Get Your Team Going for Gold

The first few days of London 2012 have provided a graphic illustration of just how much can be achieved with teamwork.  Britain’s gymnasts, rowers and equestrians have all pulled off outstanding performances by pulling together in pursuit of a common goal.

Of course not all achievements have been sporting ones.  Many other teams – from the London Organising Committee to the front line public services, have joined forces to create what promises to be a memorable and successful few weeks.

So what can your business do to get teams working to Olympic standard?  These top tips will help you improve teamwork in your business and encourage your people to ‘go for gold’:

Clarify Goals

Teams usually start out with a pretty clear idea of what they are aiming to achieve, but over time, objectives can sometimes get a little fuzzy around the edges.  Make sure you revisit team goals regularly – to make sure they are still fit for purpose and to remind people of exactly what they are working towards.

Understand team roles

Research by Belbin suggests that people within teams seek out certain roles that feel ‘natural’ for them.  Some people are ‘co-ordinators’ or ‘implementers’ for example, while others are ‘specialists’ or ‘shapers’.  It’s worth helping your people develop an understanding of which of the nine commonly accepted team roles they fall into and the implications this has for the way they interact with others.  People who are clear about their role and purpose in the team are generally more self aware and better able to build effective working relationships.

Think in terms of Opportunities not Barriers

Sometimes teams find it difficult to complete projects or meet targets because there are obstacles standing in their way.  These are not necessarily big things.  It could be a small procedural issue or a simple lack of awareness among colleagues that is inhibiting progress.  Don’t let your teams get stuck in a rut of complaining about what’s getting in the way, but not doing anything about it.  Identify the barriers to progress and help your teams find creative ways to get round them.

Encourage Knowledge Sharing

Often people are so busy with the day-to-day tasks that they either forget or don’t have time to share information that might be of value to their peers.  Sometimes, people have a ‘knowledge is power’ attitude and are deliberately protective about what they know.  Make sure you schedule regular occasions where team members can get together with the specific aim of sharing contacts, data, useful insights and lessons learned.

Foster an Open Atmosphere

Teams work best in an environment where feedback is encouraged and issues are shared openly.  It’s important to listen to your team when they tell you things are not working as well as they should be – and also to encourage them to listen to each other.  Make sure you create a supportive environment where any concerns or problems can be raised ‘safely’ and where everyone pulls together to find a solution.   Research highlighted recently in the Harvard Business Review shows that high performing teams generally possess high levels of group EI (emotional intelligence).  They are able to collaborate and co-operate more effectively because members trust one another, have a strong sense of group identity and confidence in their effectiveness as a team.

Offer Learning Opportunities

New teams can benefit greatly from the opportunity to learn how to work well together – while existing teams will find it useful to refresh their collaborative skills and develop a deeper understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses.  There is a wide array of team-building activities out there – ranging from ‘outdoor’ type challenges to more conventional workshops.   But teams can of course develop learning opportunities themselves.  Get your team to think about the kind of development they would find most effective and challenge them to find creative ways of meeting their own learning needs.

Rotate Team Leadership

A change of team leader can sometimes help to refresh or accelerate team performance.  This isn’t, of course, appropriate in all scenarios – but it’s worth considering, particularly with teams working on defined projects. Different stages of a project may require different styles of leadership, so take a good look at the skills and qualities of your team members and assess whether there may be value in moving the leadership role around.

Reward Team Performance

There’s an argument to say that if you want a team to work well together and generate great results you need to reward them as a team.  Incentive programmes that reward individual performance may actually have a negative effect on teamwork. Review your reward mechanisms to make sure they reflect the kind of behaviours you want to encourage.

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  1. There is a lot of good advice in this post, in particular the emphasis on rewarding team performance. This should not, though, replace individual reward where that is appropriate, and of course reward need not always be material. Recognition is often as, if not more effective.
    I would add that teams should be encouraged to deal with hurdles and obstacles themselves, as much as is possible, and not be left to rely on management to clear the way for them. This is not to say it is not important for management to ensure roadblocks are dealt with, but real development comes when people are able to work out for themselves how to deal with problems and setbacks.

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