Managers may find it challenging to create an environment of teamwork, collaboration and respect amid productivity-lowering workplace stress, crushing deadlines, and the pressures of life inside and outside the office. However, without working toward shared goals, your business productivity will suffer and your work environment may turn sour, leading to increased employee turnover and a toxic work culture.
It’s possible to encourage collaborative teamwork among employees of varied personalities, strengths and priorities. We’ll explore ways to foster teamwork, examine the benefits of team building and look at the consequences of a disjointed workforce.
How to encourage better teamwork
Leaders engineer an environment that empowers employees to motivate and support one another. Here are six starting points.
1. Create conditions where trust wins.
Teamwork frequently brings with it an atmosphere of trepidation rather than trust. Employees are often scared to share their ideas, fearing they’ll be misunderstood or face poorly phrased constructive criticism.
Leaders create a safe atmosphere that encourages team members to openly share their ideas and perspectives. One way to do this is by opening up your workplace to feedback. Enact a system of regular, structured feedback where you ask everyone on the team to share something. Appreciate and listen to their thoughts and ideas – positive or negative. This will gradually increase feelings of trust throughout the team.
FYI: In a Workforce Institute survey, 64% of respondents said trust in the workplace directly impacts their sense of belonging, 58% said it impacts their career choices and 55% said it impacts their mental health.
2. Manufacture team-building opportunities.
Healthy collaboration doesn’t just happen; you must create opportunities for cooperation. Don’t let your employees develop ideas in isolation. Instead, encourage collaboration by scheduling fellowship sessions during the workday.
Take a collaborative approach to every issue your company faces. Consider hosting weekly brainstorming sessions with various team members to discuss solutions. Additionally, make collaboration social by alternating quiet work time with open Q&A time.
Most successful problem solvers don’t find answers immediately or in isolation. They’re often curious and ask questions in a group setting. Create an atmosphere where this can happen.
3. Prioritize diversity on your team.
Leaders sometimes place employees in groups according to similar backgrounds, skill levels or personalities. While it’s natural to want team members to see eye to eye, assembling more diverse, counterintuitive groups can lead to more productive collaboration. Diverse teams motivate each other to think independently and dive deeper into issues.
With each new opportunity for collaboration, ask yourself how you can mix up team members to challenge the status quo. Consider gender, ethnicity, age and personality types. Get your employees out of their comfort zones – that’s where they’ll grow.
Tip: To improve workplace diversity and inclusion, celebrate cultural events as a team on a regular basis; also, pair up employees from different backgrounds, and train your team on cultural sensitivity and inclusion.
4. Use tools that foster collaboration.
Tech tools can help improve communication and collaboration even when employees aren’t in the same physical space. “It’s important to foster a sense of community and camaraderie among your team members in order for your organization to run efficiently,” said Brad Hall, co-founder and CEO of SONU Sleep. “You may have a lot of top talent on your team, but nothing good will come out of that if your team isn’t communicating.”
Intuitive collaboration tools that help keep employees engaged include Slack, Microsoft 365, Asana and Trello. “Slack, Trello, Google Docs and Asana are among the most popular [collaboration tools],” said Kyle MacDonald, VP of marketing and business development at Mojio. “Any tool or app that allows your team to easily communicate with one another, keep track of project status, and share files with each other is going to help foster a teamwork environment.”
Your organization can only run as smoothly as your team communicates; consequently, it’s crucial to encourage collaboration both in and out of the workplace.
Did you know? According to a Developer Ecosystem Survey of over 47,000 people, Slack was the most used workplace communication tool, Zoom was the most used video conference tool, and Google Docs was the most used document-sharing tool.
5. Clearly define team members’ roles.
Having clearly defined roles within their team helps employees feel valued and more comfortable contributing.
“While it might not seem connected, your team will function much better as an actual team if each member knows what their individual role in the team is,” MacDonald said. “This way, each team member can fulfill their duties and then help out other team members that might need it.”
MacDonald added that with clearly defined roles, each team member gets their work done efficiently.
“Your productivity and performance stats will increase by being clear on each individual’s roles and responsibilities,” MacDonald advised.
6. Set mutual, attainable goals for your team.
Setting and tracking goals as a group fosters a sense of teamwork and encouragement. “If employees are all working toward the same thing as one, they are much more likely to help each other out, communicate and work together to reach the goal, especially if it benefits everyone as a whole or there is a shared reward,” said Joanna Zambas, content manager and career expert at CareerAddict.
Individual goals can be valuable, but they’re not conducive to team building. For example, say you’re building a sales team and create a contest for the top salesperson. People may be encouraged to attain a sales goal, but it won’t foster teamwork. Zambas noted that – if anything – that type of goal creates gaps among the team.
Benefits of collaboration
Teams that stick together and learn to collaborate can create a stronger business. The team’s collective intelligence will boost performance and allow team members to soar.
Here are three top benefits of effective team building:
- Teamwork creates a positive work environment. Employees working together tend to be invested and optimistic. “When [team] members feel appreciated and supported, they are more likely to be engaged and productive,” said Joey Sasson, VP of sales and logistics at Moving APT. “Additionally, if there’s open communication among team members, everyone will be more likely to understand each other’s goals and how they can best work together to achieve them. Celebrating successes together can help to build team morale and keep everyone motivated. This could be as simple as providing positive feedback or thanking team members for their hard work.”
- Teamwork fosters multiplied motivation. Accountability and respect create additional motivation in teams. “People work harder and faster when they’re accountable to teammates they respect,” said Dave Wolovsky, salary coach and entrepreneur for EffortWise.com. “They also progress faster when learning new skills with other people in real time.”
- Teamwork prompts efficient problem-solving. Teams create a structure to handle issues systematically. “When things go awry, or the team needs to pivot quickly, the systems and relationships are already in place to allow that to happen,” said Emily Guthro, program manager at McLean & Company. “All teams go through internal and external rough patches, but teams who have put effort into defining key processes and actions that created an environment to successfully operate, as opposed to falling into traps of blame and unhealthy conflict, are often more effective and higher performing.”
Tip: To keep remote employees engaged, use tools like Zoom to meet regularly, include them in team goals and let these employees know how much you appreciate their contributions.
Consequences of poor teamwork
Team building is one of the most crucial yet undervalued aspects of emotional intelligence in the workplace. Business is an inherently social environment. People must access collective energy and ideas to innovate.
Without effective teamwork, you’re missing out on creativity. When employees feel disconnected, their ability to think outside the narrow confines of basic tasks is impaired. However, when your staff is part of a healthy group, their work life is eased and empowered. It’s a phenomenon that James Coan, a neuroscientist and researcher at the University of Virginia, calls “load sharing.” When individual pressure is reduced, creativity thrives.
Here are some common team-building mistakes managers make:
- Wanting teams to be best friends. Leaders sometimes assume that all their employees should be best friends, as if employees who don’t sprint out of work to get together for happy hour are doing something wrong. Though employees must respect one another to work effectively, the best collaboration often takes place between people with vastly different perspectives who would rarely socialize outside of work.
- Assembling the wrong team. When putting teams together, leaders often overvalue skills and undervalue motivations. They pair their best employees with their lowest performers, assuming their top employees will lead and motivate those who need it. Instead, the low performers tend to demotivate the more dedicated employees, undercutting the very people who give the business the most value.
Truly great teamwork happens when workers’ problem-solving skills, curiosity, empathy and strengths play off one another in a complementary way.
Kerry Goyette contributed to the reporting and writing in this article.