All successful teams will testify that they have been able to achieve so much of what they have because of good teamwork in the workplace. No matter what type of team you are a part of, in order for it to work effectively it cannot solely comprise individuals — regardless of how talented or skilled they may be. Collaboration can positively affect productivity, creativity and much more, and it is to this that organisations the world over can attribute much of their success. According to Patrick Lencioni in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable, his bestselling work on team management, “Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.” As Lencioni argues, whilst many factors can lead to the progression of a team, it is the interplay of these factors — and by extension, team members — that is most important. As without establishing a strong team unit with successful teamwork we can be sure that quality of work will take a hit, it goes without saying that teamwork is incredibly important. But how do we define it? Put simply, teamwork is defined by two or more people collaborating to reach a common goal. Team building of this type is incredibly beneficial for everyone involved, as it builds trust amongst team members, encourages creativity and learning and allows for efficiency and productivity when completing tasks. It also promotes the development of distinctive skills amongst members. This combination of ability, accountability and motivation produces a high-performing team that allows for extended efficiency and higher productivity. In this blog, we have arranged ten tips that can engage and develop even the most dysfunctional teams. These guidelines are guaranteed to serve as an effective way of improving the teamwork skills of your employees, and by extension, teamwork in your workplace as a whole.
Lead by Example
Good teamwork skills are inherent in many members of a team by default — especially team leaders — but the same cannot be said for every individual working towards a shared goal. On the other hand, if an organisation does not already practice good teamwork within their leadership team, it might pose a problem with the rest of the organisation who take heed of what those at the top are doing. In this respect, it is incredibly important that those whose role depends on leadership lead by example, as it is often considered the first step in fostering team development. Everyone who has ever been part of a team will tell you that members look to leaders for guidance and direction, so leaders need to set teamwork as the standard when working — a decision that will have a positive knock-on effect on the rest of the organisation. The actions of leaders influence those working around them in many ways; the performance, attitude, and morale of employees will improve as that of the leaders in question also improve. Leadership establishes buy-in from the team as a whole, allowing members to operate like a well-oiled machine, which, in turn, will lead to higher loyalty and productivity. This is why at Skillsarena, we encourage the cultivation of leadership skills in any institution. Take a look at our blog highlighting the five most important leadership skills to look out for in candidates for an insight into who the future leaders of your teams may be.
To be able to lead and work with a successful team, an element of trust between employees is integral. Whilst it is true that in an organisation, every team member is working towards their own individual goals, an overall common purpose is what ties each member to one another, so trust that each member will fulfil their individual commitments is essential to reaching that shared goal, and an absence of trust can spell failure for a team. Trust in a team can take numerous forms; if your organisation uses competency-based interview questions or pre-employment testing such as that provided by our range of skills tests, trust will have already been established in other team members (particularly regarding new hires) that they will be able to fulfil the duties of their role effectively. However, not all trust that can determine the strength of a team is ability-based. Trust in teammates is inextricably linked to psychological safety - the most important factor that determines team success according to an internal study conducted by Google. As an employee is much more likely to engage and participate with others if they can take comfort in knowing that they will not be penalised as a result, we can immediately infer that psychological safety can bring out the best in employees, and that it should be fostered at all costs. Psychological safety — and by extension, trust — can be cultivated among team members by having them participate in activities together such as team building exercises or social events outside of work. Through attending events such as our Character DNA Discovery Workshop, employees are much more likely to feel comfortable and safe amongst each other, and in turn, establish trust with one another. This also bolsters employee morale, as on an individual level, the institution will become a much more pleasant environment to work in if the employee in question enjoys the company of the people they work with. Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, team-building activities have looked different. Many institutions have had to work remotely and work from home. Encouraging virtual team socials, check-ins and even virtual escape rooms build trust amongst teams. To employees, it shows commitment from leadership that they are invested in the welfare of their team members.
Foster Effective Team Communication
Clear, constant team communication is key to building and maintaining strong teamwork, and whilst it may sound elementary, many leaders and employees struggle to communicate with one another effectively. In addition to building trust among team members, seamless communication keeps individuals on track and working towards the same goals, leaving less room for errors that are much more commonplace when this breaks down. Establishing streams of communication can be easier said than done, especially when managing large teams and/or teams that work remotely, but as teams also often comprise individuals with differing interpersonal abilities, communication styles and collaboration skills, juggling each of these can be a challenge. However, when done effectively — verbal communication, or the exchange of information through the use of communication tools such as Slack or any other type of project management tool — employees can provide constructive criticism and feedback to one another and to managers. Additionally, it leaves room for team members to hold each other accountable for their responsibilities, preventing dysfunction in teams.
Set Clear Goals
To bring about effective teamwork, goal-setting is essential. Not only do clearly-defined goals provide employees with focus and motivation, most importantly, they provide clear direction to ensure that all team members are singing from the same hymn sheet. It goes without saying that every employee should have been made well aware of the goals of the organisation, not just during their time at the company, but even before they made the decision to join. However, as well as being on board with the company's missions and objectives, employees need to be in tune with their own accountability and the impact that their work has on the company as a whole. Setting SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound) goals for your employees can help increase focus in your team members, making them all the more likely to achieve the intended end result. SMART goals have a direct relationship with teamwork, as if an organisation does not have SMART goals, it then becomes difficult for all employees to be on the same page regarding what they are working towards, causing the team's cohesion to lack. For instance, if it is the goal of an organisation to reach 3 million people through their content for the year, communication amongst teams has to be strong, and team-wide tasks and action items need to be put in place to ensure that that goal is achieved. Setting SMART, clear-cut, focused goals help employees to be secure in their abilities, as measurability and attainability help build confidence in people and in their teams, but the importance of accountability should not be understated. Any confusion around or avoidance of accountability can cause the team to experience tension, and team members may be unsure of not just what they are working towards, but also their ability to accomplish those goals. Reducing overlap by ensuring that the number of team members working on a single project is kept to a minimum is not only of benefit to the individual, but to the team as a whole — resources will be used more effectively, meaning that no time and effort will be wasted on the task at hand.
Build Diverse and Inclusive Teams
When discussing the concepts of diversity and inclusion, entrepreneur and Google CEO Sundar Pichai famously said, “A diverse mix of voices leads to better discussions, decisions, and outcomes for everyone.” Diversity and inclusion are key markers of a high-performance team; as we stated in this blog's intro, a team will not operate effectively if it comprises individuals alone, regardless of their level of skill. A surefire sign of a dysfunctional team is a lack of different perspectives — diversity in work teams or project teams is highly sought-after, as a group of people with different backgrounds and mindsets are more probable to have different ideas, soft skills and work skills, and perspectives on tasks, meaning that their the probability of a successful outcome is much higher. As new ideas will always be welcomed in all different kinds of organisations, when hosting job interviews for an open position, look for individuals who will alter the team dynamics and team spirit in a positive way, but also those with different views, as this is very likely to inspire creativity in your existing team. Higher amounts of creativity and productivity are not the only positive aspects you can expect to see in diverse teams; a study by the Harvard Business Review has proven that teams with higher levels of diversity are more capable of problem solving, making decisions at a much faster rate than teams comprising individuals who are cognitively similar. The more the diversity, the more perspectives, leading to more rigour and thoroughness in decision-making. Clearly, we can see that establishing a team with a balance of personalities and skill sets, and people from all backgrounds and communities can provide different ways to communicate and improve teamwork and business performance as a whole. At Skillsarena, our range of Personality Assessments can aid employers and executive teams improve teamwork when recruiting into established teams by helping them to find an individual with the right personality type for the team in question.
Make the Most of Team Meetings
Meetings are a key aspect of team communication. The best places to plan, reflect and share ideas amongst group members, team meetings — whether held online using a team communication tool such as Zoom or Google Meets to engage your remote team, or in person, face-to-face — can be the perfect way to establish real-time collaboration and team communication amongst colleagues. However, to ensure the good communication that allows for teamwork to take shape, it is essential to develop effective time management, as these sessions can often be the cause of wasted time. In a survey conducted by Microsoft Office, up to 3.8 hours a week can be wasted in meetings that are unproductive, so it is clear to see that the action of holding a meeting alone does mean that your team members are being productive by default. To improve teamwork in this area, a level of commitment is required. Well-structured agendas must be set and sent to team members in advance so that they can be as organised and prepared as possible when they come into meetings. This improves productivity, establishes accountability and teamwork skills, and enhances team performance during the meetings. Not only that, but well-defined action points can be taken as a result of the sessions.
Incentivise Team Members
By now, we can realise that for the development of fresh ideas and motivation, teamwork is essential, so in addition to incentivising individual members of staff for their work, consider putting team-based incentives into place to emphasise collaboration. When effective, this cooperation will go a long way in allowing the organisation to achieve its company-wide goals. When employees are rewarded for meeting objectives, it boosts morale and provides the encouragement that many will be seeking. Simply put, encouraged employees are effective team members, and effective team members are more efficient at their jobs. A joint study conducted by the International Society for Performance Improvement and The Incentive Research Foundation saw an increase in the performance of incentivised teams by 45%, so it is clear to see that when supporting other team members becomes a matter of necessity, not only will everyone reap the benefits on an individual level, but you will see an uplift in your team effectiveness also. Individual incentives should not be avoided, as the same study saw the performance of incentivised individuals improve by 27%. Offering recognition for reaching established goals in the form of a shout out in a team-wide email, or extra leave days and/or bonuses can go a long way in motivating individuals, and can have a positive knock-on effect on other employees also. The fact that team goals garnered higher results however, is a true testament to the power of effective team working — if you are not inspiring workplace teamwork in this way already, it may be time to do so!
Establishing Expectations and Check-ins
Needless to say, managing the day-to-day operations of an entire team poses its challenges regardless of its size, and these difficulties can be exacerbated further if you are overseeing remote workers, many of whom may be based in locations that operate in different time zones. No matter where your employees are in the world, each of them deserve to feel immersed in a team environment, and putting in place opportunities for effective communication with line managers and executive teams can be the perfect way to make that happen. For 39% of employees, engaging in regular check-ins with colleagues and managers instills in them the greatest feeling of belonging to an organisation; far from micromanagement, these short, work-related conversations allow for one-on-one, two-way team communication that makes employees feel more self-aware, eliminates silos and the possibility of dysfunction in a team.
Set Rules for Resolving Conflict
Despite the professionalism upheld in a working environment, emotional responses can at times be triggered in employees, causing conflict and in turn, team dysfunction. Whilst this sort of breakdown of understanding is far from ideal, the truth is, it can happen. What matters most is how your organisation is able to overcome the challenges that conflict can bring about. Organisations need to set rules for moving past challenging situations that arise in the workplace. If they are handled inappropriately, relationships amongst team members can have a lasting effect in the long term. Having the right rules in place around conflict management can be the difference between a dysfunctional and a high-functioning team. Providing that your team members do not interrupt one another and do respect each other's ideas, attempt to foster understanding and maintain eye contact and use the right tone when disagreeing, conflicts can be viewed simply as bumps in the road. When managing a productive team, conflict is arguably unavoidable. Rather than accepting artificial harmony (the assumption that no disagreement in the team exists — a clear sign of team dysfunction), learn to embrace conflict between team members, just as long as the right team-based intervention tactics are used and effective communication is maintained throughout. Whilst there is no one-size-fits-all approach to establishing effective team working in the workplace, the above tips should help to bring out the best in your team members, allow them to communicate effectively amongst one another and motivate them to build on their existing teamwork skills. However, none of this is achievable without having a strong, healthy company culture in place. As an organisation, you need to be ensuring that team members are working together effectively towards the collective goals set, whilst providing feedback and other tools necessary for them to thrive through effective team communication.
At Skillsarena, many of our skills assessments include elements of teamwork, allowing you to test for these qualities in your existing team or prospective new employees to make more informed decisions when building teams. Find out more by taking a look through our test pages, speaking to our experienced team on 0203 693 2201, or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.