This is the final part to this post, you can find part 1 here.

How we did it

The “we” is crucial to this because no individual can make a team magically morph into a cohesive and self organising unit of awesomeness. The team, as a whole, is responsible for building the culture required in order to allow the team to become cohesive and self organising and all I can do is assist by planting the ideas and helping the team along by nudging and prodding as required.

As I was drafting this, I thought I’d start by giving the detail of the experience that I made reference to at the end of part 1 but, as I was writing, I realised that it was not a single experience or event that resulted in a proverbial light bulb moment but rather a series of events and experiences over a number of years that combined to lead to this.

For the sake of this post it is enough to know that many experiences have helped me to recognise the importance of respect and empathy for others in both my personal and professional life.

Before building the team, I had seen and experienced the difference that having respect and empathy made in my working relationships and ability to assist colleagues in ensuring that we, as a team, delivered results. I found that I would naturally put the teams’ goals and needs above my own. I transformed from being self focused to team focused and naturally started helping my colleagues to become the best that they could be and in the process I found that I too was improving on so many levels… skills, knowledge, leadership, mentorship, management and self improvement.

In short, my career and job satisfaction began to soar. As the project teams became successful, so did I.

Having experienced the difference that this way of thinking and living made to me, my colleagues and the teams as well as the findings of the research that I mentioned in part 1, it became clear to me that respect and empathy are key components of a successful team.

The challenge, for me, was learning how to take a bunch of highly skilled, self serving individuals and build them into a highly skilled team where the individuals put the teams’ goals and needs above their own.


Understanding what is required

Through taking the time to understand why respect and empathy had had such a profound effect on me and those around me, I have identified four key principals:

  1. I must not perceive or create the perception of any levels of seniority.
    By this I mean that I need to make myself available to give to anyone and be open to receive from anyone. I don’t mean that you should get rid of the titles and career growth through these titles but the titles need to mean nothing when the success of the team / project is at stake. I can call myself the CEO of the Canteen for all anyone should care, as long as I am prepared to give the time required to assist, discuss, teach, take input from and learn from anyone regardless of their current rank, experience level or knowledge space.
  2. I must be open to different views and inputs regardless of my believed specialisation.
    Here I am referring to letting go of the belief in my own awesomeness within one or more specialisation(s). I have seen some of the best suggestions come from people outside of the specialisation in question when they are given the freedom to give input or ask questions without fear of appearing foolish. So key to this is allowing others to speak and then truly listening to them. I then need to give their input the consideration that it is due and through discussion that is free of ridicule we, together, either adopt, modify and adopt, agree to discuss further or agree to discard the input.
  3. I must not have an ego.
    In order to successfully implement the first two requirements, I must let go of my ego. I must accept that I can be wrong, that I can make mistakes and that I do not know everything. I need to learn to roll with the punches when I get something wrong. I need to allow myself the opportunity to take responsibility for and learn from my mistakes without taking the failure personally. I must learn that a success for the team is a success for all and that I do not need to constantly have my successes validated. I must always be aware that feeding my ego and showing off my “awesomeness” may result in a result that could be difficult to maintain, may add very little value and could end up costing my team dearly so I must be prepared to simply solve the problem without the need to prove anything to anybody.
  4. I must allow others the space and freedom to build these principals within themselves.


Helping the team to adopt these principals

Defining the above principals actually helped to make the implementation rather simple and lead to the use of the following…

In a combined team setting, starting with myself, I ask each individual to share something personal about themselves with the team. It does not have to be embarrassing…

In fact, the fear of embarrassment is what we are trying to get rid of so they may be too embarrassed to share something now but in a few weeks everyone will respect the individual for having the courage to do something that they themselves are too scared to do or for doing something interesting which they themselves weren’t aware of or had a preconceived perception of or simply had no interest in doing. But I digress…

This can be anything from something that the others are not aware of to something that everyone is aware of. It should be something that personalises the team members to each other with the goal being to plant the seed that slowly changes the team from viewing each other as colleagues / competition to viewing each other as people. I then, in team settings, regularly ask random team members about their personal item in order to further personalise them.

In both formal and informal settings, I actively encourage everyone to have a say in any topic through the use of various techniques including randomly asking an individual for input. I encourage the team to accept “I don’t know” as an acceptable answer and to see it as an opportunity to cross skill or even up skill the team. I encourage young team members to have informal discussions with and get input from those with more experience. Similarly, I encourage those with experience to give constructive feedback and to be open to taking input. I ensure that all team members are aware of the fact that they cannot, in their individual capacities, know everything but as a team they can be a force. I discourage self validation, degrading comments and lack of tolerance.

The most important lesson that I have learnt is that building a cohesive and self organising team is a journey that I am still not done with. People are the greatest disruptors and I am constantly learning to adapt my approach to different individuals.

In the end, through the constant implementation of these, the individuals soon begin to adopt the principals and within a short space of time, the team adopts respect and empathy as core values of their culture. The team not only lives the culture but also protects it and ensures that new team members adopt it.


A final thought

If you are in a position to, look around you and try to identify opportunities to learn the importance of having respect and empathy.

As an example, look out for a colleague who has a lot of passion for their profession but is struggling to make an impression.
You or others may perceive them as someone who puts in the bare minimum and is “unwilling” to put in more even when the team needs them. In this case, you may find that they are unable to put more in for a surprising reason. You may also perceive them as someone with a poor capacity for learning but there may be a valid reason for this.

Your obligation to your colleagues is to empathise with this and then do everything in your power to ensure that your decisions, perceptions and comments take this understanding into account.


I’d like to hear from others who have built cohesive and self organising teams. What worked for you? Did you come to the same culture conclusions or something entirely different?
I’d also like to hear from those that are not part of a cohesive and self organising team. Does the above resonate with you? Would you like more information? If so, what?