Why is it so freakin’ difficult to communicate and collaborate with other people?

We’re social animals. Communicating and collaborating is in our DNA: our brains LITERALLY evolved to do this. Not only do we like being around other people, but our survival depends on us working together and helping one another accomplish big things.

One defining characteristic of us humans: we like simplicity. We want things to be linear and predictable. But linear and predictable aren’t compatible with our large brains that are constantly wrestling with thoughts, feelings, wants, needs, decisions (both rational and irrational), likes, and dislikes.

And when you put multiple people together, each with their own complex network of thoughts and feelings, and well, you get a tangled mess.

But there IS a way to navigate this mess, you just have to think like a heist movie villain.

Invisible Booby Traps

In every famous heist movie, there’s a scene in which the thief reaches his final destination – think a museum gallery, a bank vault, a jewelry store’s fanciest showroom – the home of the sought-after treasure. There it is, in plain sight, in a glass case atop a pedestal, perfectly lit to emphasize its enormous value.

It looks as if he can just walk up and grab it. But the thief knows it’s not that simple.

At this point in the scene, the thief pulls out a special flashlight that illuminates a web of laser trip wires, the final hurdle to navigate before claiming the prize. Just one tiny slip of a hand or loose shoelace could cross one of these wires, triggering the alarm system and ruining the whole plan.

Movie thieves know that there are invisible obstacles standing in the way of their success, and that reaching their goal depends on their ability to cleverly and nimbly navigate these obstacles.

Us everyday people with jobs that don’t involve elaborate heists? Not so much. We don’t have the same trope-tested roadmap. We can’t just pull out a flashlight to instantly see all the obstacles.

We navigate many, if not more, invisible traps all the time when we communicate with other people. Let’s examine the traps in our work interactions.

Interpersonal Trip Wires

Interpersonal dynamics don't set off actual alarms (though it might be helpful if they did, to alter us as soon as we’ve tripped a wire). They do cause real harm to culture and work outcomes. These invisible trip wires are the main sources of tension and gossip in the workplace, and impede relationships and trust.

Here are some of my own personal “trip wires''.

  • I work very hard to be punctual, and get irritated when people are even a little late. If I don’t catch myself, I might jump to some very unkind, and wildly inaccurate assumptions about what’s behind the lateness, and take it personally as an insult to me.

  • In order for me to fully process information, I need to see it visually, either in writing or as a diagram or graphic of some sort. If someone is trying to communicate something important that I need to remember and they don’t have a visual, or I’m not able to make notes, I get annoyed that I’m expected to retain that information.

These are pretty innocuous examples, but both have been the source of tension at different points in my life.

Fortunately, both trip wires are easy to avoid with clear communication and understanding. So I make my preferences known to people I work with, so we can create a process that meets not only my style, but everyone’s styles, and avoid future misunderstanding.

Interpersonal “Boost Wires”

There are also invisible interpersonal forces for good out there, which I call boost wires. These are preferences and tendencies that activate collaboration and creativity, and boost relationships. Imagine if the heist thief had a superpower that allowed him to walk on top of the lasers, like a balance beam! When a boost wire is activated, the experience of collaboration and the quality of the final products go from good to great.

One of my personal boost wires is brainstorming. If I’m working with someone else who likes to bounce ideas around in a not-so-structured way, my creative juices get flowing and I get very excited and motivated. My teammates at Barometer XP also thrive from creative brainstorming, so we build in time to our meetings for this kind of collaborative thinking. And we all love it.

Bringing the Wires Into the Light

The key to avoiding trip wires and activating boost wires is to bring them into the light. In our case, the “flashlight” we’ll use is a combination of self-awareness and clear, strategic communication.

Knowing your own wires, and communicating them with others, are the critical first steps to smoother, less stressful interactions with others. Take a moment and think about:

  • What are your trip wires? (pet peeves, bad habits, emotional triggers, etc.)

  • What are your boost wires? (things that get you very excited, motivators, superpowers)

Shared experiences, like games, are an excellent way to put these invisible traps front and center and figure out how to navigate them.

If you’re ready to start finding your trip wires, join us for a free Barometer XP demo session. In 60-minutes, you’ll get to play a few of our signature games in a safe, lighthearted, and confidential environment so you can experience the transformation that comes from embracing play as a way to explore interpersonal dynamics!

For decades, conventional wisdom went something like this:

  • Work is work.

  • Personal life is personal.

  • Mental and emotional wellbeing are personal issues, and therefore have nothing to do with work.

(This line of thinking takes me back to logic problems from my high school math classes. If p, then q. If not q, then not p. Or does that mean that p is the inverse of q? It’s been well over 20 years since I last took math.)

The relationship between mental health and work started gaining more attention over the last decade, especially since the pandemic started in March 2020. This is a very good thing. Workplaces, after all, are made up of people. If you want people to show up and succeed, they need to be healthy, in all the definitions of the word.

This isn’t rocket science.

But there is a close analogy to earth science.

Let me explain.

Most models of organizational health don’t factor in wellbeing at the individual level. Furthermore, they usually don’t account for variation in how different people feel, think, and act in any situation.

When we factor in mental health and emotional wellbeing, we’re adding one huge, nuanced area of pressure (namely the interpersonal dynamics, such as behavioral differences, internal biases, stress from home, relationship issues, etc.) to another (organizational structure and operations, which includes things like workload, process, cross-team coordination, capacity, etc.).

These two sources of pressure impact every facet of the workplace, and slowly build over time.

This is where earth science comes in. Specifically, earthquakes.

Under the earth’s surface, geologic plates shift and bump up against each other, which builds pressure over time. If there’s no way to diffuse that pressure, a major earthquake is inevitable.

Fun fact: California has dozens of earthquakes daily. Don’t believe it? The key is that they’re small and less noticeable. If the pressure built up instead, we would likely see a doomsday scenario from the movies.

Teams are in constant flux, and that constant flux results in the steady build up of pressures over days, weeks, and months. From onboarding new clients and talent to managing projects and tools, change and movement affect people, and it’s critical to let out the pressure in small, controlled ways.

That’s what is at the heart of our work at Barometer XP. We use games to explore and release little bits of pressure about specific challenges a team is experiencing. By addressing these small pressure points along the way, you can avoid the tectonic shifts that might cause irreparable damage.

We’ve reached the point where it’s almost a cliche to talk about how hard it is to make meaningful connections with colleagues through Zoom boxes and Slack channels.

“Ugh, I’m so sick of Zoom” has become the new “I can’t believe this weather” as the small talk statement to foster some quick agreement at the start of a conversation.

Yes, connecting virtually, be it over phone, video, or written message, is way less satisfying than in person.

Yes, we are all sick of spending so much time staring at screens, and have found ways to keep meetings focused and short.

And yes, these remote ways of communicating force a more formal structure that doesn’t leave space (physical or metaphorical) for spontaneous, serendipitous interpersonal conversation.

But there are lots of simple, fun, and very effective ways to encourage great connection and engagement among remote teams.

Here is our 3-step process for boosting engagement for your remote team.

Step 1: Take A Pressure Reading

The Pressure Matrix is a simple, free tool to assess your team’s greatest strengths and spot potential (or already existing) pain points (learn more about the Pressure Matrix here). There are two ways to use the tool.

  • Individually: In our online assessment, you read different statements about team culture and select which statements best apply to your team. Once you finish, you’ll receive an email report that highlights which of our 9 culture components are the biggest pressure points for your team.

  • Collectively: The interactive cards in our online Pressure Matrix include statements of how each component manifests if it’s a strength for your team, and what it looks like if it’s a source of pain.

Step 2: Make Time for a DTR

In the dating world, there’s something called the DTR (Define the Relationship) conversation, in which the parties check in to see if they are on the same page as to where the relationship is and where it’s going.

The same type of status check is important in teams, too. Wouldn’t it be useful to to know, for example:

  • Is everyone on the same page regarding their roles?

  • Are people clear on the team goals and priorities?

  • Do any processes need updating?

Barometer XP’s Pressure Matrix is the perfect tool to guide your team’s DTR. Just have each person complete the survey individually, and email info@barometerxp.com to get the aggregate responses.

In comparing each person’s survey results, you’ll get a sense of whether people are in the same place regarding team culture, and gain insights into how to make the team even stronger.

Step 3: Play a Game!

Variety is the spice of life, right?

So why not vary up your team meeting format and play a few games? Not only will games give you a chance to relax and have fun together, you’ll also gain valuable insights into how each other feels, thinks, and acts in different situations. Plus you’ll create some great memories, which are essential in building strong team identity.

Need help picking the right game for your team? No problem, just email info@barometerxp.com and we’ll give you some suggestions.

Better yet, want Barometer XP to lead your team through all 3 steps? Email kim@barometerxp.com to learn more about our Sync to Swim package!