All aspects of the M&A lifecycle require employees to work in teams. The efficiency of these teams greatly influences the value extracted from the deal. There are two hundred and fifty characteristics of work teams that correlate to higher performance, but there are two primary ones that researchers have discovered lead to considerably higher, measurable performance.
Psychological Safety - Psychological safety means team members feel safe taking risks, asking for help, and trying new roles. There is no fear of getting fired for trying something new or admitting team members don’t know something.
Team Emotional Intelligence (T.E.I.) - Team Emotional Intelligence allows team members to articulate how they are feeling and behave appropriately as they articulate these feelings. Interestingly, these teams also measure high on the social capital scale (investing in others). Research finds that ranking high in social capital creates a domino effect as these teams tend to have high executive support, which is obviously helpful because executives have the power to give teams what resources they need to be successful.
So how do you create psychological safety and team emotional intelligence so that your teams can function at a more powerful level? The answer is core protocols. Core protocols are a set of behaviors that are observed when high performing teams are studied.
This is what Jim and Michele McCarthy did in the 1990s; subsequently, every time they intervened and taught new teams these protocols, they found success. This tells us that the behaviors of core protocols lead to emergent states - if we teach these behaviors, we get higher T.E.I. and efficiency.
Foundational Skills Teams Must Possess in Order to Work Efficiently
Everything is “opt in” and it is okay to “opt out” - Giving team members the freedom and liberty to work how they want, with whom they want, on what they want is incredibly powerful. This approach generates very organic projects people are passionate about and intrinsically invested in. In fact, Google has found great success with this model. It is equally important for people to know it is okay to “opt out” - this is what makes them start to feel psychologically safe. In addition, if one team member is not totally “in,” he/she is often a source of friction - whether intentionally or unintentionally.
Asking for help is okay - Low performing teams have a pattern of getting stuck and staying stuck because they are afraid to ask for help. When people are encouraged to ask for help, they don’t remain stuck when they encounter a problem. Since help cannot be forced, asking for help always works because the person asking is open and receptive.
Feedback isn’t forced - Similar to the above points related to help, feedback is not forced in high functioning teams. Forcing feedback is an all too common pitfall in today’s business world. The “perfection” game is a powerful way to generate feedback. This game involves one person sharing an idea with another, then the listener gives the idea a score (one-ten) based on how much better he/she thinks the product can be made. Next, he/she shares a list of positive qualities, followed by what he/she would add or change to make the idea a perfect ten. Ultimately, the perfection game is a value creation opportunity.
Agile’s Role in Creating Psychological Safety and Team Emotional Intelligence
The research on Agile tells us that it contributes to team members’ and stakeholders’ happiness; therefore, Agile can not only be a more efficient way of working, but also a happier, more fulfilling way of working. It is an avenue to our two primary characteristics of top performing teams- psychological safety and team emotional intelligence. The Agile Manifesto speaks to this as it states individuals and interactions should be valued over processes and tools, a working product should be valued over a long term vision of a product that does not exist, and skills should be valued - all of which is the opposite of the old-fashioned way of doing things. The end result is technical agility, business agility, and more collaborative processes.
Simple Ways To Begin to Implement Agile
Have team members talk to each other once a day - Here is a simple, yet incredibly fruitful, starting point. Teams need to be communicating once a day in order to become more Agile and increase safety and emotional intelligence. Many teams tend to work in silos and then come together when something is wrong - yikes! Think of a marriage - if a couple only communicated when there was a problem, the marriage would not be a healthy relationship. The same is true for work teams - if people are communicating once a day, there is an authentic foundation for new goals, ideas, and a healthy working relationship.
Make it a safe experience - When starting the process of becoming Agile and introducing Agile to your teams, the language you use can have an impact on how people will feel about it. First, we suggest calling this slow dive into Agile an “experiment” - something you are trying out and will evaluate; if it does not work, you’ll stop. Also, let people know that no one is going to lose his/her job over Agile, which may seem silly or unnecessary, but it is critical to the safety of employees.
Adopt an “opt in” mentality - As emphasized under foundational skills, an “opt in” mentality is an Agile mentality as it leads to efficiency and stronger work. You can help cultivate this “opt in” mentality through the creation of an Agile Change Team - people who are interested in Agile should be the ones to help implement it in the company.
Create an Agile Change Team - Within the company, it is wise to create an Agile group - people who are passionate about Agile (here is that “opt in” idea again), aligned with the company goals, and have influence in the company. This group can outline weekly changes, meet to discuss progress, and, finally, do a retrospective (not a postmortem). As the team presents a new idea each week, there will be what we like to call the compound interest effect - on the surface, one idea a week may seem like fifty-two new ideas a year about how to make the company better, but in actuality, it is much more significant because after the first few ideas, the company is already more efficient, so with each new idea, your value is increasing at a higher rate.
Additionally, with an in-house Agile group, you eliminate the need for consultants and the change appears more organic. The idea here is that if one team begins doing Agile well and reaps the benefits of it, then other teams will be attracted to that team’s success and will want to learn its secrets so they can also be successful.
Just as learning cannot be forced, forcing key ideas, systems or processes on a business community is never a positive way to drive company success. Becoming more mindful of employee psychological safety and team emotional intelligence through Agile principles will help your teams extract more value from their efforts than previously imagined.
The emotional temperature of business teams is essential to their success, and, ultimately, to your business’ success. As the saying goes, “People don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad cultures.”
Kison Patel is the Founder and CEO of DealRoom, a Chicago-based diligence management software that uses Agile principles to innovate and modernize the finance industry. As a former M&A advisor with over a decade of experience, Kison developed DealRoom after seeing first hand a number of deep-seated, industry-wide structural issues and inefficiencies.