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  • Writer's pictureNikki Blacksmith

To Unlock Team Potential, Start with Self-Understanding

by Nikki Blacksmith, co-Founder and co-CEO, Blackhawke Behavior Science

Have you ever worked on a great team?

Chances are, that team worked well together because you knew, trusted, and valued each other.

Teams are extremely important in today’s workplace. For years, experts have been talking about how the future workplace will change and evolve as technologies advance in unparalleled ways. Well, the future is now. The COVID pandemic accelerated the change of today’s workplace. At an increasing rate, uniquely human skills are in demand. Uniquely human skills include cognitive skills that technology has not yet been able to replicate – creativity, decision-making, complex problem-solving, interpersonal communication, and collaboration skills. Those uniquely human skills are what power teams.

White water rafting on a small river in the forest.
Photo by Jason Buscema on Unsplash.

But how do we teach these human skills to the next generation? How do we build teams that will thrive and solve tough problems, by combining their unique strengths?

I teach classes about teamwork at the university level. Every semester, I give my students an unexpected initial assignment: Go get coffee or dinner with your new team. Get to know each other. The only rule: Don’t talk about schoolwork.

Every semester, my students are perplexed. They feel a little awkward about socializing with strangers. But every semester, that assignment is the most successful and the most important one I give. Because the students quickly find out that in order to work well together, they have to know and trust each other. It’s a step that we’re often tempted to skip or speed through in the workplace, but building human connection can’t be skipped or rushed if you want to build a high-performing team.

Blackhawke follows the same teambuilding principles in our work with emerging leaders in the Bessel Origin Program. Let’s walk through why teamwork in Bessel Origin is based on a foundation of trust, how we help each team member understand themselves, and how they come together to understand themselves as a single collective, a team.

Bessel Origin: It’s All About Teams

The Bessel Origin Program assembles teams of high-potential professionals to work on a key project, focused on the organization’s most pressing challenges or initiatives — all while learning about key human-centered design practices from expert mentors. This unique approach allows participants not just to learn new knowledge, but also how to apply what they learn.

Bessel Origin places teamwork as the foundation of the program. While high levels of diversity improve team performance, a high level of diversity also increases the risk of conflict and process loss. Therefore, to be a high-performing team, members must possess the skills to navigate and benefit from the diversity on the team. In addition, scientific research has demonstrated that when teams are trained together they perform better than teams with individual members that each learned on their own. For this reason, Bessel approaches learning as a team process and leverages the latest research in teams.

Start with Self-Awareness: Who Am I?

The highest-performing teams understand themselves — their own assets and liabilities, how they best work, and how others perceive them. Therefore, each Bessel Origin participant takes EVP, a psychometric assessment, before the first session.

The EVP helps participants gain self-awareness by measuring and reporting on five types of traits:

  • Cognitive Styles

  • Personality

  • Self-Perceptions

  • Motivations

  • Adversity Fluency

What makes the EVP unique is that it also explains how each trait plays out in an entrepreneurial context. Participants each receive a unique report that helps them begin to build self-awareness.

Once they have their EVP, each person can start to understand their personal answer to questions like:

  • What makes me unique?

  • How do I contribute value?

  • What’s my ideal work environment?

  • How do I like to collaborate with others?

Paddles of different sizes, shapes, and colors.
Image by David Nisley from Pixabay.

Then, Build Team Awareness: Who Am I in Relation to You?

Once each individual understands themselves, they can use the EVP to understand how to work together. A team starts as a collection of individuals, but we want them to become a single unit, moving in one direction.

Here’s how we move from building self-awareness to building team awareness. First, each member shares what they have learned about themselves. The EVP report explains where each member may best contribute to the team by explaining how traits align with various entrepreneurial tasks. They discuss those results and the similarities and differences in their individual EVPs. Next, they review a composite team report that maps how each team member’s strongest attributes come together.

When team members realize that their answers to the questions above are very different than other team members’ answers, they can experience an important “aha!” moment: “Not everyone thinks the same way I do.” This lesson is essential to building both self-awareness (“I am highly organized and think in a linear way – and those are not universal traits that everyone shares”) and empathy (“Sangeeta approaches this kind of problem in a completely different way that could make our team stronger”).

When a team starts to recognize their differences and share their unique perspectives, they also build trust. When team members know about each other, they start to trust each other, value each other, are better able to assign responsibilities based on each person’s assets and preferences, and learn how to work with their teammates without friction.

By sharing their EVPs with each other, and studying the composite profile of their diverse team participants understand their own contribution and the team’s potential for collective impact.

When teams trust one another, understand each other's idiosyncracies, and are able to leverage each member’s unique assets, cohesion emerges. Bessel participants not only grow, but they enjoy the experience and social connection. Our goal is to help each participant learn about themselves — their personalities and workstyles — to prepare them for a future of teamwork.

One recent Bessel Origin participant, Cynthia Bautista shared: “My favorite part of the Bessel Origin experience has been learning how to work in a team. Receiving mentorship from Blackhawke Behavior Science was transformative in my understanding of what makes a good team and team player.”

If you’re building a team, start with understanding — first, help each team member understand themselves, and then, help the team members understand each other. By building this understanding, the team will create a sense of belonging and inclusion and will understand how to work together to reach their full potential.

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