Listen-up, let the Team Culture speak

How building Team Culture can be affected by the principles of Active Listening and Collaborative Communication.

Background

Some weeks ago, I had to write my first academic essay for Hyper Island master’s program. Working in a team, we had to develop a solution for an open brief assignment. It was about designing a meaningful experience. This essay was an opportunity to go in depth into a particular topic which had affected me. I chose to write about Active Listening and Team Development. For this post, I will be editing part of the essay to make it Medium-ish.

To build the culture

“There is a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak.”
 — Simon Sinek
A demo of handwritten letter used for the pitch of Humans of the Internet project.

For this module named Design and Creativity, we have to use the “Double Diamond” as our process. To know more about it see this study made by the Design Council. In short, this framework has four stages, the Discover, Define, Develop, and Deliver. We applied in two different projects. The first project was an Experience Mapping project. Here the goal was mapping a fresh new experience, in two days time. The second project lasted for approximately two weeks. My team had to design from scratch our own experience. Along the way, document in detail all the process stages and lessons learned. Then we pitched the developed solution to an audience of peers and experts. Our solution for this open brief was a project named The Humans of the Internet, a global movement for kindness.

In both projects, the teams were encouraged to use tools for building a Team Culture. There’s a great focus in Team Culture development at Hyper Island. See how here. It was gradually introduced since the beginning of the master’s degree. Now was the time to put some tools in practice. To know a bit more about these tools check this post or Hyper Island Toolbox.

Details of the team canvas template used made by my teams while building our team culture.

During this module, there was something odd to observe within the teams I was working in. Barely any member offered resistance to try these new tools and methodologies. Why? Why are Hyper Island students so ready to try out new methodologies? Do they have a different mindset? Or is the school Designing Designers in such a way they just get the correct frame of mind to Lead the Change?

By the way, you should listen to what Jared Spool has to say about Designing Designers topic. It’s around 70min podcast but the time is worth. I will pull a little of what Jared says, just to wet your appetite.

“How many designers does it take to change a lightbulb? And the answer was, why does it have to be a light bulb? This is really sort of a brilliant insight because that’s really sort of the way we think about design at its peak. But there are a lot of designers who will sort of go straight to the design patterns. They will think about design in terms of the patterns that we’ve established. And there are a lot of us now who are starting to think about”

Hyper Island is definitely a place where these established patterns are really put in perspective, challenged and questioned in their essence.

Anyway, what I know is that before I joined Hyper Island I would not find this attitude at least on the teams I was in. There someone would always whine and act negatively towards the new tools and methodologies.

On team culture, there is no comparison between before and after joining Hyper Island. I mean experiencing these tools and seeing them at work is like teamwork on steroids.

The main findings

Something occurred in both teams I worked with during this module. And it was proving that the initial effort put on building the team culture, paid off over time.

  • Efficient Communication. Communication clarity increased and understanding. Listening (actively) facilitated the negotiation about tasks, structure, procedures, and goals improved. It was more open and task-oriented. ;
  • Conflict management. It was definitely easy to work through conflicts and divergent opinions. When in disagreement, the collective interest would always persuade individual one. This was achieved through effective communication, not peer pressure or majority ruling. Because like Tolstoy said “Wrong does not cease to be wrong because the majority share in it”;
  • Collaboration. Collaborative activities at the beginning of projects made us trust each other earlier. Collaborative activities such as defining the goals, values, roles, and purpose for the group.
  • Commitment. By displaying trust earlier the commitment to the group increased.
  • Accountability. After commitment, my colleagues and I also demonstrated higher disposition for being accountable. What generated a bigger comfort zone amongst us.
  • Trusting the process and better performance. Because there was more comfort, each team member felt more self-confident. Higher individual’s self-confidence induced more determination in following the design process. And this, finally, drove to a better collective performance;
  • Mindfulness. Team members displayed more mindfulness of their role and tasks in each stage of the project;
  • Altogether, with active listening, my colleagues and I created solid and positive working relationships.
Active Listening is a critical communication tool for modern team development. It develops self-awareness, mindfulness and boosts interpersonal engagement among team members. So, is likely to have a positive effect on the team performance.

The above quote is one of the main findings of the essay.

I also found evidence that Active Listening functions as a team performance enhancer. Because, if communication in a team is efficient, team members tend to collaborate more and with that increase the performance standards, during all the stages of a project.

All these was possible because a proper use of the team culture tools was in place. Each and every of the tools supported on the two fundamental practices. Active Listening by on side. Collaborative Communication (or Nonviolent Communication) by the other.

As team members, these tools showed us the strength of mutual engagement with each other. 
As students, these practices helped us create a permanent self-awareness. 
As designers, these results prompt us to keep exercising mindfulness.

Let me know your thoughts on this topic.

Special thanks to AG & IG for their always useful and pragmatic editorial input.

Hearing Icon by Rémy Médard from the Noun Project ®