How happy are your people at work today?  Are you surrounded by a team of smiling faces or is there a bit of a black cloud hanging overhead?

A recent article in BizNews lists the ‘happiest companies’ in Silicon Valley and provides some clues as to what creates the most cheer in the corporate environment.  Competent leadership, pride in their products and a good work-life balance all rated highly, as did ‘smart people’ and (my personal favourite) ‘free food’.

A healthy team environment also came out near the top of the list.  So what can you do – apart from ensuring a regular supply of donuts – to create a positive culture and get your people working together well?

Paint the big picture

If people are clear about where they are headed, they are more likely to understand what they personally need to contribute and to take an active part in the journey.  If they don’t understand the overall goal, there’s a danger they will prioritise the wrong things, get into conflict with colleagues over the right course of action or cause resentment by unwittingly treading on other people’s territory.  Make sure that everyone understands the overall objectives the team needs to achieve and has an idea of what the route to get there will look like.  People are much more likely to be motivated, willing to pull together and happy in their work if they have a sense of ‘shared’ responsibility and purpose and are on the same page as the rest of their colleagues.

Be a participative leader

Leading a team isn’t about delivering instructions from on high and expecting people to come up with the goods.  The best leaders are participative and see themselves as facilitators and enablers, rather than just ‘directors’ of their teams.  People will be much more willing to go the extra mile if they know that their team leader is willing to roll their sleeves up and muck in when necessary.  They need to feel that their leader is ‘on their side’ and will work to remove any barriers that get in their way and will have their backs when the going gets tough.  Make sure you are also an approachable leader – who people feel they can talk to if issues or problems arise either with a project or within the team.

Develop an open, inclusive atmosphere

There’s more than one way to cut the cake – and it’s a fact of life that team members don’t always agree on the right way forward.  Conflict doesn’t, however, have to be unpleasant and unhealthy.  The key is to create an atmosphere where people feel free to discuss ideas openly and to disagree with each other before reaching consensus or at the very least a compromise that everyone can live with.  If the culture is right, it’s perfectly possible to help   people who appear to be disconnected find common ground.  Make sure your team culture is one where new ideas are welcomed, healthy debate is encouraged and the overriding feeling is one of trust and co-operation.

Focus on strengths

In an article in Management Today, psychologist Sarah Lewis advocates helping your team understand their strengths. “The more you can help people find ways to use their strengths at work, the more likely it is they will become self motivated in their work,” she says. Questions like: ‘when are you most energised at work?’ and ‘what feels really easy and enjoyable for you that others sometimes struggle with’ can help people get a deeper insight into where their core strengths lie.  Armed with this information, you can then find opportunities for people to use their strengths more at work.  “Allocate tasks by strengths rather than role and delegate by volunteer rather than imposition where possible,” says Sarah. People like to succeed and do things well – so give them plenty of opportunity to do the things they are good at.

Celebrate success and have fun

Healthy teams work hard but also have fun together.  Make sure you take time out to allow the team to celebrate successes – not just the major achievements, but also the small milestones along the way.  Good HR systems with portals and workspaces allows you to have conversations for these celebrations. This doesn’t have to be a big, expensive event – a break for coffee and cake or pizza on a Friday lunchtime is often enough to make people feel valued (and also links back to the desire for ‘free food’ mentioned earlier!).  Regular feedback , public recognition of people’s efforts and a simple ‘thank you’ can all help to create a positive climate where people are motivated and willing to pull together. Formal team-building activities can also help people have fun and build stronger relationships – though you need to make sure you are taking the demographics and personalities of your team into account.  Team-building doesn’t have to be about abseiling or white water rafting – cooking and eating together, for example, can be just as effective in helping people gel.

How does your business create a healthy team environment?  Let us know what’s worked for you.

See more information about how a people management software can help.

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.