Your social operating system needs an update?

Info & Autor:innen
von Nicole Dufft

The decisive factor for the performance of your organization in challenging times is its social operating system. With a social operating system that is based on a deep quality of relationships, teams and organizations will be successful even if the going gets tough. Notwithstanding its significance, however, relationship quality is rarely perceived as a factor that can be systematically developed or measured. But it can! And this has nothing to do with climbing adventures or monthly bar-evenings. It has to do with a structured approach, profound measuring, and most of all: continuity and consistency.

The social operating system is key to success in challenging times

In its project ‘Aristotle’, involving 37.000 employees from 183 teams, Google researchers found that the effectiveness of a team depends more than anything else on how team members interact. According to the research, the social operating system of a team – i.e. its norms, traditions, behavioral standards and unwritten rules are key to team performance. Particularly in face of a crisis or extraordinary challenge, the social operating system and the quality of human relationships will determine whether your people and co-workers are motivated and able to deliver outstanding results despite rising demands and insecurities. Whether they will remain effective and dedicated in a remote, virtual environment. And whether they will be able to deal with difficult situations, structural changes or conflicts in a constructive way. Our own research shows that relationship quality also has a strong influence on attracting and retaining the best employees.

But do you actually have a good understanding of this important success factor? Do you know where your organization currently stands, which factors encourage or impede relationship quality, and which actions are necessary to deepen trust, foster mutual understanding and provide for psychological safety?

What is necessary to update your social operating system and improve relationship quality?

Most leaders primarily rely on their gut feeling to evaluate and improve relationships in their teams. Annual pulse checks or employee satisfaction surveys might help a little, but usually the results of these surveys come with a long delay and provide only very limited action-oriented guidance. Many leaders also try to improve team spirit with occasional teambuilding events, such as climbing or escape room adventures or going for joint drinks – at least in times before Covid-19. But all these attempts are far from structured, systematic or sustainable – what a pitty, given the importance of the matter!

So, what is necessary to update your social operating system and improve relationship quality? How do you systematically develop an organization in which everybody is enthusiastic about achieving the common goal and supporting each other in doing so? How do you build a team, in which all members have the right skills needed for their tasks, work hand in hand, trust each other, and feel safe and cared for? What is needed to create an environment in which everyone speaks with their own voice and you can literally feel the flow of creativity and collective intelligence? An organization in which employees start the week with “finally Monday!” on their mind?

An agile, action-oriented approach

Here is what we have learned from working with teams and organizations in transformational settings over the past years:

  • Profound measurement: First, it is key to start with illuminating the blind spots in your organization. Measuring the state of relationship quality and providing profound facts for development needs, gives everybody a solid basis to talk about. At fibonacci & friends we have developed a unique tool that has been extensively tested in practice to make areas with concrete need for action visible.  
  • Continuous and consistent open discourse: Second, your teams need a thorough reflection and radical acceptance on where they stand, an open discussion of critical issues and a joint definition of fields where they want to improve. This open discourse needs to be organized frequently and continuously in regular team development dialogues. It has to become as normal to work on team issues as it is to work on strategy, financial planning or product development. Building trust, psychological safety or common purpose is not done in a day - it requires persistence and endurance.
  • Agile, action-oriented implementation: Third, it has proven very useful to approach team development in an agile way, e.g. by setting up moderated team development dialogues, creating a development backlog and implementing measures in iterative sprints. This helps teams to follow up on very concrete actions rather than just proclaiming good intentions. If you put a focus on the most important topic at a time, changes are actually implemented and the team's self-efficacy will rise. A close monitoring of the effectiveness of implemented measures allows them to make adjustments along the way on an ongoing basis.  
  • Participation & ownership: When team members have created the first tangible results everybody in the team gets deeply engaged and takes ownership of the process and its outcomes. Selected team members can be enabled to moderate the team dialogue, so the team is empowered to develop in a self-organized and continuous manner.

All this can be done virtually and does not necessarily need presence meetings. This was an astonishing learning of the past months, when we were challenged to work in purely virtual environments.

It might sound irritating at first to address the ‘soft’ factor of human relationships in such a rational way. But our experience and crunching data from the organizations we worked with revealed that our systematic, agile approach helped to improve relationship quality by 20-30% within only a few months. Developing new social operating systems results in teams with highly satisfied, motivated and fulfilled individuals that joyfully pursue a common goal and act with overall responsibility - even under difficult circumstances.

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