Organizations often scoff when something doesn’t have a perceived value or purpose in a “lean, mean and profitable” organization. For example, emotional intelligence, empathy, relationships, and building trust are soft skills. They aren’t valued or connected to increased pay like being goal-focused, strategic, productive, and delivering profits. However, I have yet to find a high-performance team that isn’t rooted in the soft skills of trust, people, purpose, and high-quality relationships. These qualities rooted in “soft skills” are essential when creating conditions of innovation, productivity, engagement, and cooperation – the earmarks of a high-performance team.

Slow Variables and Resilience

Resilient systems have specific characteristics that create conditions for resilience into the future. One of these characteristics is that resilient systems pay attention to and nourish slow variables. In agriculture, the slow variable is the soil, whereas the annual harvest is the fast variable. The quality and quantity of the harvest are dependent on the soil. Therefore, a successful harvest requires farmers to pay attention to and nurture the soil. If the farmer ignores the soil, the harvest will eventually diminish in quality and quantity.

High-performance teams deliver on the fast variables – profit, productivity, focus, and innovation. But high-performance teams also consistently outperform other teams because they invite and integrate soft skills into their workflow and culture. Fast variables only last when the team and its leaders pay attention to the slow variables, the quality of the relationships in the team. When team leaders actively nurture trust and psychological safety, diverse ideas and thinking emerge in the team dynamics. These teams are purpose-driven, not activity-focused. They constantly adapt their strategies to fit the changes in the external environment, connected to the higher purpose of the larger organization.

Leaders of high-performance teams lead first with “soft variables.” They set the conditions for the team in softness and attraction to purpose, while seeing the people in the organization as unique and gifted with different strengths. These leaders don’t undercut and distrust others on the team, lead with cut-throat competition, or encourage fear-based team cultures. The “soft skills” actually serve the productivity and innovation of the whole system.

I have been observing the running commentary on Elon Musk’s leadership of Twitter. I don’t know what is happening inside the organization, but from the outward-facing information, it would seem like Elon Musk wants the productive, competitive, work long hours, and loyalty to organization profits above all else. However, when he sent this message out to his employees, offering them a severance package if they resigned because they didn’t want to work in a “fast-variable-only” organization, it resulted in over 1200 people resigning.

Learning from the Soil

Soil is a slow variable, and if you want a resilient harvest, you need to tend to the soil. What are the slow variables in our organizations? Is it the culture or the talent of our employees? Is it the quality and authenticity of our relationships? Could it be the level of trust and the predisposition to cooperation in a team? How is softness welcomed and valued in your organization?

Our culture in the US focuses on a fast variable lens. We focus on profits, productivity, and goal accomplishments, but eventually, these fast variables collapse if we don’t widen our lens to focus to the underlying soft variables. After all, the slow variables support the fast variables in our organizations.