2 Effective Tools for Improving Team Health

I recently had the opportunity to facilitate a discussion for a team on how they could become more healthy.

The team by all accounts is high performing. It is made up of “top guns” from the industry. A group whose contact list (Rolodex, for those of you who still own flip phones), goes three and four layers deep into important and influential customers. They have done a remarkable job as a team, pulling their share of the weight for what needed to be done in the organization. Hitting all their yearly goals by the third quarter.

The premise for team health is that there is a synergy that happens where the team can do amazing things that no single member could ever achieve on their own. That when there is team health there is a feeling of invincibility and performance can increase.


On the flip side, when teams are not healthy, like when certain aspects of performance become overemphasized, other parts of the systems that make us human can become damaged. And while it may look like we are performing, the results are short-term. Worse, the synergy that is anticipated never happens.

I was having a conversation with a physician friend recently about this idea of extremes in performance when it comes to human health. This physician is actively involved with athletes in a consulting capacity and recalled a meeting he was in preparing a local community for a marathon race. The race is fairly well known so, as you can imagine, the health of the runners is really important. The people in charge of the race convened a committee of 20 physician marathon runners and my friend chaired the committee. The interesting thing about the group of physician-runners was that all of them were under the age of 55, and that of the 20, about 40% (8) of them had heart stents. High performers in any discipline have to think deeply about all of the systems that go into their performance. Failing to do this will put undo stress on one aspect in the system, ultimately causing a breakdown in the ability to perform.

My Story

The objective given to me by the organization who hired me was clear: The folks on this team needed a perspective that they are leaders in the organization. To achieve this, they needed to learn to better understand themselves and lead themselves as leaders.

Those of you who love to study how organizations learn will recognize the task as one that involves double-loop learning. The group I was working with needed to examine some of the basic assumptions they had about themselves and then how the organization defined performance. Double-loop learning encourages teams to ask clarifying questions about how they identified the problem, what processes they used to understand the problem, what they can learn from the problem, and how they can apply that learning in the future.

To get this team to see performance in a new way, they needed to think differently about what this term means and then to develop some new ways of going about their work.

2 Ways To Encourage Learning

Two ways that leaders can foster learning on teams are by providing opportunities for exploration and advancement.

Exploration stimulates innovation, new ways of thinking, and creative processes to develop new products or incorporate new technology. One of the exercises I took this team through was how to be better listeners. I gave them some guidelines on how to listen better and to focus on the needs of the other person. Then they were given a listening partner and a set amount of time where they were to do nothing but listen to the other person. We did three rounds of these questions where each time the questions got more difficult to just sit and listen.

The idea here was to give the team a new way of thinking about listening. As a leader, it is good to have a perspective or opinion but that the broader organizational teams also have opinions and ideas. The take away for this group is that if they listened with more intensity, then they would understand the perspective of others and be able to create the organizational synergy that senior management was expecting.

Advancement is when teams look for ways to improve existing processes or products while incorporating innovation and creativity. Leaders encourage team learning through experimentation, providing resources, implementing reflective practices, and celebrating victories during the learning process. One of the unhealthy behaviors that had surfaced on this team is that when something did not go their way, rather than engaging in healthy conflict, they internalized and awfulize the issues. So if one of their members was inadvertently left off of a meeting invite list, rather than be more assertive and reach out to the meeting organizer, the team would say, “it is not our place to get invited, if they don’t value our input then that is their fault.” As a team, we worked on understanding our individual conflict styles and then improving processes where they needed to be flexible from their default conflict style.

As a leader it is your responsibility to care for the health of your team. It is my hope you will continually be looking for ways to use Exploration and Advancement to improve the health on your team.