Achieving results through teams and networks of teams—both permanent and temporary ones—is essential in today’s rapidly evolving digital world of work.
When team members collectively exhibit high-character behavior, they’re better equipped to face today’s challenges, such as working through uncertainty, learning from mistakes, and managing differences.
What do we mean by “character”? Character means acting with integrity, living up to one’s values, and honoring obligations, especially when the pressure is on or when no one is looking.
The research I’ve done at AchieveForum reveals that on high-character teams, people acknowledge their mistakes, correct them, and do the right thing under pressure and uncertainty—even when it creates personal risk. In low-character teams, people hide their mistakes, look for scapegoats, and make saving face the top priority.
How can we develop high-character teams?
The good news is that a manager can take several steps to create a high-character team:
Build a strong team culture. What does this culture look like? Here are some tips:
- Clarify the outcomes the team is pursuing—outcomes that require the contribution of the whole team.
- Define the unique contributions that each member makes.
- Make character a critical part of the team culture. Have the team generate behavioral guidelines that reflect core team values. Focus the guidelines on critical moments of truth, such as when a mistake is made, a recommended course of action conflicts with a stated value/behavior, and there has been a significant change to team goals, resources, or deadlines.
- Anticipate the challenges the team may face and outline how they might be managed.
- Audit how well the team is doing and make adjustments.
As a team leader, model character in action. These three actions will help you and your team exhibit high-character behavior:
- Be alert for moments of truth in which doing what is expedient conflicts with doing the right thing—and do the right thing.
- Facilitate dialogue with people about how best to address the tensions between doing the right thing and doing what is expedient.
- Help people debrief when integrity falters and mistakes are made. With your team, develop “lessons learned” from these real-world work experiences and think through how to better manage them in the future.
Closing the gaps that diminish team character
To build a high-character team, you’ll also need to address “know-do” and “intent-impact” gaps:
Know-do gaps. When you ask most people what character is, they know the answer. Yet achieving high-character behavior is easier said than done. We need to close the know-do gap that gets in the way of doing the right thing.
- Monitor character with surveys and team audits and provide feedback. This follows the principle that what gets measured matters.
- Eliminate the fear of making intelligent mistakes. Fear suppresses high-character behavior.
- Reduce competition and emphasize collaboration. Collaboration increases high-character behavior.
Intent-impact gaps. Team leaders and members are often unaware of behaviors that may be limiting team character. We need to close the gap between what we intend to do and how it is experienced by others.
- Help people recalibrate their behavior by providing them feedback loops that shed light on how they are perceived by others.
- Support leaders in building the leadership habits that close gaps between their intentions and impact that they have.
Success today requires high-character teams. Character can be developed in ourselves and in others when we do three things: build strong teams, model the character behavior we expect in others, and close key gaps.
To succeed, leaders must develop their P.E.O.P.L.E. skills—professionalism, empathy, optimism, partnering, loyalty, and empowerment.