Want Team Unity? Try a Weather Report
How do you quickly establish team unity? As trainers of teams, Julianna and I engage with this question constantly. We know from research and common sense that groups perform better when a sense of team is in place.
A method we sometimes use to foster a team feeling in group trainings or meetings is a type of check-in we call the Weather Report.
Check-ins are an intentional practice at the beginning of a meeting or session. Often they are a casual exchange of information, like a weekend update or a chance for people to report back on goals.
The Weather Report is different. Devised by psychologist Julie Colwell, it’s a quick method for sharing one’s internal state with neutral language for the purpose of connection. We like that it captures all voices in the room in a brief and equitable manner.
Our Weather Report works like this:
Each person in the group shares a word or short phrase that describes their current inner state in weather terms. “Sunny,” “cloudy” or “dark skies” are common answers.
Only one word or phrase per person, with no additional commentary or explanation.
The rest of the group simply listens but does not comment or ask questions.
Check-ins go around the room in quick succession, like a roll call.
The leader or facilitator silently notes patterns in the group.
Why is the Weather Report useful? Because it’s a simple tool that supports unity, and we know that people are looking to their work communities for a sense of belonging.
Here’s how the Weather Report quickly created a sense of unity in a team training we held in early 2020. The group of about 30 leaders worked for the same organization but on different teams. Many did not know one another. We were starting day two of a three-day training.
As an opening check-in, Julianna introduced the concept of the Weather Report. We went in a circle, everyone sharing a weather term to describe their internal state or mindset. After the shares, Julianna, who’d been silently tracking the answers, spoke.
Julianna: “I notice a pattern of inclement weather in the room. Anything anyone wants to reveal here?”
Silence. Then, a couple of seconds later:
A customer service manager: “My son failed an important exam yesterday, and I’m feeling so sad.”
An engineer: “My son had to go to the ER in the middle of the night, and I’m worried.”
A marketing manager: “I’m having imposter syndrome, and I feel out of my league.”
From these initial shares, a cascade of authentic revealing came forth. Several people spoke in succession, briefly naming something that was taking all of their attention. It was a tipping point in the training where connection and revealing became stronger motivations than protecting and defending.
The result following the Weather Report check-in? A much more alive and connected room. We could feel the energy shift, the collective exhale, and the stiffness disappear. The entire process took about ten minutes. From this point, the training became richer and more productive as people were more open and willing to dive into challenging issues.
The efficacy of the Weather Report is bolstered by fascinating research in The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande. In one part of his books, Gawande describes an experiment at Johns Hopkins Medicine to improve the ability of surgeons to reduce harm, in which a “team huddle” was introduced. Before starting an operation, everyone in the room introduced themselves by name and role. In some situations, nurses were given a chance to say their names and mention concerns at the beginning of an operation. These experimental check-in procedures were atypical as standard procedure.
In subsequent experiments, Johns Hopkins psychologist Brian Sexton was able to show that just by having people put their names in the room, overall communication significantly improved. Furthermore, when nurses were encouraged to voice any concerns at the start of a case, they were more likely to not only note problems but also offer solutions. The researchers dubbed this verbal check-in an "activation phenomenon." Giving people a chance to say something at the start seemed to activate their sense of participation and responsibility, and their willingness to speak up.
If you lead any kind of team session and want to increase team unity, consider using the Weather Report. Use the tool to get all voices in the room and increase self-awareness. If you do try it, we’d love to know how it goes!