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  • Roz Duffy

How to bring a little love to your team

Call it love, call it respect, call it whatever you like. Team work makes the dream work, after all.

A synchronized swimming team sits on the side of an indoor pool.

What does it look like when there’s love on a team?

Imagine a group of people with a shared purpose, where mutual respect, support, and lifting each other up are the norms. This is a team characterized by psychological safety, trust, and skills in emotional intelligence, empathy, and self-awareness. A team that is continually learning, growing, and thriving.

Sounds like a dream team, doesn’t it?

I can almost guarantee you that this team arrived at this moment by dealing with past challenges, navigating conflict, and making mistakes. In fact, it’s often through these difficult situations that the most cohesive and resilient teams emerge.

It would be great if every team had an amazing leader to cultivate a positive culture on a team, but not all leaders are equipped to do so, and not all teams have leaders.

So let’s explore how to bring a little love into your team, starting today. Call it love, call it respect, call it whatever you like. Team work makes the dream work, after all.

Building trust

Trust does not happen overnight. It is created through a series of moments where team members have clear and honest communication, where shared values emerge and are modeled, and where team members feel like they can be their authentic selves.

Creating an environment where active listening is the norm and where there are opportunities for respectful dialogue and constructive feedback is the road to trust. It takes practice and consistency and everyone showing up and following through, day after day.

Creating safety

A team that prioritizes psychological safety is a team that can shift and evolve together. Team members can share what’s on their minds without fear of retaliation. Failure is seen as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Safety goes hand in hand with inclusive practices. Diverse perspectives are critical for creative thinking. Honoring and respecting differences helps the team expand their frame of reference, develop empathy, and encourage exploration.

The following seven questions from Amy Edmondson’s research can be a helpful first step to measure the level of psychological safety on the team:

  1. If you make a mistake on your team, is it held against you?

  2. Are you able to bring up problems and tough issues?

  3. Do people on the team sometimes reject others for being different?

  4. Is it safe to take a risk?

  5. Is it difficult to ask other team members for help?

  6. Do people on the team deliberately act to undermine your efforts?

  7. Are your unique skills and talents valued and utilized?

Two swim team members stand back to back near the side of a pool, creating a symmetrical image.

Finding common ground

This is what I like to call “intentional togetherness,” where a team invests in surfacing their shared interests and values. This can range from structured activities to establish a team's mission, vision, and values to informal interactions like playing an online trivia game together. The aim of finding common ground is to create a strong foundation that unites the team.

Why does this matter? Team members are going to have different levels of comfort with the level of emotional investment they want to have in their team, especially when we’re throwing words like love around. Finding the threads that connect the team is what will hold them together when the real challenges come.

A tool I love to use in these scenarios is the Emotional Culture Deck. Using this deck helps teams identify their desired feelings both individually and collectively, opening the door to a discussion of what it looks like when these emotions are present. For instance, if a team collectively wants to feel connected, they identify what it looks like when they are feeling connected, and when they are not—inspiring new ways of working to cultivate this desired emotion.

Navigating Conflict

If your team has established trust, a baseline of psychological safety, and knows where to find common ground, navigating conflict should be within reach.

Conflict can come in so many forms, but it’s important to acknowledge conflict situations and to allow all involved parties the opportunity to be heard, seen, and understood. This is empathy at work.

A helpful framework that I’ve often been inspired by is Nonviolent Communication (NVC). In this framework, you start by stating the facts everyone in the conflict can agree on in the form of an observation. Then you name the feeling that you are experiencing in the conflict. Once you’ve identified the feeling, you name the unmet need. From this point, you can make a request, asking for what you need.

For example, if a team member has been missing deadlines, you can refer to specific deadlines that were missed, identify how that made you feel (e.g. frustrated), and what unmet need has surfaced (e.g. stability/reliability), and name a request (e.g. Will you give me a heads up if you might not meet the deadline?). Reviewing this list of feelings and needs will help you move through the framework and quite possibly change how you see the world.

This is a highly simplified overview of NVC, but it can be extremely powerful for working through a conflict, and even reflecting on it as an individual and evaluating how to pursue any difficult conversations that you might need to have within the team.

Conflict is inevitable, and it can be quite healthy as a way to bring light to issues that need to be dealt with. This is one of the most challenging skills to develop, but it is a crucial aspect of creating harmony within a team.

A close up, over the shoulder shot of swimmers standing in line with their arms raised over their heads.

Role clarity

Not knowing one's responsibilities or those of other team members is a sure way to cause tension. Job descriptions often evolve, responsibilities change, and everyone’s role needs to be reviewed periodically.

It can be helpful to try something as simple as a Start Stop Continue exercise. This framework has multiple uses, and it may not be the first thing you think of here but give it a try. In fact, put it in reverse. What do you want to continue doing? This would be your role as is, with no changes. What do you want to stop doing? What needs to come off of your plate? What do you struggle with or not enjoy? What do you want to start doing? What new responsibilities or skills do you want to add to your role?

While there may be external factors that influence team roles, it’s important for everyone on the team to examine what they are working on. This is something that can be done individually and collectively. There might be opportunities to shift responsibilities, add new skills, bring on new team members, or partner with other teams.

Plan to clarify everyone’s role periodically on a cadence that makes sense for your team. This helps everyone know where they stand and where they can grow.

Team agreement

An important way to document these strategies and practices is to capture it all in a team agreement. The team agreement is a living document containing all the team's rules of engagement. This may include how you communicate (and where), the team’s core working hours, navigating conflict, decision-making processes, and how to maintain the culture you’ve established.

The team agreement is something that requires investment and sign-off from everyone on the team. It is an agreement, after all.

If anyone new joins the team, they will have a foundational document to help them onboard with the team successfully. They will likely have some new perspective to bring as well.

Team agreements should be reviewed and revisited often so that they accurately reflect the team’s behavior.

Team agreements are critical for keeping the love alive in a team. Don’t let them get stale.

The swimmers stand facing forward at the side of the indoor pool.

Reflections and retrospectives

None of this work matters if you aren’t checking in periodically to reflect on where you’ve been and where you’re going as a team.

Retrospectives typically follow the framework of acknowledging what has been going well, what could be better, and how to improve from here. Using a tool like Miro, a virtual whiteboard app where everyone can add sticky notes simultaneously, can be a helpful way to get a lot of thoughts out quickly and spot emerging themes, issues, and opportunities.

Reflections can be structured, like in the retrospective example, but they can be as simple as asking a check-in question at the beginning of a meeting. How are you doing? How have things been going? It really can be that simple.

All of these ideas are inspired by the team that I get to work with at MeaningSphere, in addition to the amazing teams I’ve been a part of on my professional journey. Feeling a connection to your teammates doesn’t just make the workday better, it makes the work better.

Does your team need a little love? Consider focusing on any one of these areas for the next few weeks. Start small, perhaps by introducing more check-in questions or having a team reflection simply by asking, “Hey, how’s it going?” Building a strong and connected team takes time and a shared commitment to making it work. It’s a long game, so stick with it.

Some questions for reflection:

  • How would you describe the current state of your team?

  • Where do you think your team needs a little love?

  • What’s one small step you can take today to help your team feel supported and valued?


Want to explore what makes your work meaningful? We’ve got you covered.

The Meaningful Work Survey is a self-awareness assessment designed to help you uncover what really motivates you—illuminating a path to a more fulfilled worklife. For a limited time, we are also offering the opportunity to schedule a free 1:1 session with one of our expert Guides who can help you turn your survey results into action.

*Please note that, right now, we’re only able to offer the Meaningful Work Survey in the US. We hope to change that soon!

All photos by Cottonbro on Pexels


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