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Process, the Perfect Team, and Psychological Safety

By July 11, 2017 No Comments

In 2013, Sam Hinkie took the helm as the general manager of an ailing Philadelphia 76ers (basketball) team and established what people refer to now as “The Process”. The Process was a calculated and devised plan to, over the course of several years, get the best young talent to the land of brotherly love where they could ball out. But like all good things, the process took time and included several (terrible) losing seasons, backlash from fans, and ridicule by analysts.

Hinkie, despite the controversy surrounding his tactics, was committed to The Process. Every act that he took, every decision his front office made, and every trade that he conjured was centered on his end goal: winning basketball games and building a franchise. Unfortunately, Hinkie supporters ran out of patience, and in 2016, he was forced out just a season away from the process finally (hopefully) yielding its first fruits.

Unlike the 76ers, Daxko has been a solid organization for years. But the similarity they share with the 2013-2016 76ers is the conviction that process is vital to progress. Understanding process increases scope and vision for where and what we want to be. I joined the Customer Success Team during a rebuilding phase; people were changing roles and moving on to other things during a busy time of year. Trusting the process was not easy when the phones wouldn’t stop ringing and cases piled up. The urge to overcompensate with impulsive hirings or knee-jerk reactions to problems were tangible. But with time, our a resilient and committed team weathered the storm. As we rebuilt, we became more tenured and experienced and, through deliberate hirings, we became stronger in number and proficiency. Now, a year and half later, our squad is stacked.

In trusting our process, did we achieve what we aimed to do? I guess it depends. The process of building a good team may not be able to quantify the intangibles that comprise a great one. Google, a company who prides itself on process and vision, recently conducted a study to uncover the characteristics of a perfect team. The study (Project Aristotle), despite pouring over decades of social and psychological group behavior and case studies on Google employees, found it hard to determine exactly what makes a great team. What they came to realize is that the lack of consistent patterns was because great teams took so many different forms. Some teams were balanced across the board which helped equally distribute duties. Other teams’ strengths varied but were able to give teammates tasks that fit their skill set. All in all, they identified two behavior traits that ran through the variations of great teams. One was what researchers call “equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking” which is a fancy way of saying that everyone on the team spoke an equal amount during team meetings. The other was social sensitivity, which is when people are aware of nonverbal cues: tone of voice, body language, group dynamics, facial expression, etc.

These observations comprise parts of what is known as “psychological safety”. The article quotes Amy Edmondson, a professor at Harvard Business School, when she says psychological safety is a ‘‘shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.’’ Psychological safety is ‘‘a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up … it describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.’’

It seems that for teams to succeed, there must be a good process in place to build for scale and growth, bring in all-stars, and craft a crew that can perform. But what may be the crux of impactful work, meaningful careers, and a successful team rests in the truth that to be excellent is to value those around you. Where work becomes excellent out of a sense of joy rather than a sense of fear, resilience replaces timidity, employees are teammates, and culture is a communal commitment to who we are and what we hope to be.


Sam G. is a Customer Success Advocate who enjoys slow mornings, coffee, and homemade waffles with his wife every Saturday.

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