Every successful organization is a formed by the collection of successful teams.

17 Secrets to Improving Teamwork

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In this guide, we will examine the building blocks behind a great team and provide you with 17 secrets to improving teamwork.

WHAT MAKES A GREAT TEAM?

Before we start examining the secrets to improving teamwork, it’s important to study the concept of a good team. In order to truly enhance the way your team operates, you should be aware of the characteristics behind every successful team.

Harvard Business Review published a review of MIT Human Dynamics Laboratory’s study from 2012, which examined the components of a good team. The study followed the patterns of communication by seemingly identical teams over a six-week period.

The collected data revealed the key characteristics of the more successful teams which are.

  • Equal contribution from every member of the team
  • The team shared a lot of energy
  • Team member’s communicated directly with each other
  • The team conducted back-channel conversations
  • The members explored the outside world and reported their findings back to the team

The study also concluded the wisdom that individual talent is far less important to team success than the ability of the whole team to communicate efficiently. Therefore, much of the improvement to teamwork relies on the improvement of the team’s communication patterns.

Here’s a short video outlining the findings of the study:

The key ways to improving teamwork include aspects such as managing group dynamics, improving communication, facilitating accountability, and encouraging further development.

We’ll now provide tips that focus on these points in order for you to bring out the best in your team.

MANAGE GROUP DYNAMICS

The first important aspect of improving teamwork involves the management of group dynamics.

Secret 1: Divide roles based on individual strengths

When you start allocating the team roles, it’s important to focus on the individual strengths of the team members. This isn’t necessarily as much about having the best person for each role, as it is about creating an atmosphere of success and accomplishment.

If each team member has a role they are good at, they are more likely to feel valued and radiate this kind of positive energy to the rest of the group. On the other hand, if people are in roles that don’t suit them or help them achieve positive objectives, the frustration and resentment within the team can start building up.

Secret 2: Allow members to step up

It’s crucial the team management doesn’t start favoring any particular members of the team by always giving the key roles and responsibilities to them. You should instead encourage team members to step up and challenge themselves.

A good way to do this is by asking for volunteers for roles. For example, instead of stating that person A is doing a specific job; inform the team you need someone for a particular task. If the same people are always stepping up, try to encourage the more quiet members of the team to take the lead.

Another way to get everyone involved is by ensuring each team member reviews projects and decisions before finalization. Before documents or plans are finalized, have each member provide short feedback.

Secret 3: Focus on positive feedback

Teamwork can be improved by feedback, but the focus should always be on positive instead of negative feedback. Positive feedback is another powerful tool for encouraging positive atmosphere within the team and ensuring everyone feels valued.

It’s a good idea to organize individual assessment sessions with team members, but also provide valuable feedback to the team as a whole. By stating the value of the team’s overall success and the individual contributions, you can boost the team’s morale.

IMPROVE COMMUNICATION

The next tips deal with the ways you can improve how the team communicates with each other. Communication is at the heart of teamwork and it should be among the key focus areas within the team.

Secret 4: Have an open door policy

The management in the team and within the wider organization must keep an open door policy. You need team members to feel they are able to communicate problems or positive developments at any time.

You can enhance the open door policy by allowing questions and suggestions from the team. The management should always listen to these inquiries and respond to them positively. If a suggestion isn’t viable, for instance, don’t just say it won’t be implemented, but explain the reasons and give positive feedback to the person for suggesting it.

When a team member faces difficulties, either with the project or something in their personal life, ensure the whole team is there to help. This can be done by reducing the tasks the person has to do or by providing additional out-of-work support.

Secret 5: Encourage brainstorming

The team should also be encouraged to brainstorm at different times during the project. For example, a brainstorming session once a week or every two weeks is a good idea. Ensure the session is one where all ideas are welcomed and looked at. The team should think outside of the box and be analytical when it comes to ideas.

Crazy ideas shouldn’t be viewed negatively or jokingly. By listening to everyone’s ideas, you can create trust within the group and spark ideas that might lead to success.

It’s a good idea to change the location to challenge the group more. Don’t just gather in the conference room, but go outside of the office or sit down in a bustling café to get everyone into a different thinking gear.

Secret 6: Nurture curiosity

Curiosity is an important part of successful teams. Just as the MIT study showed, members should be looking outside of the team as well and come back with ideas. Curiosity for finding solutions should therefore always be encouraged.

Invigorate curiosity by ensuring team members are asking questions and looking for answers. Remove the common “That’s a dumb question” from the vocabulary of team members. Every question deserves an answer.

Secret 7: Encourage team activity away from work

Finally, improve communication by having the team enjoy each other’s company even outside of work. Knowing the social side of each team member can build trust and remove barriers for asking those questions or for coming up with new ideas.

Get started by encouraging the team to eat lunch with each other. You can do so by creating unique takeaway opportunities in conference rooms or organizing picnics during the warmer season.

You also need to organize events outside of the work environment. These don’t even necessarily have to be face-to-face meetings, but rather online opportunities to engage in conversation. For example, use social media to connect the team and enhance outside-of-work collaboration with instant messaging services such as SnapChat.

FACILITATE ACCOUNTABILITY

Successful teamwork requires a set of rules. It’s essential team members are accountable, as it discourages negative behavior and builds trust.

Secret 8: Define the roles for each member

The first step towards better accountability is by outlining the roles of each team member. Everyone should know the key objective for the whole team, but also be given their own set of goals and tasks. By defining the roles, the team will experience less confusion and stepping over each other’s toes.

As mentioned above, you want to use the strengths of each member for the benefit of the whole team. Assign tasks based on these strengths and ensure everyone understands their role within the team before the project gets going.

Review and readjust the roles throughout the process and remember to guarantee everyone’s contribution is valued in equal terms.

Secret 9: Outline the expectations

The above secret tip briefly mentioned the importance of defining the objectives, both in terms of the whole team and the individual members. It’s crucial for each member to be aware of these expectations from the start.

Before the project, the team should gather and outline the desired outcomes, the behaviors that can help achieve these and the objectives that need to be fulfilled. Notice the importance of having the team part of the process and it not being just a top-down management decision.

Secret 10: Create clear timelines and check on progress

In addition, the team should have a clear picture of the schedule. Having a schedule, with smaller milestones can definitely help and it ensures the team doesn’t feel too burdened.

There also needs to be a proper review routine in place to ensure the team or individual members are not falling behind. Don’t make the team members feel like they are being stalked, but ensure the management is aware of individual progress. This can be done through self-assessment forms or during feedback sessions.

Furthermore, ensure there’s assistance available for individuals who are falling behind. One good idea is to have a buddy system, where members who are nearly done with their task can flexibly assist the people who have plenty more tasks left to do.

Secret 11: Build a routine

Teams with a routine, perform better and have less animosity within them, according to workplace expert Marta Moakley of XpertHR. Routine isn’t just about having a schedule, with operational milestones, but also a routine for other teamwork related things.

For example, there should be a routine in place for problem solving and discussions. When a team faces a difficulty, they should know what the route is to solving it. This could be a method for contacting team leader, who’d organize a meeting following a similar pattern. The steps would be to outline the problem, break it down into smaller sections, find solutions for each section and assign team members who can rectify the issues.

Furthermore, the team should also have a routine for dealing with team members who behave in negative or harmful manner. If someone’s not pulling their weight or there are issues of bullying, it’s important to have a routine for dealing with the behavior. Again, the steps could include defining the issue, talking to the perpetrator and the possible victim, sharing the issue with the wider team, finding solutions to the issue and moving on once the solution has been found.

Whilst many organizations and teams tend to dissolve conflict by only talking to the people immediately involved in a conflict situation, some experts suggest involving the whole team in conflict solving routines. Don Maruska, author of How Great Decisions Get Made, has said, “Often, these additional people bring balance to the discussion and encourage bigger thinking.

Secret 12: Set up a social contract

One of the best ways to facilitate accountability is by setting up a social contract. This refers to an agreement by the team’s members outlining the rules for behavior. It summarizes the norms for interaction and communication within the team.

A social contract is not just a fancy fad. Research has shown that well-implemented social contracts provide employees with a deeper sense of control and security within the team. This can enhance the sense of accountability and trust among members and the manager, as everyone is clear on what is accepted and what is not.

The team must always be part of the creation of the rules in the social contract.

The contract can be drawn by focusing on questions such as:

  • What are the expectations of team members towards each other?
  • What are the things and behavior that work for the benefit of the team?
  • What are the things and behaviors that don’t benefit the team?
  • What are the things and behaviors the team should adopt? What should they stop doing?

Ensure the whole team provides their input and more importantly, buys into the agreement. It can only work if the breach of the contract has consequences and if everyone shares the ideas behind it.

This boils down to creating a lovable working atmosphere and culture.

ENCOURAGE DEVELOPMENT

Finally, the following points focus on improving the team’s collective knowledge. By continuous development and training, the team can generate more energy and understanding, which will ultimately lead to success

Secret 13: Provide on-going training

A sense of accomplishment can boost the team’s morale and energy. A simple way to do this is by guaranteeing the members continue developing their skill and gain positive experiences through training. Each team member should participate in development courses and to educate themselves further. Not only does this boost the team’s knowledge and therefore, guarantees better success, but it also helps the individual on a personal level.

The skills they train should develop their ability to work on the particular role, but the management should also provide training enhancing the overall abilities required in the team. These can be either technical or social skills, as long as they improve the member’s ability to flexible in the workplace.

You can improve the team’s overall success, their sense of being a closer team and the individual’s sense of accomplishment by having the person report on the studies. A short presentation of what the person learned and how it can help the team can be highly beneficial to the team.

Secret 14: Establish a mentoring program

You should also consider providing a mentoring program for each team member or small sections of the team. These can be great for boosting energy and help team members feel more accountable as well as supported.

If the provision of individual mentors is not possible, you can organize regular team boosting events with interesting guest speakers. Motivational talks by industry experts or social behavior experts can help build up teamwork and trust.

Secret 15: Set challenges to the team

Development doesn’t always have to relate to the specific industry the team is working on. In fact, management should also challenge the team regularly with problems that don’t relate to the task. This can improve the team’s ability to work together, boost their problem solving skills and take their mind off from work for a few moments.

Small problems, such as figuring out a murder mystery or solving a giant word puzzle, can force the team to communicate and collaborate. This ensures they don’t just fall for their smaller cliques within the team or stop talking to each other. In fact, a fun task during the workday can enhance innovation and ensure the team tries to experiment with different solutions.

Remember to have the team analyze the challenge afterwards and outline the reasons why they either failed or succeeded with it. The idea is to engage them in understanding how working as a team can be beneficial and what are the keys to successful co-operation.

Secret 16: Reward results

Finally, teamwork can be improved by rewarding positive performance and behavior. When the team accomplishes a task, comes up with a new perspective or solves a tricky problem, they should be rewarded for it. This ensures the team feels valued, understands the importance of teamwork and creates a feeling of positive energy.

The reward doesn’t need to be anything too big, although financial reward such as a bonus can act as a powerful incentive. But you should also consider team-building rewards such as dinner for the whole team, a shorter workday or a bottle of bubbly for all.

Remember that while congratulating the team as a whole is important, you should also reward individual successes. This shouldn’t be done at the expense of others nor should you always reward the same persons.  But rewarding team members individually can also boost the overall happiness of the team.

BONUS SECRET TO IMPROVING TEAMWORK

As a final tip, we focus on a surprising fact about improving teamwork.

Secret 17: Don’t be afraid to mix up the teams

While familiar teams tend to be friendlier and have better trust structures, studies have shown that newly formed teams are better at generating ideas. Therefore, you should not be afraid to switch roles or members within a team, especially if the current team is stalling in progress or doesn’t co-operate well.

Ensure the teams have a good balance between talent and individual skill. If the department has a number of smaller teams, you don’t want all of the talented individuals in one team. By having a clear division of higher skillsets, you can easily create resentment between teams and this can be harmful for teamwork.

See one example on the impact of diverse teams.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Overall, the secrets to improving teamwork are all about improving the way the team is structured, the way it communicates and the way it develops as a team.

You need to maintain a positive environment by focusing on the elements that work and by ensuring accountability for every member of the team.

A successful team wants to learn and improve, not just for the benefit of the individual, but also for the benefit of the whole team.

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