Confession time.

Not too long ago, I failed. A project deliverable did not meet our client’s needs or expectations.  It missed the mark. The consequences and impact of this mistake had a ripple effect where deadlines slipped, additional resources were required, more time was invested, financial repercussions were felt and, ultimately, our client was disappointed. Of course, our team regrouped quickly, got clearer on the objectives and areas of improvement, prioritized the re-work and fixed the issue.  While we ultimately delivered against what our client needed, we lost some goodwill and likely raised questions as to whether or not we could be counted on in the future. 

This did not feel good.  It stung.  And, frankly, we are better than that. 

Although this type of situation is quite rare (thankfully), mistakes do happen.  But in business, the consequences of mistakes can be difficult to surmount leading to a possible loss of future revenue and a potentially damaged relationship with the customer.  And, if I’m being honest, this type of challenge has happened to me and to all of us at one time or another.  After a brief moment of kicking myself and wishing for a do-over, it was important to reflect on the situation. I needed to understand what happened and where the breakdown occurred in order to learn and, hopefully, avoid anything like it from happening again. 

First, I gathered the team and we did a hind sighting on the project.  We looked at our process and dissected our approach.  What we found were too many silos on the team and too little communication.  It was clear we were not all aligned throughout the project.  The outcome of this discovery helped us initiate a change in our process to implement more formal communication points between our own team as well as with our clients.  Problems dramatically decreased when our communication and connection increased. 

It may seem very simplistic, but this hyper-focus on communication and alignment requires constant vigilance. 

For example, have you ever found yourself in the midst of a project and thought,

“I’ll just do this myself and I don’t need to bother everyone with all the details”? 

Or, “this project is so straightforward, I don’t think we need to meet when everyone is so busy.”

Or, “I’ll just have a quick email exchange with the client and it’s silly for me to copy my team on that one-off communication. It doesn’t really pertain to them anyway.” 

Yep, me too. And, this my friends, is where the problems start to slowly creep back in. 

After resolving the urgent problem, it was time for some more thorough research on ways to avoid such potentially fatal mistakes in the future.

I hit the books, specifically, Daniel Coyle’s book “The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups.”  An insightful read, the book examines a number of high performing companies and teams to identify the core tenants and practices which they have in common.  Among the traits called out, Coyle focuses on a collection of “C” words:

  • Cohesion

  • Candor

  • Collisions

  • and interwoven throughout all of these - Communication

Cohesion builds a sense of belonging.  It’s about sticking together and knowing that your team has your back.  As Coyle writes, “Cohesion happens not when members of a group are smarter but when they are lit up by clear, steady signals of safe connection.” 

Cohesion exists hand-in-hand with candor, otherwise known as “uncomfortable truth telling.”  Candor creates an environment where it is not just acceptable to speak up, but it is expected and encouraged.  Candor requires us to offer constructive feedback when it might be easier to just stay quiet. It demands our engagement to ask questions instead of sitting in the back of the room with our arms crossed. 

But, what about collisions?  Coyle tells the story of Zappos founder, Tony Hsieh and his almost obsessive quest to have hundreds of “collisions” each day in order to randomly interact with different people and spark new ideas, build relationships, and stay connected.  One example given is Hsieh’s decision to close side entrances to the office building and, instead, funnel everyone through a single entrance thus creating more opportunities for collision.  Apparently, he’s also been known to move furniture to achieve better flow and a similar colliding result. 

In a related example of the power of collision, Coyle recounts the story of MIT professor, Thomas Allen, who was hired by the U.S. government during the Cold War to identify why certain engineering projects were successful and others were not.  Allen discovered it was not superior intelligence nor high experience that made the difference.  No, it was the proximity of team members’ desks to one another.  Proximity and contact are what upped the odds of success.  Now known as the Allen Curve this idea of proximity and connection can also be extended to digital communication.  “Closeness helps create efficiencies of connection.”

Here are Coyle’s 7 guidelines for successful groups:

1.     Overcommunicate Your Listening. 

This is all about empathy. It is a call for active listening and truly being in the moment of communication.  In discussions, avoid interrupting as it’s hard to be empathic when you are talking.  Don’t think about what you are next going to say while someone else is talking.  Instead, truly give your attention.

2.     Be Vulnerable; Embrace Discomfort. 

Don’t hide or deny your own areas of weakness.  Instead, be up front about where it is you need help.  Be ok with discomfort in not knowing.  This is particularly important for leaders to encourage candor because “to create safety, leaders need to actively invite input and help.”

3.     Embrace the Messenger. 

Accept and take in bad news openly. Don’t try to hide it or brush it aside.  It’s about telling the truth. A “relentless willingness to see the truth and take ownership.”

4.     Say Thank You More Often. 

Small thank-yous cause people to behave far more generously and create a sense of belonging and connection.  Have you thanked your team today?

5.     Make Sure Everyone Has a Voice. 

Reward contribution and sharing.  Invite everyone on the team to speak up in a meeting.  Check in and make sure all are heard and considered. 

6.     Serve the Group. 

This is the adage that no job is too small.  Again, useful for leaders to demonstrate they are not above actually doing any task as it sends the signal we are in this together.  For example, Coyle details several instances where the most powerful leader of a team or organization physically cleaned up and collected garbage. 

7.     Foster a Culture of Accelerated Learning. 

Embrace “learning velocity.” How quickly an organization or team learns and improves its performance of a new skill is directly related to its rate of success.    

We don’t always bat 1000.  Sometimes we come up short.  Sometimes we fail.  What are we going to do about it?  How are we going to learn and improve?  I hope the vulnerability of admitting a #fail here in this post helps to foster a safe space where we can all examine our own challenges and look for ways to build stronger cohesion, candor and collisions in our own teams and businesses. 

Are there any big (or small) fails and lessons learned you wish to share?  Any tricks or tips for increasing cohesion, candor and collisions in your own team or family?  Join the conversation on FacebookLinkedIn or Instagram and tell us about it.

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