Unless you’re the improbable contradiction to the “no man is an island” poem, you’ll have inevitably had to work as a group. Having worked as a group any time in your life, therefore, you’ll most likely know it takes more to build a team than just telling a bunch of people they have to work together.
Building a winning team and effectively creating teamwork is a challenging process – and sometimes lengthier than you’d think. However, there are a few tested and approved tips to make this journey less rocky and more prone to success.
Tips for building a winning team!
As said above, there’s a lot – really, a lot – more than referring to a collection of employees as a team to make an actual team. The first step to start moving towards a successful and winning team is look at your employees and ask yourself: is this a team or a group?
If you’re asking yourself, yes there’s a difference and no they’re not the same thing. Each of them has its own purpose and characteristics, as follows:
- Team: the typical concept of team implies shared leadership and interdependency in activities – this means that one person’s activities are connected and depend to other people’s activities to be completed, in order to achieve a specific goal.
- Group: leaded by an appointed leader – represented by a manager or a supervisor – with members each working on their own activities with little to none dependency to other member’s tasks.
It’s clear that, even though a group may have a few connections that make it a group effort, it still lacks the true dependency and shared responsibilities to make it a team. The same expectations you have for a team can’t be applied when working with a group, for they are inherently different. Start by determining whether you’re working with a team or a group and proceed from there.
First steps for team success:
As I always say, first things first: begin by looking at the group of people you’re dealing with and start layering the foundation for success. Ask yourself, and the team, what is their purpose as a team? How are their purposes and goals connected to the company’s business goals?
Creating a common framework for everyone and looking at their perspectives – don’t panic if you decide to ask a large group these questions and you don’t get the same answers from everyone. You can’t begin laying the team’s infrastructure and dynamics before you set the scenario and know everyone’s point of view.
Inform the team of Tuckman’s stages of group development (forming, storming, norming and performing) and how they’re expected to progress – or digress – through these stages, as well as the variables involved in it. Ask them yet another question: what stage of group development do they see their team in? From then you can explain to them what will be the next necessary steps for moving to a higher level.
Listen to your team!
Gather information about the team’s perceptions on the way they work and interact as a team. A simple, but effective way, to get this “general idea” is applying a team survey – it’ll help you generate important data and approach all the necessary themes, such as trust, conflict resolution, commitment and communication.
Applying team surveys is not a one time thing, though. It can be applied every two weeks, approximately, to help you accompany and evaluate the team’s progress and development priorities.
Now you’ve got the team’s general perspective about themselves as a group, it’s time to assess each one of the members individually to determine their own work style. This is an exercise to bring to light each member’s preferences when working as a group, the way they contribute to the team, etc.
Knowing how each member of the group works and interacts may come as known facts or as a surprise. Either way, it’s a valuable source of information to make adaptations and teamwork possible.
Guidelines and boundaries – establish a team charter!
A team charter, generated by the team’s own members, should be a gathering of the team’s “rules” – its guidelines and behavioural boundaries. It’ll help set expectations and clarify what is acceptable /unacceptable when it comes to behaviour within the team.
It’s important to stimulate proactivity and don’t wait for a conflict to happen before you establish a team charter. Make it clear for everyone the chart is not set in stone and can be amended if necessary. After you’ve drawn the general charter make sure everyone has a copy/access to the online document. Review it periodically and, whenever your team has a new member, go through it carefully with him/her to make sure they understand it.
Skills and contributions:
When analysing your team members, make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to communication skills, conflict and problem solving, giving and receiving feedback, etc. These are common skills that should be developed and stimulated to keep the team’s harmony.
Having a bunch of technical geniuses that don’t communicate with each other and have different opinions at almost everything is not enough to build a winning team: technical expertise will do no good for your team unless they come along simple “people skills”.
On the subject of skills, make sure your team acknowledge everyone’s unique talents and contributions to the team. Each member aggregates value to the team differently and, for this reason, it’s important to take time to recognise your team members for their contributions.
You can do this by showcasing one or two members’ abilities at meetings. It’s important that everyone receives equal recognition within the team, don’t play favourites!
Communication is key to almost every successful relationship: either on your personal or professional life, you won’t get anywhere unless you express yourself clearly. You, as a leader or a team member, should always work towards building dialogue, aiming for two-way interactions, exchanging of ideas, developing insights…all common “side-effects” of regular, effective communication.
Your goal must be to extinguish monologues, those endless one-way talks about God knows what – because if you’re anything like me, unless asked to interact, i’ll get lost in my own thoughts. Invite your team members to ask others for their point of view and opinions, stimulate interactions and integration.
Take expectations as an example, team member’s won’t possibly know if their expectations are aligned to the team leader’s unless they talk about it. Think outside the box – and job descriptions: what are the team’s expectations for working as a team? What do they believe are their contributions?
Manage everyone’s expectations through team dynamics, stimulate people to express themselves freely until a consensus – or as close to one as possible – is reached.
As said in the beginning of this article, building teamwork takes time and effort – and can be done through a number of possible ways. If your team is in the early stages of team development, you may consider proposing a series of regular team “sessions” to incorporate all of the aforementioned topics through team building activities. Once the team is more established as a team, set a general interval for having more of these sessions – every two to three months seems like a reasonable timeframe to work with.
Pay close attention to the team’s culture and challenges when deciding on the type of team building activities to go for. By running a simple internet search you’ll find there are hundreds – or more – types of activities, ranging all the way from metaphors for what goes on or doesn’t go on, in the team experience to practical outdoorsy activities. Whatever you choose to go for, be certain the outcome will be valuable learning and fun for everyone.
Make the atmosphere lighter by stimulating a common language everyone in your team will understand: laughter. Lessen the stress level and stimulate the creation of bonds by creating times for people to loosen up and laugh together. Laughing together is also a very effective method to stimulate creativity – remember that friend of yours that uses his/hers creativity in all the funniest ways? This is why!
Make laughter come naturally and, if seems to you you’re trying too hard, you probably are. Consider starting a meeting with a joke – a proper one, please – or a funny story, showing a video of something funny at the end of a meeting (sports or kids bloopers are almost guaranteed to get laughter back), etc.
Also at the topic of fun and laughter, stimulate integration by creating reasons to celebrate: provide your team with a breakfast or lunch to celebrate the goals being met, identify themes (halloween, fathers/mothers day, christmas, etc.) and propose people to bring food to share. Play music, decorate, be creative! Try to fit these celebrations within work hours – you can’t expect people to abdicate their personal obligations and stay after work.
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