Team Virus

Something amazing happens when you bring a nascent, emerging idea to a high-functioning team – it becomes a virus. That doesn't sound so special, but stick with me for a moment. Just like a virus, the idea enters its hosts and immediately starts making copies of itself as each person's brain mulls the idea over, examining it from multiple angles. Each copy of the idea inside each team member’s brain is a tiny variation on the original idea, influenced by that person's individual perspective, knowledge and motives. Each member's brain races through this process within a few seconds and in a good team, the members start regurgitating the best variations of the idea back into the group. "What if we did it this way?", "How about this?”, “Did you consider [variable x]?”

This process feeds on itself and the cycle repeats over and over. Someone, usually the person who brought the idea forward, naturally keeps track of the variations. They continually rank and filter the variations and compare them to their original idea. The idea goes through a sped up form of evolution and natural selection. The best variations and tweaks on the original idea live and the duds die in place. Then, the surviving variations go through the process again. Rinse and repeat ad nauseam.

As anyone who has ever experienced this knows, the process happens automatically when certain elements are in place. The problem is that it takes a particular mix of people and, more importantly, of attitudes for this idea iteration process to work properly.

Without trust, respect and honesty in place amongst team members, this viral evolution-and-selection of ideas can't happen. If other members of the team don't have a strong relationship with the person who brought the idea forward, negative feelings get in the way of their brain going into the positive feedback loop that is required. When it works, it is the purest form of collaboration.

The job of a leader is to foster this process, above everything else. The leader must ruthlessly remove the obstacles – whether people, environment, processes or anything else – that threaten the ability of the team to collaborate. The set of environmental circumstances that foster this beautiful process could really be called “the culture” of an organization.

This leads to a tweet from “Christal” who was apparently listening to Jack Welch speak at a conference. Whatever your thoughts on Welsh’s opinions on leadership are (he sometimes takes things to extremes), this piece of advice stood out for me:

Candour is the key to change in workplace culture.

The only way to improve workplace culture and thereby make a team stronger is total honesty and transparency with each other. It’s easy to say and hard to do, but if each of us made a small effort to improve our team cultures, imagine what could happen.

Collaboration is one virus that you don't want to be vaccinated against.