Transforming Your Workplace Team From Tepid to Terrific

According to an old Swahili proverb, “A boat doesn’t go forward if each one is rowing their own way.”

The saying is a testament to the importance and power of teams. When the many come together, there isn’t much they can’t accomplish. However, that’s assuming “the many” are acting in tandem with a common purpose and goal. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. What can you do to ensure the rowers in your boat are paddling in unison?

Focus on Trust

Trust is the foundation of good relationships, and when teams become dysfunctional, a lack of trust is surely at the root. Within teams, broken trust leads to fractures in communication, reduced innovation, and decreased productivity. When trust isn’t there, people tend to “play it safe” by refusing to take risks that could lead to system or process improvements. Worse, energy that could be directed toward problem-solving is spent participating in unproductive political games intended to protect the participant from criticism and other negative behaviors deemed unfair.

On the other hand, where there’s trust, cooperation and open communication are the norm. Team members feel safe to disagree, promote their ideas, and engage in decision-making and problem-solving.

If the trust has been compromised in your team, leading by example is the best way to begin recreating a culture of mutual respect. Megastar Manager behaviors that build trust include:

  • Actively listening to staff ideas and concerns.
  • Encouraging open communication and healthy conflict resolution.
  • Regularly communicating the company vision and tying it to individual staff roles.
  • Making a point of checking in with staff to find out what’s working and what’s not. Walk around. Schedule regular staff updates. Whether your staff is on-site, remote, or a mixture, take the time to ask “How’s it going?” weekly if not daily.

By modeling this behavior, the leader demonstrates his or her willingness to be held to a standard of transparency and civility, and that, of course, enhances trust.

Focus on Creating and Redefining Team Norms

Every team has norms. Norms include things like how the team communicates, how decisions are made, how conflict is handled, the definition of roles and responsibilities, expectations about office attire and decorum, and so on. In unhealthy teams, these norms are created unconsciously and may not promote corporate values. In healthy teams, norms are mindfully created and consciously managed, and they contribute significantly to corporate success.

Managers can maintain norms by documenting processes and practices and then using that documentation to onboard new employees and to hold existing team members accountable. It’s also good to periodically review the material with staff to determine where changes in procedure may be needed or, indeed, have already occurred but not yet documented.

Get to Know Your Team Members

What motivates them? What worries them? What are their talents? What are their areas for development? Is each person in the right role?

We recently had a client that was struggling with team cohesion after a reorganization and the addition of new employees. It was crucial that team members take steps toward getting to know each other so they could start focusing on the future.

As part of our effort to listen to the needs of the group, we designed questions to help facilitate conversations around the top three challenges that the team faced. We helped the group develop solutions and, because follow-up is a vital aspect of team-building, ensured there was a process in place to track progress.

At our urging, the senior leadership made sure to clarify the mission, vision, and goals of the organization for all team members. We then facilitated discussions around the diverse work styles that different team members bring, and how the team could maximize its communication – not despite that diversity, but because of it. We also designed and facilitated a unique – and fun – team-building session. The group left energized, inspired and ready to take on their new norms in a curious and inclusive way.

Do What Already Works

Although we don’t always take the time to celebrate this fact, examples of good management are all around us. We like to call these leaders Megastar Managers, and they’re excellent models of all the right things to do, such as:

  • Foster an appreciation for diversity. Just as we helped our client do, create opportunities for team members to learn each other’s work styles and worldviews. Demonstrate that you value diverse input by asking for feedback and using it to inform decision-making.
  • Say “Thank you.” Everyone wants feedback, especially for a job well done. Recognition increases engagement as well as individual motivation. Tie your recognition to the team’s impact on the department or project as well as on the organization’s overall mission and vision. But show your appreciation in a way that’s consistent with what you know about the employee. For example, not everyone wants to be acknowledged in front of the whole company, but for some team members, there is no higher – or more appreciated – form of praise.
  • Remember to have fun! Organize regular team-building activities that promote trust, commitment, problem-solving, and laughter.

Terrific teams don’t just happen. They’re carefully crafted by leaders who know how.

And that’s the good news because it means that motivated leaders can take concrete steps to develop terrific teams that make positive contributions to their company every day of the week. If you’re struggling with team-building or finding that yours is not as cohesive as it could be, reach out for a conversation about the steps we can take together to make your organization better.

Post Written by

Director, Organizational Development

Helen is passionate about engaging and collaborating with others to create solutions that resonate with each unique organization. Helen's experience as a leader, manager, facilitator and clinician provides insights into both the human and organizational dynamics. She oversees consultants with an array of specialties who promote healthy workplace cultures through mindful practices and effective communication. It begins with listening.