Off the top of your head, you can probably think of at least a few ways that teams in your organization have fallen short. Missed deadlines and failure to meet objectives are just a couple of the obvious problems that arise when teams don’t function well. Even when a team’s efforts lead to seemingly good results, there are often plenty of missed opportunities because of issues such as:
- Not every voice on the team was heard.
- Communication roadblocks prevented good ideas from coming to fruition.
- Subgroups went in a direction that didn’t support the team’s objective.
- The team fizzled because there wasn’t a consistent and united effort.
If any of these issues sound familiar, it might be time to take steps to improve teamwork. Effective teamwork doesn’t happen overnight. It takes intentional effort and a thorough understanding of what teamwork actually is.
Below are seven cornerstones to improve teamwork in your organization, along with links to resources that will help you learn more.
Every team needs a leader to encourage accountability, model empowerment, facilitate streamlined decision-making, and maintain momentum. However, the appropriate team leader isn’t always the person you first expect.
“Team leaders are typically individuals who know the most about the project—which means they might not have extensive experience with leading. They might not even be the person with the most ‘senior’ rank in the room. That’s why building in leadership skills exercises into your teamwork training in the workplace is so important.”
-Teamwork in the Workplace: The Importance of Leadership
The role of a team leader extends beyond conducting meetings and capturing action items. The person in a leadership role must model the expected behaviors and understand how to harness individual strengths to achieve the outlined objectives.
When teams get distracted and stray away from the defined objectives, the project will take longer, or worse, never be fully achieved.
“Even when teams are working on a simple project, team members still need to see it as their own project. But for that project to truly be the best it can be, each person on the team must have a unanimous focus on a common goal.”
-Teamwork in the Workplace: Unanimous Focus on a Common Goal
It’s not uncommon for the individuals in a team to be pulled in multiple directions. They have daily tasks that must be completed, long-term projects to move along, and departmental objectives to bear in mind. Clearly articulating and repeating the team’s common goal can help the group maintain focus, especially between meetings.
When a team is faced with a large goal, it’s best practice to create smaller teams, or subgroups, within the project to address more specific tasks that support the overall goal.
“The goal of a subgroup is also more tightly focused than the overall team goal. This means less input from higher-ranking members who are most enthusiastic about the ‘big picture’. Instead, subgroup members with specialized knowledge will steer the subgroup towards its goal.”
-Teamwork in the Workplace: Clearly Defining Roles for Subgroups
Subgroups should operate as mini-teams, using all seven of these cornerstones in their own work. Each subgroup needs its own leader, a unanimous focus on a common goal, and so on. They must also be subordinate to the larger team, always supporting the larger goal.
Many people only consider hard resources—money, equipment, technology, and so on—when thinking about the resources that are shared among a team. However, soft resources can be just as important when cataloging your inventory of shared resources.
“Soft resources might not seem like elements that must be shared for team success, but think about what would happen if just one person was passionate about the team project, or if only one person ever tried to overcome the inevitable project hurdles that sprung up. Just as when hard resources aren’t spread around equitably, it’s unlikely that project would ever be completed.”
-Teamwork in the Workplace: Shared Resources
In a work environment where budgets are closely followed and individual productivity is valued, it can be culturally challenging to effectively share resources, both hard and soft. Organizations that are committed to improving teamwork must make it clear that team members have access to the resources they need in order to accomplish their goals.
Every individual on a team must always be able to say, “I know what I need to know,” and, “I understand everything.” If these two statements are not true at any given time, there is potential for the team to break down. The keys to communication in a team are for it to be both frequent and effective.
“Effective communication requires all team members to know on a high level what’s going on within the team, but also to truly comprehend what’s going on.”
-Teamwork in the Workplace: Frequent and Effective Communication
Effective communication in a team requires both the right skills and the right tools. Ongoing training can help build the necessary skills to improve teamwork, such as active listening, giving feedback, and creating an environment in which people are comfortable speaking up. The right tools will depend on the team, but could include a document management system, an internal messaging platform, or a system for sharing and storing meeting notes.
The whole point of creating a team is to accomplish a specific goal. This requires effort on everyone’s part, but unless that effort meets certain criteria, you’ll soon find yourself spinning wheels.
“Putting in consistent, united, enthusiastic effort should be a given for every employee—but, unfortunately, that’s not always the case. That’s why team leaders must be up front about the level of personal commitment and discipline that will be expected of each member.”
-Teamwork in the Workplace: Enthusiastic, Consistent, and United Effort
In addition to articulating the need for this type of effort, team leaders must also model the desired behavior. If team members see that their leader isn’t accountable for his or her commitments or makes excuses for substandard work, they will eventually conclude that this is acceptable behavior and reflect their leader’s level of effort.
No team will succeed if it is composed of members with a “me first” attitude. Successful teamwork depends on every individual feeling that their contribution matters.
“Essentially, the principle of teamwork related to ego is about ensuring that individual agendas don’t take over the team’s goals, inhibit other team members’ contribution, or development and create a cycle of diminishing team effectiveness.”
-Teamwork in the Workplace: Periodic and Temporary Suppression of the Ego
Keeping egos in check without quashing them requires a delicate balance. Everybody on the team must intentionally manage their own egos and shift the focus from individual agendas to the team’s objectives to effectively achieve the desired outcome.
Using the 7 Cornerstones
While the teams in your organization might have mastered some elements of this list, it is important to understand that these seven cornerstones do not stand alone and that they must be actively used together. We recommend skills development training to learn how to optimally use the seven cornerstones throughout teams in your organization.
To find out where you currently stand, perform an assessment of teamwork in your organization to determine which areas could improve. You will inevitably find a few gaps. When you do, provide competency training to bring all seven cornerstones into balance and see how the organizations in your team transform.