When you look at successful businesses, you often see a strong team behind that success. From high-level executives to interns, businesses with cooperative and supportive team members tend to perform better than groups where team members are more focused on individual interests. Team cohesion relates directly to the role of managers. Exceptional managers find ways to piece together the different components of teams to create a functional unit that works toward business goals.
In many cases, managers rule in a conventional style. Meetings run a stereotypical way, people hold strict job responsibilities, and there's a clear hierarchy within a company. While sticking to routines isn't always a bad thing, there are less-conventional management strategies and practices that can lead to better team cohesion and performance. We spoke to a handful of successful managers who think creatively to boost team morale and motivation, and they shared insights into how they lead their teams.
Be present outside of work.
On the surface, being involved in your employees' lives outside of work might seem like a risky proposition. While there's certainly a balance needed, it's not a bad idea to be present outside of the workplace.
Linda Ding, the director of strategic marketing at Laserfiche, believes her company's focus on the local community helps build a stronger team. The business, which holds offices in Long Beach, California, created its Laserfiche Cares program to enrich the lives of employees and community members. Through this program, employees volunteer together and help the community.
"I volunteered teaching Mandarin to three groups of students at the YMCA on my birthday," Ding said. "I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate my birthday. It's such a heartwarming experience."
Although Ding volunteered alone, creating the Laserfiche Cares program gives employees an opportunity to do something personal with a clear connection to the company. Ding's positive experience gives her the chance to enjoy an opportunity for personal growth through a company program, and the business's brand benefits from her service to the community.
Volunteering opportunities can be paired with team bonding activities to drive home a company's belief in community and teamwork.
Toeing the line between offering meaningful activities outside of work and making employees spend too much time together poses challenges for managers, but there's certainly merit to team bonding. Asking employees to participate in mandatory team activities once a week might cause employees to resent you, but holding optional team activities once a month can produce beneficial results. Even taking a Friday to hold a team activity gives your team the opportunity to grow closer together.
"The day after our monthly corporate meetings, we regularly participate in offsite team-building exercises," said Kyle Bailey, CEO and founder of NuVinAir. "This has included Topgolf, go-karts, bowling, or an arcade, and things have gotten really fun … and competitive!"
Getting employees to feel more comfortable with each other might be as easy as hosting an office happy hour. Regardless of how you do it, getting everyone together outside the office to gain a stronger connection can benefit your business.
Encourage candid dialogue.
We've all heard the saying, "The truth hurts." This saying can prove itself correct in the workplace when employees or managers are faced with criticism.
When receiving criticism, it tends to be easier to accept and understand it when the critique comes from those close to you. Trust is a critical element of successful work teams, and if you have a close-knit group, it's easier to openly share constructive criticism without hurting feelings.
If your team trusts each other, it's much easier to be candid in the office. Once your team begins to trust each other, it's critically important to be candid. In "Creativity, Inc.," a book written by Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios President Ed Catmull, the inner workings of Pixar are shared. Catmull shines a light on Pixar's commitment to candor throughout much of the book.
"You don't want to be at a company where there is more candor in the hallways than in the rooms where fundamental ideas or matters of policy are being hashed out," Catmull writes. "Seek out people who are willing to level with you, and when you find them, hold them close."
With people frequently withholding their opinions in fear of hurting a colleague's feelings, it can be difficult for people to be candid in meetings, but Catmull suggests this level of transparency is better off in meetings than behind people's backs during side conversations in the hall. A willingness to be candid requires removing personal biases and caring about the good of the team, even if that leads to difficult conversations.
"In a meeting earlier this year, after onboarding a bunch of new people 30 days earlier, I asked, 'Who in the room are you least likely to get along with?'" Bailey said. "It led to some pretty honest conversations and produced an incredibly effective result in generating teamwork."
Bailey's tactic might be a bit extreme for your business depending on how much trust your employees share with one another, but his mindset deserves attention. Bailey's group tackles their team dynamic head-on in an unconventional way. Instead of beating around the bush, Bailey urges everyone in the room to be open with each other and speak candidly about relationships that may cause friction. By discussing working relationships within a month of hiring people, it's easier to address the team dynamic and make necessary changes than it would be if the new hires spent months entrenched in a different, less compatible team dynamic.
You don't have to ask your employees whom they're least likely to get along with to encourage candid discussions, but placing an emphasis on constructive criticism and honest feedback can improve your team's overall performance. Being an excellent communicator is one trait that makes a great boss. Don't be afraid to share candid remarks with team members.
Make praise a priority.
Praising good work is a standard practice. Making praise a priority within your organization, however, is much less conventional than many realize. According to Gallup research, "only three in 10 U.S. employees strongly agree that in the last seven days they have received recognition or praise for doing good work," and "just one out of five employees strongly agree their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outside work." While many managers may feel they properly praise employees, the numbers suggest otherwise.
Giving adequate praise isn't easy. We turned to Susan Kuczmarski, social scientist and leadership expert at Kuczmarski Innovation, for tips on how to better lift the spirits of employees within your organization. Kuczmarski shared seven pieces of praise-related advice:
- "Know that praise and recognition can help to make everyone in an organization feel valued."
- "Personalize praise – match the right kind and amount of praise to each recipient."
- "Recognize the power of indirect praise."
- "Use written and other tangible forms of recognition, not just verbal praise, and give one's time too."
- "Praise on the scene and behind the scenes."
- "Praise both the effort and the outcome."
- "Create a system for giving praise and be creative and consistent."
As Kuczmarski's comments illustrate, giving proper praise takes more than an occasional "thank you." Impactful praise requires a commitment to recognizing your employees for successful actions. When employees feel their efforts are valued, they're much more willing to give increased effort. Giving praise is a conventional managerial tactic, but an intense commitment to focused praise in both written and verbal form is a practice most businesses don't follow. If your business decides to make a larger commitment to giving adequate praise, there's a good chance you'll see increased motivation levels among employees.
Implementing unconventional management techniques doesn't mean you need to rely on extravagant tactics to see improved team performance. An unconventional managerial technique can be as simple as reworking how your organization praises employees. By taking seemingly simple managerial tasks and looking at them in an innovative fashion, your business can improve.