By Barry Kaplan and Jeff Manchester, authors of The Power of Vulnerability.
Working in teams is the order of the day in most organizations, but too often, team members feel disconnected and don’t bring their full potential to the table. One key to changing this is establishing a social contract for safety.
In any team, there must be a safe way for members to openly express themselves. To do this requires the establishment of guidelines that everyone can embrace and honor. These guidelines lay out specifically how we are going to connect with one another to honor confidential conversations, encourage open and honest dialogue, and commit to speaking individual truths.
Here are nine of the norms we’ve developed and follow. Make sure to share them with your team, and ask for their commitment.
I will respect confidentiality
Whatever happens in a conversation or meeting stays with the participants, unless the owner(s) of what was shared explicitly consent to sharing. Every team needs to be able to invoke confidentiality when necessary. Sensitive issues can arise, whether they are personal, family or business related, tactical or strategic, financial, or involve human resources, and the team needs to be able to have an open and frank discussion without worrying about whether information will be leaked to other coworkers.
This is especially tricky on virtual teams when communication is often done via email or on collaboration tools. Ensure that truly sensitive conversations are conducted over the phone or in-person.
I will be present in the moment
Right here, right now, team members commit to showing up with their full presence. Only you know how distracted you are—or can easily become. You have to make it a point to stay present and engaged. Remote workers are likely competing with different, even more, distractions than the people sitting in the room with you, so it’s critical that they understand how important their focus is to the rest of the team.
I will stay when times get tough
If the conversation goes to a vulnerable or difficult place, team members must agree to remain mentally and emotionally present, even when they physically aren’t. Teams must pull together to support one another through difficult times and work together, even when the the team is struggling to resolve differences of opinion or internal conflicts. Its easier for remote workers to pull away, but it’s important that you keep them engaged.
I will speak my truth
Team members must take ownership for sharing stories from their essence— truths unique to them. This is actually all you have to offer your team. It is a commitment to bring your voice and show up.
I will ask for what I want
Team members pledge to come from a sovereign place and ask for their big want (without expectation of always getting it exactly). You are responsible to make sure you have everything you need to be successful in your role. You are responsible to ask for those things that are important to you. Nobody is a mind reader. You may not get what you want, but you won’t know for certain if you don’t ask.
I will actively listen
Bring all your senses to interactions and use them to receive data and emotion using your head and heart. Hear the silence between words. Observe gestures. Process and embrace all the energy. Active listening speaks to being engaged in the act of listening. For most of us, we absorb information by thinking in terms of problem solving. You should suspend this “listen to fix” mode initially, because that will take you into the process of developing ideas to help this person. When this happens, you are no longer listening or engaged with the person.
On virtual teams, with so much communication done over the phone or through web conferencing, people can easily become distracted by this and that. It’s critical that everyone commit to really listening to one another.
I will speak respectfully, without blaming, shaming or fixing
Team members show respect for each other when they claim responsibility for their parts, rather than blaming others. When an entire team lifts blame from the group, they create an environment where each member seeks to improve themselves rather than fix others. You want to have an open debate about issues and opportunities before the team, but you always need to be respectful of one another.
It’s way too easy for co-located employees to point fingers at remote employees because they’re an easy scapegoat. After all, no one really knows what they are doing anyway, right? Additionally remote employees can hide behind their keyboards and send insulting and rude messages via email or instant messaging without the backlash that comes from a face-to-face response. Address this kind of behavior when you observe it, and remind team members of this rule, and what they should be doing instead.
I will ask permission before offering feedback or advice
Those of you that are professional fixers, remember that any unsolicited advice will be received as criticism! So if you find yourself saying, “What you need to do is …”or “Have you thought about trying …?”you’ve fallen into the advice-giving trap.
By asking someone before you give them feedback, you increase the feeling of safety and the person to whom you’re speaking is more likely to receive your offer. Just simply say, “I have an idea for you, are you open to discussing it?” Or “I have some experience with that type of situation that I’d be happy to share. Is now a good time?”
I will be on time and stay until the end
Show respect for the others by all agreeing on a schedule for a meeting and then sticking to it. Be punctual! Everyone is super busy. Everyone’s time is valuable. Ensure that you are keeping every team member in mind when you schedule appointments, especially those in different time zones. Respect one another and respect yourself.
These nine guidelines are designed for one thing: Encouraging a sense of safety! So honor and embrace them both individually and collectively to create the safest environment for you and your team to express themselves.
Adapted from The Power of Vulnerability: How To Create A Team Of Leaders By Shifting INward (Greenleaf Book Group Press) by Barry Kaplan and Jeff Manchester. Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Kaplan and Jeff Manchester. All rights reserved. This book is available at all bookstores and online booksellers.
Barry Kaplan and Jeff Manchester are the authors of The Power of Vulnerability: How To Create A Team Of Leaders By Shifting INward (Greenleaf Book Group Press). As partners at Shift 180, they coach business leaders and their teams to unlock their full potential. To learn more, visit: www.shift180.com.