Just add water? The fascinating prospect of “instant intimacy.”

May 05, 2024

For humans to create high-performing teams, traditional assumptions are that it takes a long time and goes through a predictable process (forming, storming, norming and performing).  But in many of today’s most vital activities, time is short, norms need to be created instantly and people working together may not spend much time In Real Life.


The Human Future of Work conference

Together with my colleague, Hitendra Wadhwa, and sponsored by the team at Emeritus, we had the opportunity to spend a day with over fifty leading Human Resource practitioners and other experts from all over the world, representing hugely influential and impressive companies.  The gathering was held at the McKinsey Experience Center, right downtown, and formed the backdrop for many conversations about what we know, and don’t know, about the future of work.  The conference was called the “Human Future of Work.”

The agenda is nothing less than creating a movement for better, more human, workplaces.  If we mobilized all the talent in that room, that is very possible.  And the workplace could sure use some re-imagining.

According to Gallup, a minimum of employees – 23% worldwide and 33% in the US fall into the “engaged” category.  I like this quote explaining engagement: “When employees are engaged, they adopt the vision, values, and purpose of the organization they work for. They become passionate contributors, innovating problem solvers, and stunning colleagues.” And while actively disengaged people are fairly easy to spot, the ones who are just putting in the time – not engaged, but not actively disengaged – can be insidious.

Interestingly, the antidotes to a lack of engagement are well known, at least according to Gallup.  People want a sense of purpose in their work. They want opportunities for growth and development. They want recognition and responsiveness from their managers.  They want lots of feedback in ongoing conversations.  And they want to be able to improve on their strengths.  And yet, relatively few companies seem to be able to create the conditions for engagement.



Keith Ferrazzi on building trust at lightning speed

Keith, an old friend and expert networker, flew all the way to the conference from the West Coast to share some of his latest thinking, reflected in his new book, about a concept he calls “teamship.”  This is the idea that while leadership is essential, creating teams that can gel and work together is also crucial.  That’s not a new idea.

What I found new and interesting, however, is that in today’s environment, we don’t have the time for traditional team-building activities.  Few of us work for decades side-by-side anymore.  Tuckman’s team development model, in which teams go through the predictable processes of “forming, storming, norming and performing” requires teams that have some durability to them.  And there was a time when we used to think the organization chart contained a map to who was influential (and who wasn’t).  So, what do we make of today’s teams, which may come into being only briefly, and whose membership might change radically over the course of their development?

For this, Keith makes some interesting points about how leaders can help create what he calls “instant intimacy.”    As he put it during the conference, “we’ve got to pop into a room, snap our fingers, and develop a level of trust.”  And that’s a real competency which many of us have no idea how to create.

We practiced this very thing in a dinner sponsored by Moses Berkowitz and Frank Congiu, held the night before the main conference.  With an exercise called “sweet and sour,” every person at the table of about 15 guests talked about something that wasn’t great in their lives and something that was (the sour and the sweet).  We heard about family troubles, health issues, concerns about aging parents and more. We also learned about surprisingly uplifting experiences from unexpected places. And it was remarkable – that group of people, most of whom didn’t know one another well, were able to create a spirit of deep trust, very quickly.

As Keith points out, one of the factors that is highly correlated with high team performance is candor.  And a lot of the ability to accept candid comments, such as feedback, is feeling that you are being told the truth because you are valued, because the person giving the news cares about you and that they would do anything in their power not to see you fail.  As he points out, that’s the kind of social contract that drives high performance at many leading companies such as Amazon, Oracle or Microsoft.  The critical thing, moreover, is not whether a leader knows how to give that kind of feedback and to create that kind of social contract, but whether team members can do that for one another.



Back to the office is a poor substitute for investing in team elevation

Keith also shared with us some data his firm, Ferrazzi Greenlight, has been collecting about a concept he calls “relational bonding.”  On a scale of 1 to 5, prior to the pandemic, the average relational bonding score for the teams they studied was 2.8.  The calculation is done by asking participants to rate the extent to which “my team has my back.”  That’s not absolutely devastating, but it sure isn’t great.  During the pandemic, however, the score dropped to 2.3.  Leaders, many feeling the gap, are urging, even mandating, that employees come back to the office, to enjoy what Keith calls “serendipity bonding.”  Meaning, it’s creating team connections without investing proactively in what we know will create closer ties between team members.

During the natural experiment that was the COVID-19 pandemic and the disruption represented by hybrid work, Keith’s group studied over 2,000 teams.  As he puts it, when teams decided to engage in purposeful bonding activities, “we were able over a six-month period to watch them go to 3.9, and over a year get up to 4.4.”

Those teams that were able to engage in purposeful bonding practiced what Keith’s team calls “high return practices” or HRP’s.  One is an energy check-in in which a team pauses its work once a month or so and people talk about “what is my energy on a scale of one to five and why?” The reason this works is that, particularly when people aren’t together often or don’t know one another well, you might not know the reasons for someone not behaving as you would prefer them to.  If your mom is in the hospital, it’s understandable that you might be distracted at work.  Unless you proactively create the space for these conversations, others might not know.

Their research has found an important role for in-person meetings.  Even remote groups should spend about a week per quarter together, but this time should be used to strengthen the teams and the culture.  Don’t drag your people into the office for a physical meeting and do the same thing as you could have done on Zoom. As Keith points out (and I would concur) unfortunately, that’s what a lot of the “back to the office” mandates look like.

You can check out my Fireside Chat with Keith here.



In other news

Tomorrow (May 8th) Ron Boire and I will be leading a discussion of our new peer-to-peer network offering in two free webinars which are hopefully time-zone friendly.  One is at 10 am EST, the other at 7pm EST.  Registration links are here:

10am EST:



At Valize, we also have a team effectiveness assessment which you can use to get a sense of where your teamwork might be breaking down.  Is it the wrong people in the wrong roles? Lack of commitment? Poor information sharing? Lack of trust? Absense of psychological safety? You can learn an astonishing amount by answering just 20 questions.  More on that diagnostic here.