The true depth of connection between team members is an invisible quality that is only seen when it is reflected in the actions of the team under the most challenging of circumstances.
Don’t look up ‘Viscosity’ in the dictionary if you want a good description of highly effective teams. I don’t assume you want your team to be “gooey.” And yet I can’t imagine any other term that so effectively describes that “stuff” that flows throughout a highly cohesive team and keeps them smoothly humming along under the greatest of stress.
What is that mysterious quality that truly connects team members, lubricates difficult situations and keeps friction from building to a point where parts and systems begin to break down? I call it Viscosity. It’s not quite invisible. And yet it’s also not a team component that’s easily held up for examination. It tends to slip through the fingers of those trying to mold it into an easily recognizable and tangible shape that can be examined, probed, prodded and dissected for clear and perfect understanding.
It is the truly ineffable. And yet, as my colleague Jeff Salz states, it’s the only thing that really eff-ing matters.
Sound travels four times faster through water than it does through air. Why? Density. Information (sound waves) are passed from one particle to the next in an efficient manner. It’s a successful handoff. The more dense and compressed the water is between two objects, the easier it is for sound waves to be handed off from one particle to the next. Each particle or molecule acts as a connector – a series of links that bind the whole together.
Fill the space between your team members with these small bridges of connection. Space, devoid of connective material, between team members creates a wilderness where effective communication can easily dissipate.
Things that are in any way connected respond to each other’s subtle changes and communications with a more nimble grace than those that are separated by vapid space. People are the same way. We respond more effectively to those with whom we feel a connection than to those about whom we know little or nothing.
Create viscosity in your team and add cohesion by filling the space that separates team members with as many bits of connective material as possible. Although all too often and quite unfortunately considered inconsequential, these connective links include such things as:
Knowledge about each other – Favorite hobbies, make up of their family, movies and books they enjoy, what they did on their last vacation, how they spend their free time, where they grew up, what conditions they grew up in…
A deeper understanding of each other – Joys, passions, fears, challenges, values, social strengths and struggles, motivations, incentives…
Some of these things may seem more substantial and consequential than others, but every little bit of connective material that can be created between team members increases a team’s viscosity. When things heat up and the mechanics of your team dynamics begin to grind, you will find that its these small links and connections that make it easier for people to understand each other, to accept each other, listen to each other, respect each other and ultimately to be more effective, productive and collaborative together.
Ultimately viscosity is about respect, affinity, trust, caring, compassion, understanding, empathy, authenticity and playfulness – all the things that are so very important to human relationships and yet are often so difficult to talk about and instill within a team. Much easier to explore and modify team mechanics, operational procedures and the more tangible and visible aspects of a team. But once you get the ball rolling and open up those channels of connection, you just might find that team members are seriously hungry for that deep and meaningful cohesion they may be lacking.
Create opportunities to fill the space between team members with the richness of what makes us all so human. And even if it gets a little “gooey,” I’d wager that’s far better than a team culture that melts down and fractures due to a lack of meaningful viscosity.