Most business leaders can agree that teamwork is important for getting anything done. But the agreement usually stops there. In many cases, the company’s immediate needs take over, and there’s seldom enough time for deep thought about how to actually develop an effective team.
Groups of people are often thrown together and told to get to work. And while many organizations do well when it comes to a team’s technical aspects, like bringing in people with the right expertise and establishing deadlines, the less quantifiable, “people-building” element tends to get lost. With a little effort and foresight, though, managers and team leaders can avoid some of the most common problems plaguing teams.
We tend not to put maximum effort into things we see as unimportant. When a team is assigned a certain project but doesn’t have a clear sense for why it matters for the company, it’s likely that members will work merely to pull it off adequately. You’re unlikely to get exceptional, truly creative solutions.
At the beginning, make sure everyone understands the importance of what you’re doing and how it fits into the company’s overall goals. Take time to answer questions, and give everyone a chance to talk about how they feel about what they’re about to undertake. Explain why there needs to be a team, instead of everyone working individually on separate components. It’s crucial that every member agrees they can accomplish more working collaboratively than they ever could separately.
In order to develop trust and cohesion among team members, leaders need to demonstrate the attitude and habits they want their teams to abide by themselves. That includes sharing your frustrations and being vulnerable. Particularly when projects are daunting and fraught with tight deadlines, managers can have a tendency to crack the whip. Instead, it might be better to send the message that being uncertain at the beginning is okay–including for team members themselves.
Whatever behaviors you want to encourage, it’s important you do so by example. This will build trust, not just in your leadership, but among team members as well. Be open and honest about how you’d like everyone to work, and make sure those expectations you set are reasonable in light of the task at hand. If you make a mistake, readily admit it and take full responsibility.
While your superiors may require updates on what’s going on, leaders should only share progress reports with upper management and keep team dynamics out of it. Team members will lose trust if they feel you’re reporting back on everything that goes on. If issues arise with any individual members, it’s your job to pull them aside and have a conversation.
Prepare for these discussions in advance so you don’t come across as angry or accusatory. Point out what you’ve noticed, be ready to listen, and come armed with possible solutions. For example: “I thought you sounded angry when Ryan questioned your knowledge of outsourcing. Tell me more about that.” Ask open-ended questions that start with, “It sounded to me like . . . ” or “The way that came across, I thought . . . “
In addition, only bring up the behavior you want modified; Don’t make judgments about why someone might have behaved a certain way unless you see that underlying cause as the main issue that needs correcting–in which case, focus on that, not just on the incident. Don’t superimpose your own impressions on the situation. It’s always possible that what you observed wasn’t what the team member intended. For example, you would never say, “Were you angry because you thought Ryan was getting more attention than you?”
Kick off each status meeting with a brief check-in to see how everyone’s feeling and how well they’re handling the work. Limit the time for this and be clear it isn’t a personal therapy session but a way to get grounded before tackling the work that needs to be done. It’s still a good reminder that your team members are individuals who experience stress and pressure, and it’s important for sustaining trust.
This is the time to discuss issues that don’t necessarily have anything to do with work. It might give someone a chance to share why they haven’t been their usual self. It also helps the group leader see if someone needs a little extra support and attention
Celebrate successful steps along the way. For example, finishing a report that was well received could call for buying a round of lattes or going out for a drink after work. It’s important to balance recognizing group achievements with individuals’ unique contributions. Various personalities all bring different things to the team and impact how members work together. The stickler for details makes sure valuable information isn’t overlooked, and the jokester lightens the mood, lessening stress at difficult times.
Communicate from the very outset what the potential rewards are for successfully carrying out the project. These shouldn’t only be monetary–perhaps it’s increased visibility with upper management and chances for promotion in the future. Or it could simply be an opportunity to gain new skills that let team members take on higher-level responsibilities further down the road. Whatever the incentives and rewards might be, make sure they’re enough to give every team member a stake in the outcome.
The best way to get to know people you work with is to get them away from the office to spend some time together. Buckling down on a big project day in and day out can create superficial barriers that prevent people from working together as openly as they could. We can often learn more about a colleague in a short amount of time over a meal or a fun activity than we might by working with them in an office environment for years. That’s all the more true on close-knit teams, and these off-premises interactions can help build productive new perspectives among team members.