From the time we are very young, we are all taught the value of teamwork. But as we grow and eventually enter the corporate world, it becomes more difficult to build and sustain an effective team. This is because our tasks become more complex and our drive for personal, individual recognition may prevent us from true collaboration. But fostering a team culture in a corporate environment is not only possible, it is highly desirable. The right group of individuals, working in concert with one another, can absolutely make great things happen and push a company onward and upward in a way even the smartest individuals never could. It’s not always an easy task, but these five tips can help to set you on a path to a thriving culture of teamwork.
- Value Teamwork, from the Top DownThis may seem like a given, but it is easy to forget. If you want a team culture, teams and teamwork must be valued every step of the way. Teams that accomplish their goals and present creative ideas should be publicly recognized. No need to give a parade for every little thing, but do be sure to acknowledge the entire team. Other reward systems also need to take teamwork into account to truly foster a team culture. This means promotions and bonuses should be given to team players, if not entire teams. Finally, executives must model and encourage teamwork, meaning that they collaborate with one another and find ways to encourage cooperation and teamwork among all employees. A lone manager behind a closed door does not send the message that teamwork is important. Consider everyone’s behavior to build the culture you want.
- Challenge Your TeamsNo employee wants to be put onto a team solely for the sake a teamwork. If teams are going to be valuable to their members and to the company, they need to have clear and challenging goals and be assigned important projects. A team tasked with planning a company party is less likely to feel energized and important than one who is being allowed to make real decisions. If teamwork is to be valued, teams need to have actual responsibilities. The more a team is allowed to accomplish, the more they will be able to accomplish.
- Encourage Informal CollaborationNot every team needs to have a rigid structure or be dictated by management. Instead, encourage employees to form their own groups that make sense for them and their tasks. Management guru Peter Economy even suggests that more work gets done by informal teams than by formal ones.
And informality can be a boon in other ways, too. A Harvard Business Review study found that the best teams “spend about half their time communicating outside of formal meetings or as “asides” during team meetings, and increasing opportunities for informal communication tends to increase team performance.” Encourage this type of behavior and everyone will be rewarded with better ideas and better team performance.
- Provide Team ResourcesTo have a team culture, your teams must have the resources they need. Successful teams must have the time and the space to meet on a regular basis, whether this takes the form of physical meeting spaces or online collaboration. But teams also need support from management in their endeavors, which includes making it clear that they are allowed to fail. Just as the pressure of perfectionism can stymie individual creativity, teams can be stunted by high expectations that may indeed be unreachable. Make it clear that creativity and teamwork are valued above perfection. When the occasion misstep or overreach is expected rather than punished, teams will have the courage to think bigger and ultimately do better.
- PersevereA team culture cannot be built overnight and there will be bumps along the way. Once you set out to establish a team culture, you must see it through. Human Resources expert Susan M. Heathfield notes that for a proper team culture to form, executives must “maintain teamwork even when things are going wrong and the temptation is to slip back into former team unfriendly behavior.”
Perseverance here also means nurturing the team culture over months and years. While team building retreats are not necessary, social events can be extremely helpful. When team members know each other in a more personal way, they are more likely to support each other and be able to work well together. Take time every week to help teams learn about each other, whether that is with short activities, outings, or other exercises.
Some entrepreneurs may have the idea that fostering a team culture is as simple as working in an open office and putting a ping-pong table in the break room. The truth is that effective collaboration and a strong team culture require effort from everyone, including executives. Teams that are valued, challenged, and nurtured can be more productive over a longer period than any talented individual, making the time spent well worth the effort.