Six Steps to Improving Team Health
Updated: Sep 5
How I came to be passionate about team health?
For 14 years I’ve been helping nonprofits, schools and other organizations do a better job of engaging the community. Now I want to help your organization improve team health not only because it’s the right thing to do for your people, but because the health of your team impacts what you can accomplish out in the community for your mission.
As Executive Director for Playworks, I became known for best practices in team health, and as I transition out of that role, I am excited to share the framework that emerged and offer a NEW consulting service that will teach you how to implement this framework in your organization.
How do you measure team health?
This gets complex quickly when it comes to defining what a healthy team looks like, what the drivers are of a healthy team, and what difference it makes for results.
I have this saying about “Going to the people,” so when it came to team health I continually asked my team members what seemed to indicate and contribute to team health. Three themes emerged.
Transparency – Honesty about the good, the bad and the ugly, access to knowledge about overall organizational strategies, and the leader’s openness about what they spend their time on.
Trust – Cultivated through intentional relationship development, and there being a safe space to be vulnerable.
Feeling valued – Evidence that feedback is reflected in actions, and knowing how daily activities contribute to the organization’s mission and results.
Other teams may answer this question differently, but it seems transparency, trust, and feeling valued are pretty core values and a good place to start when it comes to team health.
Following are the Six Steps to Team Health that emerged for me in my experience. This framework can be applied to any organization, but especially one of a similar size (12-24 employees).
Step #1 – Leader Values - What values do you express that contribute to team health?
My #1 value when it comes to team health is transparency. My first week on the job I told the Program Director that I knew programming was strong, so I’d leave him alone while I went to work on the fundraising gap. I put up on the whiteboard our goal, what was raised so far and the gap. Then I put my calendar up on the board - where I’d be and what I would be doing every hour of the week. I wanted the staff to understand my role and how I spent my time. A couple days later, the Program Director came into my office and said, “I feel that you would want to know about this.” It wasn’t a critical issue, but he made a gesture of proactively informing me of something that others might keep to themselves. There was something in that exchange that laid the foundation for a trusting relationship between co-leaders that signaled respect for individual areas of expertise and at the same time a safe place to be vulnerable and throw challenges out on the table without fear of judgment.
I’ll refer to one of my favorite researchers these days – Dr. Brene Brown – and her work on courage as vulnerability, when I emphasize that one must have a great deal of self knowledge and humility – a sense of humor helps too – in order to make yourself transparent. You know you might be called out one day, and you have to be able to handle that, but the dividends it pays in trust from your team is worth it.
Try This: Reflect on the top three to five values that drive you and consider which contribute directly to improving the health of your team. Perhaps there is a need to move another value up to the top.
Step #2 – Team Values
Key personal values of individuals must be reflected in the overall team’s values. That’s why it’s important to dig in and identify a set of overarching values that encompasses every single team member. It’s not that all of their values need to be present but the most important ones do.
Try This: Distribute a confidential survey asking people to reflect on their top values and which are most important to team health. Ask them to offer examples of specific events that reflect those values and others that do not. See what themes emerge, group them into no more than three overarching values and facilitate a discussion that results in consensus about three overarching values that contribute to team health.
Step #3 – Team Identity
This step is about creating a picture or personifying what your team wants and needs to look and act like in order to achieve this year’s objectives (this identity may change from year to year). Our team talked about what it “felt like” as a team my first year as a leader. We were super focused but also in a kind of survival mode. We decided that the next year we would identify as experts (that’s a different feel), and the next year the team identity had to do with aggressive growth and capacity to influence (that’s an even different feel). Just naming a team identity results in a different energy and way of approaching one’s job. Each year we ask ourselves, “In order to achieve our objectives, what do we need to feel like and be like?”
Try This: Facilitate a discussion about what it “felt like” the year before, and what the team needs to feel and be like this year in order to achieve the objectives. You can go further and personify this as a character, like a super hero or celebrity. Personifying helps people embody the characteristics that are expressed by the character.
Step #4 - Strategies to Protect Values and Team Identity
The hardest part is now behind you. Once you have identified the critical values and desired team identity, strategies to protect those two things begin to emerge. For example, our strategies have included:
1. Intentional and purposeful recognition
2. Monthly social gatherings;
3. Getting better at “Start With Heart” from Crucial Conversations; and
4. Everyone’s personal and professional growth being top of mind
Try This: Identify three to five specific strategies that support the values and team identity you named.
Step #5 – Systems for Accountability and Measuring Progress
Execution is key, so creating new systems or adapting current systems to ensure execution is critical. For example, during monthly all-team meetings we asked our team how they felt we were doing on recognition, and if there was a gap we assigned ourselves an action. We added a check-in question about how we were doing on social gatherings. A more intense assessment was done at the end of every year during our all-team retreat.
Try This: Identify easy ways to add check-ins to existing systems.
Step #6 – Tools and Training
Sometimes your team needs a tool or training in order to successfully execute a strategy. Our team identified that everyone needed to do better having difficult conversations with school partners, so we adopted the “Start With Heart Principle,” from the book Crucial Conversations. We continue to have ongoing trainings, we developed a template for people to draft their conversation, and we report out on wins and losses so we can learn from experience. We also use psychological type as a lens to learn more about ourselves so we can be more effective with others. We build into our all-team meetings check-ins as well as occasional training to grow that lens.
Try This: Go back to your strategies and consider where there is a gap in knowledge or opportunities to practice in order to build new habits. Again, integrate this into existing systems to ensure ongoing progress.
To really benefit by this framework, it needs to be something that is top of mind, a new lens that you see through, an understanding that paying attention to team health is a proactive way to maximize the happiness and productivity of your team.
Next time I'll talk about how to lead your team on a journey of self knowledge, which will increase their capacity to be more effective with others.
If you are interested in learning more about my framework and how I can help your organization improve team health, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about my new consulting and coaching services, visit www.deborah-alinea.com.