How Teams Heal Themselves

Posted by Ann Deaton Share Your Voice


Working on a team can be one of the most rewarding workplace experiences, and one of the most challenging. Sometimes teams become broken in the course of their work together. They may know they need and want to heal yet have no idea how to do so. What we've learned in working with diverse teams across organizations and industries is that teams often need to CARVE out a new way of being with one another. They need to heal, and they have to create again who they are.

What does healing look like? It's not easy or superficial. It goes deep into the essence of who the team is, and who they want to be. The acronym I like for the process of healing is CARVE.

C stands for Curiosity. Established teams can get stuck when they believe they know everything there is to know about one another and about their task. Embracing a curious attitude invites people to ask questions, to explore, and to discover. Being curious makes it safe not to know. Curiosity creates an openness to learn, and to create. Whenever a team member says "I know....", consider asking "What might you not know? How could you find out? What new perspective might be valuable?"

A is for Appreciation. More often than not when a team needs healing it is because you have begun to focus on all that is wrong. You find fault with one another, and forget that there is anything good to be seen. Ask questions such as "What do you appreciate about this person?" and "Even though this project didn't go as expected, what is there to appreciate in what we did?" This will help you recreate a more balanced view that includes assets as well as issues. Questions that invite appreciation go a long way towards reestablishing mutual respect and trust. They create deep recognition of the goodness of the people on your team and the work you are doing and have the potential to do.

The R in CARVE is an invitation to focus on Results. What are the outcomes you want, the success criteria that will demonstrate to you that the team is working well and accomplishing its goals? As human beings, we have a natural tendency to first focus on threats and problems. Our brains are built to perceive risk, and it's a remarkable survival strategy. However, you don't want a team that merely survives; you want a thriving team. To create one, it's essential to focus on the desired results. TED* (The Empowerment Dynamic) is one of our favorite approaches for making the shift to focus on desired outcomes. What do you want this team to feel, do, and be? If you had that, how would you know? What are the desired results of each project, of each interaction.  A focus on Results is a powerful healing strategy.

V stands for Values. When teams stop working well together, it is often because they experience the tension of their differing values. One person values Stability, another Innovation. One person puts Profits ahead of everything else while others believe that a sense of Purpose has to come first. All these values are positive and useful, and establishing what is important to each of us enables the team to realize the benefits each particular value brings to the work you do. In the midst of controversy or conflict, ask (curiously, of course) "What makes that important?" and "What's the underlying value you want to honor here?" or "What can you not do without?" To build on the individually held values and reestablish team connections, ask "What is deeply important to all of us? What can we agree is a value we want to honor no matter what?" Teams are often surprised at how many important values they share, even when they have been at odds with one another and feel fragmented and frustrated.

Finally, E stands for Energy. What are each person's strengths and natural preferences? What gives them Energy? When we coach teams, one thing we frequently see is that the division of responsibilities doesn't align with team members' passions or talents. When the work you do doesn't take advantage of the things you do naturally without even thinking about it and when individuals aren't using and sharing their innate gifts, you are not bringing your best to the work you do together. You may force yourself to engage, but your energy will be lacking. Your effort will be unsustainable over time. Questions such as "What is something you are often complimented on?" and "What do you do without even thinking about it?" can unearth these natural strengths. Assessments such as Strengths Finders and the Core Values Index can be used as tools to dive deeper so that you consciously make use of the talents of your team. Productivity skyrockets when team members get to use their strengths.

So when your team has become unhealthy, try some of these approaches and CARVE out a new way of succeeding together. Take a look at our book Being Coached to see how team and group coaching can strengthen your organization. And if you need a partner in doing this challenging work of healing, reach out to us at Bounce. It's some of our favorite work to do. 

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Small Ann Deaton I am a leadership coach, and Managing Partner in Bounce. I love to coach and facilitate with individuals and systems experiencing significant change and growth. The clients I work with, regardless of their age or position, are talented and creative individuals willing to look with fresh eyes at their challenges and opportunities, and to take action based on their discoveries. As a result, they find that they are capable of accomplishing far greater things than they ever imagined. What do you want to accomplish today? Who do you want to be?


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