Being part of a great team at work is a phenomenal feeling. You know that feeling? When your team is ‘in the zone’? It’s a sweet cocktail of emotions - excited, challenged, safe, successful. You’re pumped to get out of bed in the morning and energized throughout the day.
If you know that feeling, hold onto it.
The fact of the matter is, a lot of workforces suffer from poor communication, lack of trust, and low engagement - all of which erode the chances of teamwork in the workplace.
But, people still want teamwork. And 3 out of 4 employers consider teamwork 'very important'. It can just be a bit tricky sometimes. If it isn’t happening naturally, most people are stumped by the challenge to generate it.
The key is to give your team the right conditions to develop and grow. Think about this: if you were trying to create a thriving vegetable patch, you wouldn’t just throw some seeds around and command them to grow - “Hey you, become a carrot. Now!”
You would read the instructions, look at what they need (sunlight, lots of water, time) and provide them with that environment. It’s the same with teamwork; you need to give your team the right conditions to develop and grow.
If nurturing a healthy team culture is important to your workplace, here are 12 teamwork “conditions” to consider:
1. The role of leaders
It starts at the top. If you don’t already have good teamwork at the grassroots level, then it’s time for the leadership team to, well, lead. By example. They’re the ones that the rest of your company look to for guidance, so they should be establishing teamwork as the norm. Their behaviour will trickle down through the company to leaders at each level of the company, then to all members of the teams. Eventually the whole organization will come to accept and expect this mode of working.
“It is really amazing how much an organization sucks up the behaviors of the leader,” said Nick Tolley CEO of Harris + Hoole, when speaking about the culture and values within his company.
“I didn’t quite appreciate this until I started this business. You can very easily see this when you are having a bit of a crap day, and you are a little bit downbeat. It is infectious. Very, very infectious.”
2. Communicate, every day, every way
Good communication is at the heart of great teamwork. Great teams communicate well and often, their members are happy to share ideas, brainstorm together, ask for feedback, and be contradicted.
This doesn’t mean team members always agree, but they’re able to communicate through their differences to settle on a sound solution and continue moving forwards as a team.
So, how to enable good communication?
- Be clear: Set the tone for communication among the team. When is it acceptable to close your office door? Is it okay to contact someone after hours? How often should the whole team get together? This outline will help to keep everyone on the same page and communication flowing.
- Listen: Communication is as much about listening as it is about speaking. Make sure you’re listening to fellow team members and actually considering their thoughts before offering your own solutions and input.
- Method: There are so many ways to reach each other in the modern age. Try to use the most suitable tool to communicate for your specific needs, whether that’s email, a chat tool, phone call, or face to face. We’ve got an article that’ll help you decide which communication tool is best for what.
- Touch base: Encourage informal meetings, information sharing, and huddles between team members. People shouldn’t have to wait for a weekly catch-up meeting to get together. Collaborative team members are comfortable communicating as and when they need to.
- Collaboration tools: These enable workers to connect across the world, or across the office, in a group or one-to-one conversation. They also make progress on group projects at the times that are most convenient for them.
3. Exercise together
I’m not talking about aerobics here - don’t make your team complete a set of jumping jacks at your next meeting. I’m referring to team building exercises. These don’t have to be groan-inducing company retreats, they can be short and sweet tasks that take less than 10 minutes (and it may even be better that way).
Before deciding on a team building exercise, it’s important to assess what specific challenges your team is facing. For example, does your team need to become more familiar with each other, or do they need to recover from a conflict? You may pick different exercises for each of these situations.
The frequency of your team building exercises should also be considered. Team building exercises are like physical exercise - if you do it often, the benefits are more long-lasting. You can’t summit Everest if you train twice a year. Teamwork is similar. If you want to achieve your teamwork goals, find a way to work the exercises into your weekly/monthly contact with your team.
4. Establish team rules
“Rules?” I hear you thinking, “that doesn’t sound fun at all.” Think again. Rules don’t have to be a dampener, but they do have to exist to keep everyone aligned.
Rules are everywhere - on the sports field, in daily interactions - and they exist to keep everyone safe and on the same page. How can we more forward together if we don’t know where we stand? Rules will safeguard the success and productivity of a team.
Establishing rules early is best, but be willing to consider changing them if they’re hindering rather than helping the team. You can write them down or just chat about them openly. Either way, you should be clear on why they exist and ask for contributions/feedback from everyone.
- When we meet, we’re all present (no cell phones or laptops).
- We’ll be open about our frustrations.
- We listen with intent, rather than waiting for our turn to talk.
- We respect out of office hours and won’t expect communication unless it’s an emergency.
5. Clarify purpose
If a team doesn’t understand the purpose of their work, their attention and enthusiasm can dwindle. Be clear about why you’re doing what you’re doing - it’s the key to motivation. Simon Sinek, author and marketing consultant, unravels this game-changing concept in his TED talk.
So, find the "why" - the purpose - for your current project or final goal, and why you’re taking each of the steps that lead you there. Not only will this keep everyone motivated and aligned, it’s a great way to review your process and ensure you’re taking the best steps to get to where you need to be.
6. Recognize and reward
Recognized employees are satisfied employees, according to this recent survey. And satisfied employees do better at work (you can find out more here if you’re interested). If you want a happier, stronger team, recognition is key - are this doesn’t refer to a monetary reward.
Here are some of the ways employees want to be recognized and rewarded:
- Company or team-wide emails recognizing individuals/teams
- In-person recognition and thanks
- Extra vacation days
7. Office space
How constructive is your workspace for the growth of teamwork? Research from Herman Miller shows that the physical workspace needs to evolve to support collaboration.
“Project rooms that teams can use for months, conference rooms equipped with the latest remote conferencing tools, and areas of benching, where people can do heads-down work but also easily confer with each other support the various needs people have when collaborating.”
The needs of your teams should be reflected in your workspace. Look around your office and consider what could be done to encourage impromptu huddles for productive conversation, accessibility to knowledge experts, and semi-permanent spaces for group projects.
Though, once again, the research stresses that “people must feel they have permission to linger in informal collaborative areas and that comes from watching how other people, especially managers and executives, use or ignore those areas.”
8. Take a break
Team building doesn’t have to happen while you’re actively working. In fact, it’s proven that taking breaks together can result in a higher level of productivity and help reevaluate goals as needed.
One week, you could round up the team and grab a coffee together, or pick-up some sweet treats for your team on the way to work and gather for a morning chat. Getting together in a less formal setting will encourage better communication, sharing, and bonding between team members. If you want to start small, break up the day by stepping outside to have one of your team meetings on foot.
9. Focus on strengths
Focusing on the weaknesses of your team members can seriously affect engagement and consequently lower the team’s productivity. According to Gallup research, employees who use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged in their jobs.
Everyone is different - we have different strengths, passions, and weaknesses. One of the cornerstones of a good team leader is focusing on individuals’ strengths, and bringing together a team of people that has a combined skillset to get the job done. As long as everyone contributes by bringing a strong skill to the team, their weakness should not be dwelt on.
10. Show gratitude
How much gratitude do you show? A survey of 2,000 people, found that people are less likely to express gratitude at work than any other place. In fact, 60% of those people said they “either never express gratitude at work or do so perhaps once a year.”
It’s quite surprising then, to discover that people actually want to be thanked. 70% of the surveyed people would feel better about themselves if their boss were more grateful, and 81% would work harder. Gratitude is actually proven to lead to an increased sense of self-worth and trust within the workplace.
So, next steps? Start saying those magical words! Be thankful for the big and the small things that your colleagues bring to the table each day. (Don’t go overboard though. It’s important that your thanks are genuine and timely. Think quality, not quantity.)
11. Accept differences
“At some point almost all of us have had that moment in the workplace where we wanted to strangle the person sitting next to us.” I love this line because it’s so very true - when you're so frustrated by one of your colleagues because their opinions, mannerisms, or approach to work seem completely alien.
But, what happens next in the scene? That’s the important thing to focus on here. If your colleague next to you in a meeting is saying something you completely disagree with, do you:
- Tune out
- Dismiss their idea
- Talk over them
- Embarrass them
- Walk out of the room
- Actually try to strangle them (Inside tip: it’s not this one)
In fact, it’s not any of these. It’s actually this secret answer:
7. Come to a compromise/understanding
At some point, there are differences of opinion in every organization - that’s only natural (you’re human, you know what the world is like). Differences of opinion can lead to frustration, disagreements, and sometimes even conflict. Conversely, they can also benefit a project or final product due to unique perspectives and influences. The difference is all in your approach.
Problems arise when differences of opinion aren’t dealt with correctly - when people feel unheard, bullied, or disregarded. If you want to keep your team together (and stay sane) consider a few of these handy tips:
Remember the importance of balance: Think of Bert and Ernie from The Muppets. They’re best friends but polar opposites - one represents Chaos, the other represents Order. Our lives, workplaces, and output benefit from a mix of both of characters. A workplace with just one or the other would become monotonous and less robust.
Embrace disagreements: These are often learning opportunities. Opposite opinions should be dealt with respectfully and carefully to ensure everyone is happy and innovation is maximized.
Appreciate the differences: Both Bert and Ernie bring something to the table. One is smart and logical, the other is playful and fun. Even though your team members have different attributes, they should be recognized for the strengths they bring. Don’t play favourites based on your own personality.
Woohoo! You’ve reached a major milestone/final deadline/end of the week; it’s time to celebrate! Celebrating your success as a team will bring people closer together, encourage conversation, and boost happiness.
Like recognition and gratitude, celebrations don’t have to be big, but they should be frequent. By doing this, you’re weaving them into your team’s culture and the benefits will become lasting and more impactful. You’re also reminding people that your goals are achievable and worth striving for, which will keep motivation high.
Here are some ideas:
Have a casual Friday meeting: Chat about the small successes of the week. Use a post-it board to capture the success and get everyone involved; people write their achievements on a sticky note and put it on the board, then explain it to the group. You could also give “props” in this meeting; each person gives thanks to one other person in the team for something helpful they did that week.
Get out of the office for lunch of drinks: This can be after work or during working hours (depending on your company culture). Be clear on the purpose of this celebration, if you reached a big milestone or your team received praise from senior leadership.
Have a small token mascot: A magic eight ball, a pair of glitzy scissors, a plastic figurine - that gets passed to the team member who was most successful or helpful in the past month. Have every team member contribute to this decision through an anonymous vote.
So, there you have it - 12 ways to improve teamwork in your organization. Try sowing a few of these seeds in your organization, find out which ones serve you best, and reap the harvest of stronger teamwork. If you’ve got any other sweet tips, we’d love to hear from you!