The 5 behaviors of a cohesive virtual team

The 5 behaviors of a cohesive virtual team

The five behaviors of a cohesive team—trust, conflict, commitment, accountability, and results—remain the same. But in the virtual environment and during times of crisis, they can show up in different ways. That means leaders must show up in different ways, too.

If you use The Five Behaviors® to manage your team, you might be wondering how to apply the model differently during this time of isolation and virtual work. Should I try to offer my team the stability of “business as usual,” or should I recalibrate team expectations? Should video meetings be maximized for efficiency or empathy? Do we have the same goals we had six weeks ago? Should we?

A recent episode of the podcast At the Table with Patrick Lencioni addresses these questions. Lencioni wrote the book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, which, along with Everything DiSC®, is the foundation of the Five Behaviors model. In the podcast, Lencioni and his colleagues Jeff Gibson and Cody Thompson point out that there are two issues at hand: the stress of the pandemic itself, and the sudden change to remote work.

Lencioni argues that, although this is obviously not an event anyone would have hoped for, it presents “a window of opportunity for strengthening our team that we didn’t have before this all came to pass.” Turn a shaky foundation into a chance to build a more solid one. People are looking for their leaders to take action, and each organization is going to come out of this either stronger for the actions they took, or weaker because of what they didn’t do.

Trust

In the Five Behaviors model, trust is often referred to as “vulnerability-based trust.” In the context of a cohesive team, trust means a willingness to be completely vulnerable with one another—to let down our guard, admit our flaws, and ask for help.

It’s hard to think of another time when we have all been so vulnerable, all at the same time. It’s a humbling and very human place from which to lead. Your own and your colleagues’ vulnerability is not something you need to hide; it’s what will make the team stronger.

Lencioni encourages leaders to talk about what’s going on in their families and their personal lives. “It sounds counterintuitive,” he says, “because people think ‘I’m a leader in a crisis: I should be on, I should be confident.’” But he says by hiding personal issues, “we actually lose trust with the people on our team.”

Don’t be too focused on efficiency during meetings, Lencioni counsels. He’s seeing leaders rushing through their virtual meetings, trying to get off the call quickly so as not to waste their employees’ time. “Some leaders even feel guilty, like ‘I’m bothering people at home,’” he says. “They want to be bothered. We want to be involved.”

“This is a time to really lean into being human” Lencioni says. “This is not the time to save an hour or two in order to make people more efficient. This is the time to over-invest in time with one another as a team.

Conflict

In the Five Behaviors model, leaders encourage productive conflict. In the midst of this crisis, it is appropriate that team members are treating each other more gently. You may notice people are more hesitant to disagree with coworkers than they were previously, either because they are worried about adding discord to an already-stressful situation, or because of the mechanics of virtual meetings, in which it’s harder to engage in crosstalk and read body language.

But if you’ve put in the work to build solid vulnerability-based trust on your team, productive conflict can still be just that: productive. Lencioni talks about the first time he and Gibson got into an argument in a video team meeting. He thought, “We just became a real virtual team, because we’re pushing each other in ways that we would have if we were in person.”

Thompson says, “I think that’s one of the keys that people need to hear right now, that probably more than ever there should be more conflict on your teams. In times of crisis, what we need most is the best answer. And if teams aren’t engaging in good ideological conflict, then we’re never going to get the best answer.

He admits that video conferencing makes conflict harder. It can seem like a presentation, especially in “speaker view,” where the person talking has the biggest screen. “Your natural posture is to kind of sit back,” he says, and not to interject or disagree.

“Teams that sit on Zoom calls and try to not interrupt or interject for the sake of getting through that hour and a half block,” says Thompson, “they’re not going to push on each other. They’re not going to have developed the type of conflict that they need to succeed.”

Commitment

“In order to get our people to commit,” says Lencioni, “we have to be willing to walk away from our old strategies, our old priorities.” Leaders are hesitant to change strategies for the fear that it will seem like too much change on top of an already destabilizing situation. But, “the world has changed. And this is a good time to throw all that up in the air and say maybe we should be doing something different.”

Commitment is a function of two things, says Lencioni: clarity and buy-in. It’s far too easy to leave a virtual meeting unclear on exactly what was decided. And with team members isolated from each other, it’s harder to have those quick follow-up conversations that often happen in the hallway after the meeting.

As you’re running meetings, be more vigilant than ever about creating clarity around decisions. Take five minutes at the end of every meeting to make sure there is no ambiguity before you all log off. Talk about:

  • What did we discuss?
  • What did we decide?
  • How will we communicate this out to people who weren’t in the meeting?
  • Is there anything we said in the meeting that we are not going to say to people outside the meeting?

Lencioni suggests sharing a document on your screen and typing up the answers to these questions so everyone can see. Say, “Does this look right?” Don’t be in such a rush to end the meeting that you leave without clarity.

Accountability

Of the Five Behaviors, accountability is the one that might look the most different in the midst of this crisis, says Lencioni. “This is the first time I’ve ever questioned… I think during this time a leader has to be a little bit more careful and a little bit more gentle about holding people accountable.”

Lencioni usually advocates for public accountability during meetings. But right now with many working from home, “people leave these meetings and they go directly to their families. And I’m just extremely aware of the impact we can have on somebody by doing it wrong during this time.” He recommends holding people accountable during one-on-one video calls for now, “so I can really have the full conversation with them rather than have them maybe misinterpret things and have it bleed into their families.”

“There’s room for grace,” Thompson agrees. “Grace for the little things.” We can still be “gentle provokers of better behavior or better ways to show up.”

It’s more important than ever to give each other the benefit of the doubt. You can still hold each other accountable, but make sure you’re not rushing through it. Carve out the time for a longer conversation. If you’re in a hurry, you can come across harsher than you mean to.

Results

“The first week of this,” says Lencioni, “we were like deer in the headlights. We were on our heels. We felt like we were playing defense. And then we said no. Let’s create clarity right now for the next two months.” He urges leaders to give people a rallying cry—a temporary goal.

When he did that with his own team, “that’s when everybody went from defense to offense. It wasn’t just about surviving or feeling like a victim. It was about thriving and being on offense.”

This rallying cry doesn’t have to be perfect. “But if we try to stick to what we had before, or we just say ‘everybody get through the day,’ this is going to be an even more miserable time.”

The temporary goal will give focus to your team’s conversations. Having a unified rallying cry across the organization will help build connections across departments, too. It’s very easy for silos to build up when everyone is working remotely, since you don’t have the more casual hallway conversations you used to. Invite people from other departments to listen in to your meetings. Cross-collaborate. Gibson shares that executives of a company he partners with made the commitment to join one another’s staff meetings, so people in the organization see the other leaders regularly, creating an “all hands on deck” feeling.

So: Be vulnerable. Invite conflict. Prioritize clarity. Be gentle with accountability. And give people a rallying cry.

The Five Behaviors: Team or Personal Development

Are you using this time to focus on team building? The Five Behaviors assessment can be done remotely, and can give a disjointed team a common language and tools to work together more productively.

By Jessica Franken

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