Mental health has made its way into everyday conversations and corporate boardrooms.
For good reason: in an increasingly complex and technological environment, our minds can get stretched to their very limit.
The number of people who open up about their individual mental health stories has grown significantly over the past years. Yet, there is still little attention on the mental health of systems such as governments, organisations and teams.
This article is looking at mental health on a team level: what team mental health is, how to measure it and different ways to increase the mental health of a team.
What is “team mental health”?
According to the World Health Organisation, mental health is “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”
The Oxford Dictionary describes a team as “two or more people working together”. A team could be seen as an entity that has a shared goal and exists to create a specific result. Teams are formed in all areas of life, not just at work.
Our nine planets, for example, are a team working together to sustain the equilibrium of the solar system. Earth and moon “work together” to make Earth a more livable planet. And there are many other common and uncommon examples of teams.
Because we all are part of teams, the topic of mental health is not only relevant on an individual but also on a collective level.
The mental health of a team is a state of well-being in which a team is able to deal with the complexity of today’s world in a positive and effective way while moving the system forward and creating results.
The impact of today’s changing workplace requirements
In most organisations, especially the ones who have been around for a few decades or longer, the transition from hierarchical structures to agile organisms requires a new skill set and perspective compared to the past.
Moving from individual ways of working towards a more collective effort is a development process on all levels and can have great effects on team mental health.
Younger organisations, in turn, face a different set of challenges: Millennial employees are demanding more openness and transparency, and they are also willing to move on much more quickly if the environment is not perceived as one of positive growth and development.
Higher fluctuation and a growing remote workforce often make it more difficult to embed company values and build a sustainable level of trust and connection within teams. Again, this can have significant effects on team mental health.
Changes in the workplace x how we deal with them = level of team mental health
Teams that have strong mental health are at the core of successful organisations
Sustainable global collaboration to solve complex problems needs a collective effort. In order to sustain that effort, teams need to develop and maintain an overall level of well-being to realise their potential, cope with the normal stresses of today’s world, work productively and fruitfully, and make a positive contribution to their organisation and humanity at large.
The mental health of a team is no different to that of an individual and one of the most significant drivers of team performance, longevity and positive results.
The most significant driver of team mental health and how to enhance them
In order to find out where your team is on the scale of mental well-being, it is helpful to take a look at the most significant drivers of team mental health:
- Team Integration
- Team Empathy
- Ability to Stretch
- Strength of Relationship
- Shared Safety
- Facing the Challenge
Each interacting part has its own DNA and the way it is cultivated can be different for every team. There are many ways you can intentionally strengthen those parts within your team to create a greater sense of mental well-being and thus, better performance and results.
Here are some ideas on how to enhance each driver:
Belonging: Human beings are wired to be a part of something bigger than themselves. An authentic sense of belonging is being created through a common vision, shared team experiences and the acceptance of all team members for who they are and what they are here to do.
Regular team events, practicing open communication, increasing the team’s level of social intelligence and creating transparency around what the team is working on can create an authentic sense of belonging.
Team Integration: Integration is the active behaviour of “making a part of” rather than criticizing, excluding or blaming anything that is foreign.
Working in cross-functional, diverse teams means there are people you won’t get along with, attitudes you might not agree with and behaviours you don’t understand.
Exercises based on improvisational work like “Yes, and” and an emphasis on creating value [rather than separation] from each other’s differences can greatly enhance your team’s ability to integrate.
Team Empathy: In order to follow through and create sustainable results, a team needs to develop a high degree of empathy.
Team empathy is about understanding the necessity and developing the capability of moving from an individual [“silo”] perspective to looking at the bigger [“collective”] picture while being able to understand other perspectives and realities.
You can increase the level of team empathy in many different ways, for example:
- Check in with other team members about how they are doing personally and on a professional level
- Offer your support and ask for help when you need it
- Hold yourself and your team members accountable to work with integrity and for the greater good of the team / organisation
- Practice awareness and self-management of your emotional range (e.g. judgmental, compartmentalised, open-minded, accepting)
- Think of your team as a “second family” and make it a priority to constructively deal with any situations that may come up (e.g. addressing conflicts, listening to others, celebrating successes and spending quality time with your team)
Ability to Stretch: Everyone has a different understanding of what feels comfortable, what creates growth and what causes distress. A team’s ability to stretch themselves helps navigate change and increases the rate of success in difficult projects.
One way to increase your team’s ability to stretch is to understand what makes your team move out of their comfort zone and grow. Bring your team together for an hour or two to have a conversation:
- What makes them feel comfortable? [Comfort Zone]
- When do they feel stretched? [Growth Zone]
- And when does it all feel too much or overwhelming? [Panic Zone]
Create a team persona and agree on how far you are willing to go collectively.
As a team leader, make a commitment to stand behind your team and create a safe space to be stretched and relax as needed.
Strength of Relationship: According to the Cambridge Dictionary, relationships are “the way two things are connected”. Strong relationships are built over time by connecting with one another on a continuous basis.
No matter whether you have a project team that has been put together for a limited amount of time or a team that has worked together for years, make it a priority to create regular points of connection.
You don’t have to be a team leader to do so. Anyone can initiate a conversation, a shared experience or an acknowledgement of someone else’s efforts. Transparency and honesty go a long way in building strong team relationships.
Shared Safety: Teams that report a shared sense of safety would also agree that in their everyday work, conflict is being used to make the team stronger rather than drive people apart.
People feel safe when they can speak up for what they need or believe is true, when there are no hidden agendas or suppressed grudges and when they are able to develop a broad range of emotional responses appropriate to the situation.
Practice conflict management, open communication and emotional intelligence with your team members on a daily basis.
Resilience: The ability to quickly recover from failure has become a much-needed skill in an increasingly unpredictable [business] environment.
Your team’s level of resilience determines its capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, deal with limited resources and collaborate pro-actively.
Resilience can be increased through collective learning from mistakes as well as increasing cognitive and team intelligence.
Facing the Challenge: Staying in the game when circumstances get rough is hard. Team mental health is being promoted by a shared understanding that, in the face of adversity, each team member is present to support each other.
Everyone is in it together and willing to face the challenge until it is resolved – no matter how uncomfortable that might be at times.
Teams can practice this skill by open communication, creating facilitated “practice challenges” and developing a healthy set of boundaries.
How to measure team mental health
Once you feel you have a good understanding of what the above drivers are about, us the template below to measure your team mental health:
This is how your team mental health could look like:
Based on your team’s current level of mental health you can then identify your biggest growth areas. All drivers are inter-connected. When you start improving one of them, all others will be pulled forward as well.
Rather than spreading yourself too thin, put your available resources towards the driver that has the biggest influence. Maybe this would be a quarterly team event to enhance an authentic sense of belonging. Or a regular training session to practice resilience.
Use your next team meeting to sketch a draft of your team’s current mental health and decide collectively what would be the first step to maintain and enhance your team mental health.
A shift in priorities
The skills needed to keep an organisation ahead of the curve are shifting towards a much more human way of interacting with one another. With technology taking over much of the work that used to be carried out by humans, there is now both a necessity and capacity to look at how we are interacting with each other collectively.
We can only solve the big challenges of our time when we start getting out of our shells and work together. And for that, we all need to be in the right frame of mind.
One of the reasons why the topic of mental health is trending within organisations is because humans have become the core of the work we do. Healthy teams that collaborate well are the natural progression of a human-centered workplace.
Collective IQ specialises in the design and facilitation of experiential offsite solutions for a wide range of applications (including leadership alignment, remote team engagement, recruiting and onboarding, and the practical implementation of agile methodologies) with a lasting impact on teams and organisations.
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