"Spinach in Your Teeth" Team

Six months ago, I kicked off a project to transform a brand prototype for a client. The client and I were both excited about the possibilities of applying digital modeling and integrated design processes, but recognized the need to collaborate with a range of stakeholders. We identified several political roadblocks and didn't want to be blinded by our excitement. The changes needed to be purposeful, driving improvements to proforma, building performance, and guest satisfaction.

We decided to convert the stakeholders into a team of trusted advisors - the "Spinach in Your Teeth" or SIYT team (term courtesy of Howard Ashcraft). The SIYT team would give honest feedback in the best interest of the brand prototype. In essence, they would tell us if we had spinach in our teeth.
Collaborative team dynamics can be tricky - most people initially assume that collaboration means elimination of conflict. Not so. In The Five Dysfunctions of a TeamPatrick Lencioni identifies lack of open conflict as an indicator of team dysfunction. Successful teams trust each other. Team members are open about their mistakes and weakness, creating a space for passionate and productive conflict.

Five Dysfunctions admits that a culture of trust doesn't happen overnight. It requires "shared experiences over time, multiple instances of follow-through and credibility, and an in-depth understanding of the unique attributes of team members."  At the same time, there are strategies to expedite trust. Five Dysfunctions suggests a few things which basically help team members see each other as humans:
  • Discussing personal histories
  • Open identification of individual strengths and weaknesses in the context of the project
  • Behavioral Profiling Exercise (think Myers-Briggs, DiSC Profile, or Predictive Index)
I use a combination of these techniques, both formally and informally. Word for word, I use the phrase SIYT to help build teams - it humorously sets an expectation of trust. Architecture and construction teams tend to be fairly practical; phrases like "culture of trust" tend not to go far. Of course, sharing and encouraging SIYT doesn't guarantee anything, but not saying it misses out on a relatable example of trust. And, if nothing else, it has created a space where team members can tell me that my sweater is on inside out or that I have pen on my face. And yes, both of these things have happened to me in the past two months.

How have you built your personal SITY team? What strategies do you use if you're on a project with a dysfunctional team? 

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