Chapter 7

Testing & Next Steps

Does it work? Do people talk? Is it weird? I test my ideas with a creative team for a day of team culture session and assess how far a conversation can go in China.
Does It Work?
So far, we've established the theoretical backing for psychological safety as the most important condition for effective teamwork. Adapting from Hyper Island reflection and feedback sessions, I've created conversations cards as a framework for team discussions. One of the biggest obstacles of using these in China is addressed briefly in the last chapter — a culture with fear of losing face hinders honest conversations. Academics have looked into this while studying conflict-resolution in China. Specifically, Dean Tjosvold and Sofia Su Fang confronts the possible cultural incompatibility of Chinese collectivism valuing harmony versus western approaches. This is alleviated by our explanation in Chapter 3 that China's younger generations are far more individualistic. As such, in Tjosvold and Fang's study, they note that "contrary to common assumptions," recent studies from students to State-Owned agency employees indicate"Chinese people not only can manage their conflicts openly but they can do so productively and enjoyably. Chinese values need not work against managing conflict" (2004).

Specifically with students, a younger generation, Tjosvold saw: "More surprisingly, the Chinese participants were able to use and responded favorably to the open discussion itself. Direct disagreement, compared to smoothing over the opposing views, strengthened relationships and induced curiosity. Chinese people asked questions, explored opposing views, demonstrated knowledge, and worked to integrate views. Indicating that they found open discussion valuable, participants characterized protagonists who disagreed directly and openly as strong persons and competent negotiators, whereas avoiding protagonists was considered weak and ineffectual" (2004).

When I pitched the idea to some of the industry leaders, they generally responded positively, with one quoted saying:

"Sure it would work. It's about basic needs. You want to be taken seriously right? You want others to care how you feel about something right? You want others to be honest with you right? You want to improve and get better right? If that's what you want, others aren't so different. I don't think it's just China. People around the world are the same. Everyone wants to be treated with respect, so I believe this would work in China, especially with the younger people because their more open to new ideas, have more diverse values, a more global sense."

Culture Workshop in Shanghai
Arming myself with academic support and my own profound experience from Hyper Island, I set out to test my ideas on the ground in China in conjunction with my start up, Northern Quarter, the culture design agency. I secured a one day "team-building" workshop with KUO SPACE, a spatial design firm in Shanghai. They are a team of six people, with one founder/design director, one project director, and four designers — a perfect number for an intimate team development session. Before the session, I interviewed the team leader on her views, methods, and challenges she faced in teamwork. Like many of industry leaders I interviewed, she did not have direct academic knowledge of conditions for effective teamwork, but was open to new ideas and intent on creating a more egalitarian culture. Having her support gave me the freedom to deliver the workshop in the best way that I could communicate tenets of effective teamwork through short lectures on theory and activities.

The Schedule

Since a one day workshop doesn't correspond with our project-length scope, instead of using the conversation cards in this session, I wanted to test the conversations in a more organic way by incorporating them into activities. Many of the activities are taken from activities at Hyper Island since they are tried and tested. I'm interested if they might work in China in inducing the right conversations for a team. The day is broken into an introduction then four activities. In the introduction, I shared my personal story of how difficult it was to lead teams, how management literature without a focus on teams were shortsighted, and the impact Hyper Island had with an emphasis of "culture" and "innovation." Conditions of team effectiveness and psychological safety were addressed here. Activity AB focused on values, C on feedback, and D on reflection and were interspersed with talks introducing academic models of reflection, feedback, conflict resolution and group development theory.

My teammate from Northern Quarter, Trish Ghelani, joined me on site for the workshop as we iterated on the schedule and flow of the day. Both of us have experience facilitating teams through Hyper Island and other events through Northern Quarter. We aimed to intermix theory with practice in the design the day, with creating a relaxed, fun, and reflective environment as key.
Introduction: why teamwork is important

Activity A: River crosser
Talk: values & conflict, group development theory


Activity B: Personal presentations

Talk non-violent communication, feedback model, Johari's window
Activity C: Feedback

Talk: experiential learning, reflect-on-action
Activity D: Reflection
One day workshop with KUO SPACE team in Shanghai.
The Outcome
The session went very well. Feedback during and after the session through an online evaluation were largely positive. Our initial concerns, that teams in China may respond passively, uncomfortably, or not at all were contested by the high degree of openness and thoughtfulness observed during the day. The KUO SPACE team was interested in both the theoretical models, with many taking notes during the lectures, as well as the activities, their favorite one being giving mutual feedback. Below are some excepts from participants reflection, which underscore a desire for self-expression, feedback, and establishing trust.
"It's really difficult for me to articulate my feelings on paper. Especially with the second question (feedback session: what I want to see more from you...). I don't know how to express it. Maybe when I observe on a daily basis, it's not something I notice. This is something I will work on. In this segment, when I can receive open and honest observations from my "partners in crime" is really amazing, no matter if it's a game, or during a project ongoing, or doing something together, directly telling each other "what is good" and "what is bad" because when I do things, I have a tendency to be passive, I'm afraid to speak up, or say how I feel. So in the future, we need to in our projects, change this point."
"Maybe not in reference to one point, but the entire day ... For me, I'd thought it was going to be a day of schticks and games (laughter), in the end it became really compassionate, "uniting hearts," and everyone was extremely sincere, and opened their hearts to say how they are feeling. So what I got out of are some of these feelings, I feel that the team has gotten to know each other better, through the personal presentations, exchanging "gifts", learning about things that are not neccessarily "unknown" or "lost" but a much deeper understanding. The part where we did the River Crosser, understanding each others' values, how we work together, and working together to reach agreement is great. The feedback part where we affirm each other, and tell each other what we can improve on, and just saying it straight is a huge learning. I think what we need to do in the future is be honest with each other, collaborate, and establish trust."
What Could Be Better
While conversation models worked in drawing team insights, setting up the day with a "climate of openness" was crucial, and this largely fell on facilitators. Even with our facilitation experience, some of the shortcomings were jokes that aimed to diffuse a serious, reflective environment, and some discomfort from the leader's engagement. Our insight is that it is important to establish a buy in from the leader and for them to trust the process as they undergo a transfer of power. It is important before the session to let them be keenly aware of this. Conversation cards were not introduced in this first session, but in conjunction to a day of learning about effective teamwork, it is actually the missing element to continue the conversation in the team. They should be given at the end of session for the team as a framework for continued team discussions.

Next Steps
Obviously, one workshop is not enough. I will continue to conduct workshops to test the strength of psychological safety and conversation models. In the next workshop I plan on using this field guide and conversation cards as a give away so teams can sustain their dialogue. Because of the management nature of effective teamwork as a topic, many creatives don't drift naturally to learn about it. The mini-experience created from a workshop is a fun and engaging way of getting creatives onboard so they see the need for it. As such, a workshop currently seems the best way to introduce these concepts, with conversation cards as companion tools. Team leaders and members who have experience, or who are interested in facilitation, should carry on the conversation.
Workshop at MangoTV on values and team feedback.
China's economic transformation in the past 30 years ushers new ideas in how we should work together. While progressive trends toward openness and transparency exists, a lack of theoretical understanding persists. Psychological safety, one of the most important conditions for effective teamwork, is a simple and provocative framework for China to overcome top-down conversations, and begin having the right ones in teams. Findings from this Field Guide have shown the younger generation's change in attitudes. They are not afraid of honest conversations that have a positive impact on team and personal development. To engage them, we must change the way we talk.

Tjosvold, D. & Fang, S.S. (2004). Cooperative Conflict Management as a Basis for Training Students in China. Theory Into Practice, 43(1), pp. 80-86
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