With my mother-in-law being in her 90’s, I often think about her life experiences and journey. I remember that one day my in-laws had a young family come out to see them on the farm. They all sat around the dinning room table to visit. After some snacks were served, my father-in-law went and got a basket filled with puzzles and games. The youngest child after looking through all of the games, looked up and said, “Whoa, no batteries needed.” Everyone spent the evening sharing and playing games together.
We forget that digital relationships are supplanting analog relationships. We also forget that digital relationships are dependent on batteries in order to be successful. And batteries are not always a dependable form of communication.
When it comes to helping people improve their thinking and relating, we as leaders must build relationships so they can handle distance and digital communication. The big problem are 4-D teams which are more “global, virtual and project-driven.” As Martine Haas and Mark Mortensen in their top-notch article called “The Secrets of Great Teamwork,” Harvard Business Review (June 2016) write, “Today’s teams are different from the teams of the past: They’re far more diverse, dispersed, digital, and dynamic (with frequent changes in membership).” As they note, "large [4-D] teams are vulnerable to poor communication, fragmentation and free riding due to a lack of accountability.”
One specific problem is that 4D teams experience limited face time. Digital dependence on communication prevents the ability to understand nonverbal and contextual clues which often provide insight into what is going on. Furthermore, the lack of in-person meetings removes the ability for understanding individual and collective moods of the group. One possible solution to solving the above problems is to establish clear norms at the start of team building and to do it routinely during team meetings. These rules spell out a small number of things that people must always do.
Another potential problem on 4D teams is that people only interact with certain people on the team rather than the whole team on a regular basis. Hermina Ibarra writes about this problem in her book, Act Like A Leader, Think Like A Leader (Harvard Business Review Press, 2015), saying “I call this tendency to prefer interacting with people who are similar to ourselves the narcissistic principle of relationship formation.” A solution to this problem is for leaders to create a relationship building plan and a relationship maintenance plan for their teams. We should not assume we have a relationship with people who are put on a team, and instead invest the time and energy to get to know people thereby creating a relationship.
Furthermore, we need to develop a shared mindset based on a common understanding of identity and direction. People on 4D teams forget the important work that happens in forming and storming stages of team development, and often want to jump directly to norming or performing. As leaders, we can assist this level of work by teaching, role modeling and coaching people to improve the following skill sets: listening, giving and receiving feedback, creating safe space, prioritizing, and resolving conflicts.
This week, speak and role model integrity because it is the foundation to improving thinking and relating in an organization. As we all know, integrity sets the tone for everything else. Therefore, conduct yourself with the utmost integrity. Be a lighthouse rather than a weathervane.