Working on a team can be wonderfully gratifying but it can also be a big ol’ pain in the butt. Teamwork isn’t easy. In fact, it can be more frustrating and stressful than rewarding. The good news is that there are some basic principles to follow that make collaborating with others much easier. Here’s a good place to start if you’re leading a team and looking for a few pointers: Leading a Team? Focus on the Five Must-Haves
That said, there are some other strategies to employ that support and even enhance teamwork. Here are three of them.
Shift from Progress to Connection
This is to take a small step back from results, performance, goals, and achievement. These are important and objective measures of teamwork but for many, they can feel hallow. Instead, create some intentional time and space for connection. This is to engage in activities that tie you together as humans. It might be the job, but it also could be hobbies, family, friends, food, art, music, exercise, literature, or what makes you laugh.
It looks different for each team but here are a few real-life examples of teams connecting:
How are you, really? - To get a pulse on how her team is really doing, a manager takes time during her monthly 1:1 check-ins to ask how each person is doing and asks in a way to foster a candid conversation. She emphasizes "really" so that each person knows she is seeking a genuine response. She too shares how she is "really" doing. These conversations have helped her and the team feel more connected to each other through authentic conversations.
Quick wins: A healthcare team now starts every staff meeting with 10 minutes of sharing small successes they’ve personally achieved or witnessed a colleague do. This time makes things feel a little lighter and reminds them, in the midst of a stressful environment, that they are making a meaningful impact each day.
Top Chef Challenge. A team of accountants have lunch together on Fridays. They identify 5 ingredients, and everyone arrives at a virtual lunch having made their meal with the same 5 ingredients. Not everyone is a foodie, nor are the meals elaborate but this time is dedicated to non-work talk and fun. Something that recharges them for the remainder of the day.
Cat Dance Party: A technology team at a large non-profit has periodic 10-minute dance parties in the middle of the day. Cats (and other pets) are encouraged to attend.
To boil it down, connection is really about creating positive emotion between people. Get real, talk about the good stuff, and don't shy away from being playful or silly. Those connections can make teamwork better.
Make Meetings Worth It
There is no greater time suck and soul crusher than a wasteful meeting. Not only is an unproductive meeting painful on the micro-level (the day-to-day slog of having to attend it) but it chips away at overall engagement and job satisfaction, the macro-level too.
I worked with a team who acknowledged that their weekly update was a waste of time. One disclosed that she intentionally shut off her video and did other work to feel somewhat productive during the 60-minute meeting. Others fessed up to doing the same thing.
We engaged in a candid discussion about why the meeting was so unproductive. The core problem surfaced: participants were using that time to address individual questions. This resulted in most of the topics raised only pertaining to a sub-set of attendees. In that moment, they agreed the weekly update would now only be for topics that pertained to the entire group.
This reduced the update meeting by 30 minutes each week, and furthermore, engaged everyone in attendance.
Learn, just for the Sake of It
Many don’t need to read research to believe the benefit learning has on our well-being. Just consider it for yourself. Think about a time when you were learning about something you were really interested in. What did that feel like? What expression did you carry on your face when telling someone else about it? Sure, there were moments of frustration. But I imagine there were feelings of determination, challenge, fulfillment, and wonder. These feelings perpetuate positive emotion, meaning, and engagement, all building blocks for well-being.
Examine ways to bring learning, just for the sake of it, to the team. This means letting the team explore (work related) topics of their choosing and, as their boss, reduce workload enough to create space for it. Think in terms of 1-2 hours/week. My bet is there is an unproductive meeting on the calendar to be cancelled.
Maybe the team wants to learn together through group activities like reading articles, books, or listening to podcasts. Let the team choose their own learning path. Then, reserve time in an already recurring meeting to share the newfound wisdom.
For many organizations, team dynamics have degraded over the past two years. It is a byproduct of all the barriers that have been put up between us. But by prioritizing connection over progress, ensuring meetings are productive, and learning just for the sake of it, leaders can provide the support teams need to turn this corner.
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Until next time!
Amy Drader is a management consultant and credentialed coach with over 20 years’ experience in HR and operations. She knows first-hand the joys and challenges of leading people and is dedicated to helping managers and teams advance their performance. She is the owner of Growth Partners Consulting, a boutique leadership and team development consulting firm that provides customized training and coaching.