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Don't hide your human awareness skills from your coworkers.
Humans are social by nature, and hanging out with your teammates is a great way to connect and create shared experiences together that build trust and empathy. Grabbing drinks can be an easy—and sometimes welcomed—option, but shouldn’t be the only way for teammates to socialize. To encourage relationships between team members, consider rethinking the idea of happy hour by encouraging flexibility for social time and format that to best match each person’s preferences (or mix it up so everyone has options).
For example, I have one colleague that I attend fitness classes with a couple times a month and we’ll schedule those during lunch or in the late afternoon. Another teammate and I play tennis together 2-3 mornings per month. And as a full team, we’ve found success with long team lunches and half-day field trips as a way to bond without adding time to our days with evening events. For teams that work remotely, you might consider video chat coffee dates, book clubs, meeting at a conference or hosting a summit.
And all of this on company time? Yep. The value gained by cultivating trusted relationships with teammates leads to more comfort in sharing ideas, giving feedback, and navigating change, which far outweighs the time spent on building the human connections through social activities.
We all bring a different perspective to solving problems in collaborative settings. We also all bring our own preferences for doing the work required to solve those problems, our desired way of communicating, sharing ideas, what hours in the day we’re most productive, and how we want to receive feedback. Your goal shouldn’t be to align everyone to a single way of working, but rather to maximize the overlaps and respectfully honor the differences.
When kicking off a project, even with team members you’ve worked with before, have honest and open discussions about each person’s working style. Block out an hour for each person to create their own working style profile. This could be as simple as a quick list, or you could incorporate sketching or encourage specific examples to be shared. The categories will be up to you based on your team’s culture (we often choose communication style, feedback style, and best working hours). Allow for reflection time and then have each person share out their profiles. Use the personal information to help guide your project planning, meeting cadence and how debriefs are conducted. Humans are always evolving, so iterate and refine every time a new project starts!
My team has experimented with all of these activities over the years and we’re always iterating on what works best given our changing needs and growing roster of collaborators. I’d love to know if you try any of these out or what other team-based empathy practices you’ve found successful. Find me here on LinkedIn.
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Erin Joan Lamberty is a creative soul whose passions for mindful design, diverse collaboration, and lifelong learning have led her down a path to working with forward-thinking organizations.
Erin has nearly 10 years of experience building and leading teams in brand strategy, design facilitation, and digital production. In her role as Community Education Lead at The Design Gym, she designs practice-based programs that teach individuals to become creative problem solvers both in their professional and personal lives.
When not designing educational experiences for TDG, Erin blends her knowledge in design thinking with her studies in yoga and meditation to run a yoga studio out of her apartment—her way of providing calm vibes for stressed out New Yorkers.