OD Experiments at Stanford University Medical Center: The Mirror Effect — V

[Continued from OD Odyssey at Stanford University Medical Center — IV…]

There is an incredible value in holding up a mirror to teams. Planning and tracking plans — whether tasks completed, milestones met, outcomes realized — is part of this, but only captures a fraction of the image. As important, if not more so, is the capturing of softer, feelings-based team dynamics.

What makes team members excited, or complacent, or fearful, or angry? What is the intensity of a feeling? What team dynamics may have caused it? Did a feeling persist beyond the boundary of a team meeting, to perhaps keep the team-member up at night? After all it is the nature of persistent feelings that at the end of the day will make or break a team.

In a move that set a new standard for the field of organizational development, Stanford Hospitals and Clinics (SHC) used the web-based team-development software I had developed to accelerate team development through its 6-month long Leadership Academy program. The new standard is set by use of such a web-based tool that computes fractal patterns in real-time and that illustrates the true and often unstated dynamics occurring at the level of teams.

Insight into fractal patterns are important because it is the “small” behaviors, attitudes, perceptions at the individual or team level that correlate with and often determine larger outcomes at the team, unit, and corporate level. The Leadership Academy was an annual program in which close to 50 leaders from across the institute participated to develop and put into practice key leadership skills identified as critical to its future. Leaders were placed into teams that worked together on strategic projects.

The nature of the feelings that each team member, anonymously or openly, depending on how transparent a team chooses to be, was asked to capture in the web-based tool included those such as complacency, fatigue, flexibility, depression, inferiority, jealousy, humility, determination, gratitude, anxiety, mental noise, amongst many others. Team members have to pause to really get into the nature of what they are experiencing because the 40 or so states of being sometimes have a fine-line between them, and further several of them are not states that a person would commonly associate with themselves, and the hypothesis is that such a pause and self-look begins to build a set of muscles not often used, by virtue of which a sustainable awareness field then continues to grow in richness.

Tracking such information sheds light on the culture of a team in process of being created. Focusing on feelings is critical because failure to do so erodes team environment and accelerates destructive dynamics. Successfully managing potentially destructive feelings, on the other hand, allows the team to scale the team maturity curve faster. Hence, changing the nature of interaction between team members allows the team to shift through the forming-storming-norming-performing stages of team development at an accelerated pace to thereby increase team productivity.

Such team-development software can help teams move through the forming-storming-norming-performing stages of team development at an accelerated pace. Oftentimes project teams get stuck at the forming or storming stages. In reality very few teams make it through to the norming and performing stages. Through tracking issues and accompanying states of being the software draws attention to patterns that causes the team to stagnate around a particular state of dysfunction. Identification of such patterns unequivocally identifies the stage of development that a team is at, and sets the bases for the team to begin to work away from such patterns to more desirable ones.

If there is a prevalent pattern of states such as ‘synthesizing’, ‘reasoning’, ‘calmness’, ‘patience’, and ‘enthusiasm’, punctuated by only instances of states such ‘haste’, and ‘fear’ for example, this would seem to indicate that a team is operating at the norming stage.

The software allows teams to become more aware of the patterns holding them up, allows them to begin to surface and address issues in a safer way, provides insights into the particular circumstances that typically cause such patterns of dysfunction, suggests numerous ways in which to begin to move to better patterns of functioning, and allows tracking and shifting of such patterns in real-time.

The approximately 50 leaders divided into 7 project teams, worked on a strategic hospital-based initiative, and were asked to track team dynamics on a regular basis. In fact, they were given a choice of whether to track team dynamics or not to. While individuals in those teams who chose to use the tool reported increased sensitivity to feelings-based team dynamics, the question is did the use of the tool actually increase productivity at the team level? Results from a simulated subarctic survival exercise that each of the 7 teams went through, indicated this to be the case. In this simulation, involving a plane crash, each team member is individually asked to rank 15 items necessary for their survival. The team then collectively ranks the same items. If the team score is better than the best individual score, then synergy is deemed to have occurred. If the team score is worse that the best individual score, then synergy is deemed not to have occurred.

The experiment revealed a couple of clear correlations. First, those teams whose use of the team dynamics tool was low exhibited lower synergy. Second, those teams whose use of the team dynamics tool is at the ideal level even for a period of time registered a higher degree of synergy as measured by the survival exercise. This is likely because the nature of interaction between the team members was positively impacted by becoming aware of, or calling out, and acting on negative dynamics in real-time. It is also likely that the very act of becoming aware of and calling out positive dynamics tended to reinforce them. Mirroring, therefore, allowed teams to make adjustments and accelerate their development in real-time.

[To be continued…]