Dec 13, 2022 | Read time 6 min
Speechmatics’ Simon Lawrence (Senior Agile Coach) and Mikael Nilsson (VP People) guide you through what it takes to build a cohesive workforce using shared vulnerability.
At Speechmatics, we believe people thrive when working on a foundation of transparency and a shared sense of vulnerability. To help unlock this, we take new colleagues on a journey consisting of four exercises: ‘Constellations’, ‘Journey Lines’, ‘Clean for Teams’, and ‘Team Canvas’.
Each exercise is designed to align with and promote the four core values within the Speechmatics team, so we can continue to innovate and deliver our award-winning speech-to-text engine.
Implementing our four core values (above) starts with removing ambiguity, creating a culture free of distrust, and making sure every employee feels safe in their working environment. As people come together to form new teams, it can be useful to begin to understand our needs and values, and to start the work of creating and developing the collective system relationship. As per Diana Larsen:
“Every initiative has many parts: visionaries with big ideas; people who are directly and indirectly involved in the work; a particular physical space and psychological climate; process tools and techniques; and more. The first time all of these parts come together sets the tone for the work and lays the foundation for everything to come later.” [Liftoff! by Diana Larsen, Pragmatics Programmers, 2016]
To create a sense of belonging, we run ‘Team Liftoff’ workshops focused on human connection, relatedness, vulnerability, and transparency. We use the Constellations exercise as both an energizer to leverage the early ‘golden moments’ and to set the tone of energetic participation for the remainder of the workshop. The exercise is facilitated like this:
An object representing the ‘center of the universe’ is placed in the middle of the room, the facilitator makes a series of statements, and we move closer toward the center of the universe the more the statement feels true for us and further away the less true the statement feels. We start with a lighter tone, for example:
“Star Wars is the greatest film ever made.” (an immensely popular question within the tech community)
“Sushi is the food of the gods.”
“I’d rather watch a movie at home via a streaming platform rather than at a cinema.”
By starting here, we have the option to ask more serious and meaningful questions as we continue. For example:
“I need a sense of accomplishment to feel motivated.”
“I understand my team’s mission and purpose within the business.”
“I prefer working alone to team collaboration.”
As well as creating a sense of relatedness, this energizer uses physical movement – when people stand up, they get more oxygen to the brain enabling greater focus and engagement.
The next exercise is Journey Lines, popularized by Lyssa Adkins in her 2010 book ‘Coaching Agile Teams’ [Addison-Wesley]. A Journey Line plots a person’s individual professional journey, detailing the ups and downs, sometimes including personal experience as well as professional.
Using a blank sheet of paper, we plot a vertical axis with a plus sign at the top and minus at the bottom, the horizontal axis plots time.
Most participants start from a key moment in their adult life, such as leaving home or starting their first job. Everyone’s Journey Line is unique and each one has high and low points. This exercise provides a human connection – how have our personal histories influenced us? Which of these experiences do we share? Through this exercise, we can reveal participant's values via resonant positive and negative experience.
Before beginning the exercise, it’s important to highlight everyone’s right to pass. We all have different comfort zones. If someone doesn’t want to take part and is forced or feels peer pressure, their attitude or behavior could have a negative effect on the session. We find people rarely use their right to pass, but by providing it as an option, we give them the ability to choose, which can generate a more psychologically safe environment.
People will frequently share personal, powerful experiences, forming deep connections and encouraging trust. As per Daniel Coyle in ‘The Culture Code’:
“Vulnerability doesn’t come after trust – it precedes it. Leaping into the unknown, when done alongside others, causes the solid ground of trust to materialize beneath our feet.”
The ’Clean for Teams’ exercise is based on the Clean Language [David J. Grove, seminars, 1987 onwards] question: “When you’re working at your best, what’s that like?”
We invite participants to interview each other using this question in pairs. People can consider the working environment, communication style, team interactions, practices, vision & goal setting, and getting stuff done.
When we return to the main group, we ask participants to summarize the responses from their partner, encouraging the need for active listening. This exercise reminds us to consider the attributes of a positive working environment based on past experience and asks: how can we recreate these in our new environment?
From there, we can work out how to maximize everyone's contribution to the collective. This potential feeds into the Speechmatics machine, as each department’s effectiveness impacts everyone else, no matter how subtle.
As a final exercise, we bring the learnings from the preceding exercises to help us co-design our desired collective future and create the team canvas.
The canvas is a template with sections on:
Objectives: what are the key, time-bound goals the team wants to achieve? Here, the team creates an aligned sense of mission and purpose
Stakeholders: who does the team deliver to and what are their expectations?
Values: using the previous exercises, what have we learned about what our colleagues value?
Working agreements: here, the team are invited to design new behaviours and practices and to define the rules of how to act towards one another, enabling a sense of fairness and autonomy.
Overall, this creates a sense of shared purpose – the sum of the values and beliefs in your team - co-created with the opportunity for every voice to be heard.
At Speechmatics, our people come first, and we believe that true human connection is created through a sense of relatedness, shared vulnerability and by giving people across the world a voice.
That starts when you get people talking.
Simon Lawrence, Senior Agile Coach and Mikael Nilsson, VP People at Speechmatics
Simon is an Agile Coach with a passion for helping teams understand their world and the problems they face.
Mikael heads up our People function to give Speechmatics a competitive advantage in two places – talent and culture.
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