Over the past few years, I have come to appreciate the value of connected and healthy teams in the workplace. This became especially clear to me when we successfully planned and ran our first major conference. Conferences require vision, data management, marketing, speaker coordination, coaching, customer service, and so much more. It takes a whole team of talented people who communicate well to pull it off. However, after months of planning, we had to cancel the in-person conference at the last minute and move it online. Despite the setback, our conference team kept their heads up, continued communicating, and were able to pull off a remarkable event. So, what makes something like this possible?
I believe the strength of our teams forms the basis for our performance as individuals and as an organization. Human beings are wired for connection, and teams are a vital part of that connection in the workplace. Through our relationships, our collective intelligence makes it possible for us to succeed and thrive. Yet relationships and teams need to be tended like a garden. With the right seeds, good things can grow, but we need to be vigilant about “feeding” and “weeding” to keep our teams healthy.
Shared accomplishments bond people and build confidence.
Based on my experience, here are five steps for building and maintaining a great team:
Select the right people.
As author Jim Collins famously articulated in his book Good to Great, we need to make sure we get “the right people on the bus.” In other words, team selection should not be accidental. Building a strong team means paying attention during the hiring process and focusing on bringing in the right people who will compliment existing strengths and add diversity of thought to the team. Having diversity in talent also enhances the team’s capabilities and collective intelligence.
Leaders need to be involved in the hiring processes. Their role is to determine what talents the new hire needs in order to compliment the team’s existing strengths. Leaders also need to look for someone who will bring a unique perspective to the team as that is what will strengthen the group’s collective intelligence.
Work on things together.
Team members need to know how to work together. A team can only function well as a unit when all members share common goals and projects and know how their work contributes to the vision and mission of the organization. A collection of people working in the same department is not a true team unless they share common goals and work together to achieve them. Working on projects together allows team members to benefit from their collective intelligence, which will boost the quality and effectiveness of their projects beyond anything any of them could have accomplished on their own. Shared accomplishments bond people and build confidence.
Leaders need to routinely build projects with their teams that require shared work so that staff become accustomed to working with each other. They should also create shared ownership of the success and failure of projects.
Know and draw on each other’s strengths.
Working together creates an environment where team members can get to know everyone’s strengths and learn how to rely on each other. Additionally, we have found that using simple personality assessment tools like the CliftonStrengths assessment or the ACHIEVE Work Styles assessment can help people develop self- and other-awareness, as well as appreciation for each other’s strengths.
A leader’s role is to ask each team member how they can contribute to the group through their strengths and to get them thinking about how they benefit from the strengths of others. This can be done through simple questions like, “What can you contribute to this team effort?” or statements of appreciation such as, “I can see how each of you brings something unique to the group that is making us all stronger.”
Building a strong team means paying attention during the hiring process and focusing on bringing in the right people who will compliment existing strengths and add diversity of thought to the team.
Involve and listen to every voice.
All too often I have heard people complain that they are not listened to in their place of work, and that they feel shut down when they have an idea or offer a suggestion. This is unfortunate because we hire people with the belief that they will bring something unique and valuable to the team. We hire people because they have brains and can think, so we must engage their minds. This means intentionally giving space for people to contribute to consultation processes and decisions. It means asking staff to engage and be mindful of their work processes, and involving them in problem-solving and innovation. When we do this, we communicate that everyone is valuable, and it primes the pump for teams to benefit from their collective wisdom and experience.
The leader’s job is to include voices and to listen. When you realize that you do not have the corner on knowledge and wisdom as a leader (nor do you need to), you will naturally start to ask for contributions from others on your team. And when you engage their brains and listen to what they have to say, you will boost involvement and engagement.
Show that you care about each other.
One of the things the world continues to teach us is that human existence is vulnerable. We have likely all felt the pain of disconnection from loved ones and even from our colleagues at different times in our lives. We have seen how we need each other in ways that go beyond the function of our daily jobs. Our work teams need time to connect with each other as human beings and show that we care. Showing care builds trust – and trust is one of the foundations of strong teams.
The leader’s job is to demonstrate care for their staff and to make room for people to connect with each other beyond their work roles. This can be done through encouraging connections through events such as group coffee breaks, potlucks, or participating in a charity event such as a walk or gala.
It is within our power to create great teams, and it is worth the effort. There is something incredibly satisfying about pulling together in the same direction and achieving a result that could not have been done by one person. As it happens, these team results are also crucial for any organization that wants to survive and thrive. We need our teams to know how to work together, to depend on each other’s strengths, and to be healthy enough to face crises as they arise. Let’s all make building great teams one of our top priorities.
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