How to Build Healthy Teams in Your Workplace

Wendy Loewen

[Excerpt from The Culture Question] 

Team-building retreats and workshops have become the norm for organizations seeking to foster team spirit. Team-building days typically include some combination of the following: a game to break people out of their everyday roles, an exercise that helps build trust among team members, a challenge that requires everyone’s participation to be successful, and a fun activity to build group identity.

In our work at ACHIEVE, clients often ask us to facilitate these sorts of team-building activities. There is nothing wrong with these activities, particularly when the emphasis is on having fun and being together. However, as we always tell our clients, activities like these are best when they are used in conjunction with practical conversations about how teams relate and work together.

Teams are healthiest when they are made up of people who feel a strong connection to each other and to the organization.

Teams are healthiest when they are made up of people who feel a strong connection to each other and to the organization. As we explain in the following sections, leaders must harness the power of team motivation, foster identification and interdependence, embrace diversity, and empower teams to make decisions.

Harness the Power of Team Motivation

When organizations have high levels of motivation among individuals and teams, an infectious, energizing spirit overtakes everyone. People work well together and achieve higher levels of productivity as a result. As one of our survey participants reported: “On our team, no one is perfect, but we interact very effectively. We mesh together well. The result is balance, efficiency, and productivity.”

One of the most overlooked yet powerful motivators in the workplace is the social motivation that teams provide. When we are determining how to behave in social situations, we look for cues from the people around us. People demonstrate through their actions what is acceptable in an organization and what is not. Tapping into the positive elements of social motivation is an important aspect of creating peak performing teams.

One of the more fascinating studies about social motivation we reviewed considered what would motivate hotel guests to reuse their towels.3 In the first trial, the research team began by placing cards in hotel rooms, reminding guests of the environmental benefits of reusing towels. However, they discovered that this was relatively ineffective.

When organizations have high levels of motivation among individuals and teams, an infectious, energizing spirit overtakes everyone.

In the second trial, when the research team informed people that most hotel guests (75 percent) reused their towels, they saw a significant increase in the number of guests who reused their towels. It seems that many of us are motivated less by a concern for the environment and more by a need to fit in with those around us. The message in the second trial gave a clear indication of what was socially acceptable and what was not, and it resulted in a significant change.

Social motivators are present in our workplaces as well. When employees see others working on tasks and projects that are exciting and require high levels of commitment, they typically want to be involved in those activities as well. When working effectively as a team, staff feed off of each other in positive ways to sustain their motivation. When effective teamwork is absent, however, some people may seek out social motivation in a different workplace altogether. As one survey participant wrote, “Teamwork is essential, and without it many of our staff would not continue to work here.”

Highly motivated individuals want to be surrounded by others who are highly motivated. They crave the energy of collaboration, and once they are used to it, they won’t settle for less. At ACHIEVE, we have seen how new hires are, in a way, pressured into joining a culture of peak performance. It’s as though existing employees are telling them: “We are motivated and productive workers. We want you to get on board with the way things are done here.”

An additional benefit of peak-performing teams is that highly motivated coworkers tend to manage each other. When the majority of people in an organization are motivated, others will either raise their level to match it – on their own or through positive peer pressure – or they will leave. When most people are productive and working hard to fulfill the mission and vision of the organization, they set a standard that comes to be expected of others.


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Authors: Randy Grieser, Eric Stutzman, Wendy Loewen, and Michael Labun.

This blog is an excerpt from ACHIEVE’s book, The Culture Question: How to Create a Workplace Where People Like to Work.

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