The H Factor: The Human Hormone Element That Drives Great Teams

Fact: email conversations usually do more to divide team members than to bond them

Fact: web meetings are often a waste of time, creating stress and bad feelings

These are but a few of the elements that reveal the importance of what we have discovered as The H Factor. 

When we are physically together with people, our bodies produce hormones that make us nice.  This is the same biology that bonds mother and child, and it  occurs in all people at a smaller level whenever they are simply physically together in the same place. We are talking about the hormone Oxytocin. A lot of research has been done and written about the power of Oxytocin to bond people. This is what makes us polite and gives us manners.  It is also what is missing when we sit down by ourselves at our computer to write an email –  which creates endless email wars. 

The good news for teams is that this hormone, Oxytocin, also improves trust, communication, increases empathy and generosity.  These are all known behaviors of teams that have Swing: teams performing at high levels of near perfect synchronicity. This makes Oxytocin the perfect team effectiveness hormone. I call it the H Factor.

A team with low trust, is not producing enough Oxytocin

A team with poor communication is lacking in Oxytocin

Why are teams missing The H Factor?

In todays work world, many people work in teams with people spread out across buildings, cities and countries.  This challenge of Oxytocin is compounded when you are such a virtual team. Not physically together, your body will produce less of it when communicating virtually.

I was called by a large national organization with teams spread out across the country to teach a program on how to lead in such an environment.  While I had taught this topic before, the prominence of this organization drove me to spend extra time to ensure I was offering the best and latest advice.  Soon into my research I hit gold! I found a document from MIT, with a summary of dozens of studies on leading virtual teams.  It included a short summary of each study done, and what the findings were. 

I was very surprised what I saw.

There was NOTHING, absolutely nothing, to show any difference between how you should lead virtual teams and regular teams.  In both teams, you need to be focused on the business tasks at hand and the social/emotional factors of people.  We all know this. This insight has been around for over 50 years. This was not news.

But then it struck me.  Why are there so many problems in virtual teams? And even teams that work in same building but rarely sit together and meet.

It is the H Factor. It is the human connection that is the differentiator of higher performing virtual teams.  I have seen this in my work with global teams.  One leader I know calls it being “High Touch” with his remote workforce, talking to them every day. 

In our workshops, my business partner Antoine and I have asked over 1,000 leaders and professionals about the H Factor.  We ask them to make of list of the interactions they have with their virtual teams in the past month.  We then use these 2 dimensions as cited by MIT – business and social emotional – we call it business and human – and ask them to rate their interactions on these 2 dimensions – business and human

We find the same thing every time.  The interactions leaders have with their teams are predominately business focused.  This is no surprise for us, and for most.  We are at work to do business. 

However the leaders are grateful at this discovery.  It begins to click for them some of the challenges they are having with virtual teams. There missing the H Factor.

Then the question becomes how to counterbalance this? 

How do you create more H in your teams?

There are virtually (pun intended) hundreds of ways.  People tell us all kinds of crazy ideas they have used on can use to increase the H.  From the most simple and powerful – just pick up the phone and call each other.  Emails asking  “how is it going today?” Turn on the web cam for web meetings.  Or crazy hat day – wear a crazy hat, take a picture, send it around and vote on the best one.   To Virtual Coffee Talk a tool used by Thormod Spilling.  Each day when he arrives at his office in Europe, he takes his coffee and calls one of his team – in Asia or Americas, and they have virtual coffee together.  They chat about 70% personal topics – family, trips, hobbies – and a sprinkling of hot business topics.  Through this daily ritual he develops the H and build connection with his team, which becomes the connective tissue of teamwork. 

It doesn’t matter what you do.  Start by asking your team – how can we increase the H Factor? Whether or not you actually drink the coffee, or have a crazy hat, you must take time to connect in a human dimension, to raise the H factor and team performance along with it.

***To further diagnose your team, and identify what is preventing your team from creating Swing (near perfect synchronicity), download our 8 question Swing Measurement Guide at www.thepowerofswing.com

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