Effective teamwork was a challenge before the pandemic. Now, with remote and hybrid working environments, it’s even harder. As some of us start to return to the office and connect ‘in real life’ again, it’s likely we all need a little boost or reset to get our teams working like well oiled machines.
Effective teamwork is essential to a team’s success. High-performing teams are more efficient, productive, innovative, and are more loyal. In fact, Gallup found that higher levels of engagement can lead to a:
That means real bottom-line benefits for your company!
While teamworking skills don’t always come naturally to everyone, they can be learned, and they can be mixed and matched with other team members' skills to maximize team performance. Social and organizational psychologist Hackman defines five conditions for teams to thrive:
When we think of successful teams, we often think of professional sports teams. They can be a good analogy for the workplace. In a game like football or soccer, the entire team needs to share a goal, optimize their positioning for their strengths and weaknesses, receive expert coaching, practice regularly, be recognized and rewarded, and celebrate success. And it’s up to the coach to help guide them.
If you’re the coach and your team needs some help with how they’re working together, first you need to define what actually needs to be improved and what success for you looks like. Is it the way your team communicates on a daily basis? The way conflicts are resolved? The way they use systems and follow processes? Once you have established the ‘what’ you can start to break down the necessary steps and areas of focus to turn your team into your version of a high performing team.
1. Set Clearly Defined Goals & Objectives
Teamwork: the ability to operate collaboratively in pursuit of a common objective
...or, more simply, every team member needs to know what they’re working towards and why they’re doing it.
As the coach or leader, it’s essential to set clear team goals and objectives early on for the team as a whole, a project, or a task. Goals and objectives can help get everyone on the same page, and aligning all of their work to achieve something together. Without them, individuals will start to prioritize their own interests ahead of the team and the team will likely underperform.
If we think back to our sports team analogy, if the team doesn’t know the purpose of the play or the star player’s ego gets bigger than the agreed play, the play, and then possibly the game will start to fall apart. It’s up to the coach to facilitate and communicate clear goals and objectives from the beginning.
2. Communicate Clearly & Effectively
In the age of remote and flexible working arrangements, effective communication is one of the most important skills for effective teamwork. Miscommunication can decrease productivity, result in significant rework, and also foster feelings of frustration. And it’s not always about the content, but rather the manner in which we communicate. Without face-to-face interactions, we’re reliant on written and spoken communication and miss out on the sub-text associated with non-verbal cues.
Communication isn’t easy though. A 2016 Harvard Business Review article found that 69% of managers say they’re uncomfortable communicating with employees, meaning there is always a lot of room for improvement in this space!
3. Define Roles & Responsibilities
Teams come in all shapes and sizes. They can be big, small, agile, slow, diverse, specialized… just to name a few! Regardless of the structure or makeup, just like a coach, a team leader needs to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each team member and assign each member to a role or position where they can succeed. Then each team member needs to understand their role, what strengths they bring to the table, and also what is not expected of them.
Just like with a football team, the quarterback can’t play all of the roles on the team, and they shouldn’t have to. At some point every player needs to understand the play, their role in the play, and how to run it successfully together.
With workplace teams, we know this is easier said than done. With the pace of work, volume of tasks and projects, there are often overlapping roles and responsibilities (unlike with a sports team). Remember, roles are never fixed and there is always room for adjustments and modifications! In fact, flexibility and adaptability should be seen as an asset!
4. Align Work Around Team Strengths
Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses; however, it’s up to a team leader to bring a team of different individuals together to work towards and achieve a common goal. According to Gallup, employees who use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged in their jobs. It pays to align team members with roles that play to their strengths, and not dwell on their weaknesses or shortfalls.
The same goes for a coach. They’re not going to put their star quarterback playing defense, or a basketball center going for all the rebounds. Rather they’re going to organize their players according to their strengths, so when the team plays together, they can use their combined knowledge and skills to work towards a win.
5. Encourage Respect & Trust Within The Team
Developing relationships in the workplace and building trust is essential to developing a high-performing team. Team members need to know their work and opinions will be respected and that they can rely on their team to also deliver when needed. Without trust and respect, your team members won’t be able to communicate freely and do their best work. And it’s likely some work will fall through the gaps.
Sports games are full of trust examples. You need to know when you pass the ball that your teammate is there to receive it, or that if you make a mistake, your teammates have your back, or if you have an idea of a play, that the coach and the others will listen to it.
6. Debrief & Give Feedback
With the speed of work today, we’re often rushing ahead to the next task or project without taking time to properly debrief. There is value in sitting down with a team and discussing what went well, what could be improved next time, and also giving individuals constructive feedback. In fact it’s so effective that it’s a regular part of military exercises, professional team sports games, and large events. It makes sense because teams will only grow and start to work together more effectively when they know how they’re performing relative to expectations and project goals. Without it, they can become disengaged and complacent.
7. Recognize & Reward
Time and time again, reward and recognition is brought up as one of the best ways to improve employee engagement. Recognized employees are more satisfied employees.
The same goes for teams. Teams need to know when they’re doing well and when their hard work has not gone unnoticed. Rewards and recognition can stretch from bonuses or promotions, to fun and rewarding team events, to prizes or shout outs in the company newsletter. It can also come from within the team. Maybe at your next team meeting come up with some time and format for peers to share what they’ve learned from each other?
Just like with a sports team, if you regularly recognize and reward efforts and results (think MVPs, team outings, PR coverage), the whole team will be motivated to practice more and work together in a more cohesive unit.
8. Take Breaks When Needed
Team building doesn’t just happen in the workplace, it can also happen during coffee breaks, happy hours, and team offsites (to name a few). Why not set up a weekly coffee break at a nearby cafe where there is no work on the agenda? Or get everyone outside for a ‘timeout’ walk at lunchtime? Getting together in a less formal setting or a different environment can help foster better communication, sharing, and collaboration.
9. Practice Together
Team building activities are a bit like exercise or a sports team practice. If you do it regularly, you and your team are going to get better at it. These days team-building activities also don’t have to be expensive, all day affairs. They can be simple 10 minute tasks at the beginning of a team meeting to help break the ice and get communication happening freely.
A quick Google search will give you lots of ideas for team building activities and games. However, before deciding on any, you should identify which challenges your team is facing. Does your team need help with communication? Do they need to get to know one another? Do they need help with creativity? That will help with a more targeted search!
Here are some of our favorite team-building activities.
10. Celebrate Together!
Celebrating your team’s wins (no matter how big) can be a great way to bring people closer together, to encourage conversation, and to boost happiness (and did you know happy employees are 31% more productive and be 3 times more creative than unhappy employees?). And when celebrations happen with regularity, they’ll become part of the team’s culture, and a constant motivation to work towards the team’s collective goals.
A celebration could be as small as a celebratory coffee catch up where everyone recognizes the small successes of the week, it could be a team lunch or happy hour, or even a fun and engaging interactive experience.