Team Building — It’s All About Me

Bonding teams through vulnerability and trust

Psychological Safety

One of the most important responsibilities leaders have is to build a highly effective team. Leaders may initially focus on the makeup of a team, technical competence, or team discipline. These attributes are important; however, according to Google’s Project Aristotle, the most critical factor for establishing a highly performant team is to establish an environment of Psychological Safety:

“Team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other. In other words, leaders are responsible for building a trustful environment.”

HomeAway team feeling safe while armed with throwing axes.

Understanding the Problem

Building a trusting organization is nebulous task. Telling a team of engineers to be more vulnerable with each other would be met with skepticism, to say the least. It doesn’t typically develop at a happy hour, but rather over time through day to day interaction. Even this practice is inconsistent depending on the employees involved. So building a trusting team remains out of reach and directionless.

The list of people I naturally trust is tiny.

While pondering this problem, I realized that I felt most trusting when I felt others recognized me as an individual: when I felt that others had a base understanding of who I am as a person and what was most important to me. I then proposed what I called the “Crazy Mushy Manager Idea” to my team.

It’s All About Me

Glorious introduction slide designed by our Design Technologist.

Enter the “About Me” presentation, i.e., @Cantu presentation. The idea is fairly simple. Present only what you want people to know about you. The goal of the presentation is to develop a more personal understanding of one another and hence build trust. Presentations can last anywhere from 5–30 minutes depending how much someone wants to share. Nearly every team member has performed their presentation, including our product manager, engineers, and designers. The results have been very positive. About Me presentations are the best attended meetings we have. Feedback from the presentations have been very positive as well. As new team members join, we ask them to put together their “About Me” presentation to present to the group after they been on the team for a few months.

Picture of Lead Engineer, Adam, and his family

A big part of our success has been our focus on getting to know and respecting team members as individuals.

Tactical Benefits

The positive results have been numerous. The team feels cohesive and inviting. The team often self-organizes to promote bonding without my prodding. Team members often eat lunch or get coffee together. The team even has a practice of “Swole Time” where they work out with one another.

Photos of our designer Hailey’s cat, Mabel.

As it applies to our jobs, team members feel comfortable proposing crazy (a.k.a. “innovative”) ideas. The team meets typically each week in a GSD (Get Stuff Done) meeting. It’s here where the team builds cohesive understanding and proposes new ideas. Using Flow, Jest, Sentry.io and our CICD pipeline are all results of having developed an environment where it’s safe and encouraged to throw out crazy ideas.

What’s Next?

Photo of me at 4 years old with my mom and sister.

Building and maintaining a trusting environment requires continued effort and support. A positive and healthy culture does not happen by accident. In the next month, I will gather quantitative data via a survey from the team on how we rate ourselves on the core attributes of a healthy team. The survey is based on questions I found in this article regarding measuring Psychological Safety. From our findings, we will develop a plan to address our next best opportunity.