important it is to be intentional, to make the time for these interactions. She mentioned how she takes time to make sure she does check-ins - not just on a team level, but also on an individual one. She talked about creating the right moments to learn more about one another, and build trust together, and how she creates space for her team members to disagree with her. She even sometimes prompts people who she knows feel more safe around her to disagree publicly, just to show to everybody else that she's not going to react badly. Sylvia also told us that despite being in 14 different time zones, her team always has asked actually to always make time to have some level of interpersonal meetings synchronously. Although the default would be to say, “oh, it's just too hard to be all awake at the same time”, they really value that connection.
Karma is asking me here, if I think psychological safety can always be created no matter the circumstances and personal traits of the team leader, and team member. That's a really tough one. I think it takes a certain kind of leader for sure to care about the psychological safety of others. I think you have to be pretty confident - you don't feel the need to manage through fear or shame, but through creating space for everybody to let them flourish and be the best version of themselves. I think everybody should be willing to give each other a chance. Of course it's easier with team members who themselves already feel pretty confident and safe, it's harder when there are previous experiences that make you lack trust, that don't allow you to open up and be vulnerable or even be courageous about your ideas. I do think that if there is the intention to do that, every team can reach levels of psychological safety that allows that space for them. Marie is asking me if I think that teams in different fields require the same components to have great team dynamics - theoretically, yes. Every team I've worked in, and I've been on in a bunch of industries from consulting to technology to real estate, I've always found the same ingredients work, and that's probably because human nature matters more than industry. I really do think that it is all the same.
Nihal is asking about the great resignation - she's saying companies everywhere are seeing big employee turnover, so how do you and how do teams impact employee turnover, and how can we keep teams motivated even as team members change. That's a really hard one. I go back to the same tenants: if you focus on the personal goals, every person and their personal values, how they align with the companies - if you are intentional about people, even in hard times, and if you're willing to be vulnerable, you can keep the motivation. Also, I think a big piece of the great resignation is about being able to listen to the fact that people do not want to work in the same ways anymore, they do not want to spend the same amount of time at the office - they want more balance in their lives. That's what we're hearing over and over again.
Intent, which shouldn’t just come from the leaders of teams, but I think the leaders of organizations, should be to able to say, “I am listening to the fact that people want things differently, and I'm going to try and do what I can, what is economically viable for the organization, but also what matters to my teams and my employees to create the right conditions for them”. In that case, I don't see why people would leave, unless they've suddenly realized that this really wasn't their career path, and they want to go do something completely different. In which case, you should just be happy for them that they found their calling. I think a lot of the great resignation comes from this tension between how people think about what they want work to provide for them, and what they're actually being asked to do. There was a data point that we cited recently that 90% of people expect to experience joy at work yet only 37% of them say that they do so that huge gap of 53% of people there's a place to start.
Recently, Slack published a report that showed that 66% of managers were designing their post-pandemic work policies without input from their people. So this isn't just a team problem, it's a question of whether companies are willing to listen to what their employees really want or not. On that point, going back to that question of connectedness, I think that when you feel connected and close to the people you work with, you're also less likely to leave because you're in a place where you're understood. You’re in a place where people don't misinterpret things, where they're willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. I think that's something really important. Connie talked to us about that: she spoke about how knowing about each other's context allows members to have conversations, to support each other during those difficult times and to celebrate wins when they come across, and to make sure that you don't let conflict spread out. That's such an important point, and we spend a lot of time worrying about it here at Cosmic Centaurs. It's also why we created our platform, AION, where we share our moods. We answer questions about ourselves, see the news in the local context of our team members, because that context is so important.
I'm going to cite a study that I really don't intend for it to be sexist, but hear me out. There was research conducted in the early 2010s around what makes high-performing teams. This was really a reaction actually to 9/11, where the CIA wanted to understand why their teams of counter-terrorism hadn't been good at essentially figuring out what was going to happen. Long story short, the outcome of this research showed that the teams that had more women on them perform better. It’s not because women are smarter, but because women are socialized to be more attentive to the needs and the preferences of others. That's not necessarily a good thing. It's just that we're taught to always care for what others want. In teams that had more women, there was more space for every team member to be able to be valued for who they are, and to be heard. That created higher performing teams. We know that women consistently score higher on social census sensitivity tests, and that's kind of where that comes from.
That's just to say that it's so important to create space for every individual to feel engaged - when it comes to the data around engagement, we know that engaged employees are 44% more productive than satisfied employees, inspired employees, or a hundred, and twenty-five percent more productive than satisfied employees. If you want to understand what goes into the building blocks of engaged versus inspired employees, there is a great article that's published on HBR. That study also found that inspired employees, in order to replace them, you need two and a quarter satisfied employees in terms of their productivity. This stands true across industries, company size, nationality, good and bad economic conditions. We know that people who are engaged produce better results, and yet we constantly ignore what people need to feel engaged. A big part of that is human connection. Of course there's the bottom of the hierarchy of needs, which is structure, compensation, and clear goals. But the people who really over-perform on that pyramid have much more than that, and part of it is the connectedness.
On the other hand, we know what happens when we don't get that right. We get high levels of disengagement, and in the US (this is pre-pandemic numbers), disengagement costs the economy $350 billion globally. 60% of disengaged employees cost their companies, the equivalent of 18% of their annual salary. That means that if you're a 10,000 person company and the average salary is $50,000, then you're losing $60 million a year just by ignoring that engagement piece. And that's really the crux of it. I think for me, I talked a lot about this with Munir, our last guest, about how we as leaders can create happiness and engagement at work. I think it comes through repetitive intent, repetitive action, and focusing on getting that message across that we care that we want people to be engaged, that we want them to be fulfilled, to grow, to have opportunities.
Something we've always spoken about here at Cosmic Centaurs and continue to talk about, and I'm always surprised by how few companies actually have developed these things with the kind of intent that they should, is this question of rituals. Rituals are activities that teams engage in willingly and collectively. They are activities to which they attribute meaning and purpose. It's such an easy thing to do, that I'm always surprised by how few companies and organizations actually leveraged rituals. I want to share some of the rituals that we practice here at Cosmic Centaurs, and try to explain how I think they contribute to creating the right team dynamics.
One ritual that we never skip is the daily standup, where we share what we're up to and our progress in tasks, and what's getting in our way. It's a moment for us to also come together and stand in solidarity. If someone is unable to finish a task, if they need support, we're all there to jump in. We also make sure to check in during those stand-ups with one another, as we use our platform AION to see how everybody's feeling, whether those are feelings that require support like anger, frustration, or being overwhelmed, or feelings that lead to celebration like being excited about something, energized or grateful. We also take time to understand the local context. Many of our team members live in Lebanon, which is also where I'm from, and that's an incredibly stressful place to live in and work from. If your colleagues don't understand what's going on around you and your context, then they can't understand why you're behaving a certain way or reacting a certain way, or why you couldn't make it to the meeting or didn't turn on your camera during that day. Being mindful of those circumstances is so important.
Another favorite ritual of mine is retrospectives, and that's a moment where at the end of every cycle - in our case, it's every month - we come together to talk about what we could have done better, what we did really well, and what we can start doing to improve the collaboration between us. That creates a space for everybody to bring up issues, problems, and failures, to learn from them together. It sends the signal that it's alright to fail, as long as we learn from it, and create the space for that learning mentality to be established.
Another favorite ritual is one really is not at all about performance, but about getting to know each other and spending some good time. Once a month, we also organize Team Time, which is time that we dedicate to just being together. Sometimes we play games, sometimes we use our Cosmic Conversations, which are prompt cards with questions that you can ask your team members to answer and get to know about each other. We just answer a few questions and find out new things about one another. We've recently done an “escape the room”, virtually, altogether - I’m very happy to say that we won, with flying colors! I think showing that we care about spending time with each other, even if we're not working, is so important because it means that we care about each other as individuals and humans, and not just as colleagues. There are so many other rituals that we take part in, but those are my favorites - they are just some ways in which we can show up for each other and create that space.
Benny is asking how leaders can keep psychological safety within a team while making sure that team members understand they're accountable for their work. I often find that actually holding other people accountable for their work, if you do it in a way that's nurturing while making sure that other person achieves what they set out to achieve, is a great gift. I think leaders who shy away from that and just focus on the engagement piece, because they want everybody to be happy and never share difficult feedback or let somebody know that they're falling behind, are not leaders who really care. It's a lot easier to just be the happy engaging leader, but there are moments where that can't be the way in which you engage with your team members. You have to let them know as early as you can when they're failing in their accountability and their responsibility. I think that's a true sign of love and care, having the courage to call somebody up instead of waiting for them to crash.
Both accountability and engagement are important, and you can't do one without the other. With that said, I think I've answered all of the questions that I've seen here in the feed, you guys have put in so many. I hope I didn't skip any, but I'm happy to keep answering them later. I'm really grateful for the time you spent with me. I've learned so much from our guests over the last four weeks and it was really important to recap it and put it in a format that we can come back to. It's almost similar to a framework: what's the team, do we need a leader, what makes a great leader, and then how do we treat teams as entities and give them what they need. Everything from clear expectation setting to fluffy moments where we care for one another and all of these things have to happen at the same time.