You might have heard the adage, “teamwork is less me and more we” before, and for good reason: this simple sentiment gets right to the root of teamwork. Yet, as simple as it is, for too many organizations, employees lack the skills they need to pull it together and “get the job done.” A lack of team-building skills among team members can kill productivity, negatively impact morale, and hurt bottom line results.
When people are committed to teamwork, the workplace operates more smoothly, problems are resolved more quickly, conflict is less likely to turn toxic, and output is greater. Despite the benefits, people can be reluctant, even refuse, to be a team player. To overcome this, here are five activities leaders can use to immediately address any team dysfunction in order to build trust, improve communication, and ultimately create a culture of collaboration.
1. Promote Consensus and Create Alignment
When employees are spending more time arguing and promoting personal agendas, try this tactic to promote team-building in the workplace:
- Stop the meeting and pull the team together with a flip chart or whiteboard handy
- Create two columns: “Ideas We Agree On” and “Pros/Cons.”
- List the ideas or points that the group members can all agree on.
- Continue discussions based only on those items, discussing the pros and cons of each point.
This simple activity is perfect for refocusing a group that has gone off the tracks. After the activity, teams will have a framework for communicating about new ideas and initiatives.
2. Reveal the trouble with communication
In the workplace, nothing is more important than effective communication. With the following activity, you can show employees how easy it is for misunderstanding and conflict to arise due to poor or vague communication.
- Present a series of statements one by one, and ask your team to write down what the phrases mean to them. Examples: “Turn this in at once,” “let’s meet downstairs,” and “By end of day please”.
- Have each person read his or her interpretation aloud and note the differences.
- Ask the group for ways to remove ambiguity in conversation and expectations.
This activity shows that even phrases we think are clear may not be. Teams thrive when communication is clear, concise, direct and commonly understood by all.
3. Wipe out cynicism for innovation
During brainstorming sessions, some employees may be reluctant to speak up because they worry that their ideas will be ridiculed or ignored. Eliminate that concern with this lighthearted brainstorming activity that encourages people to be open-minded and positive:
- As a group, create a list of negative statements that will be banned from the session. For example, “That will never work,” “We’ve done that before,” “That is impossible,” etc.
- Ban spoken “disclaimers”. For example “I haven’t really thought this through but …” or “Maybe we’ve tried something similar before …”
- Choose a fun “code word” for when any of these forbidden words are heard during your meeting and have people call it out.
- Use encouraging words to reinforce desired behaviors. For example, “That makes me think of “I love it” and “Let’s try it.”
- Write all ideas down and assign individuals to flesh them out further.
The idea of totally open brainstorming may be difficult at first for teams to adjust to, but always reinforce that a brainstorming session exists only to create ideas, not to judge them. Even a “bad” idea may result in several other great ones.
4. Strengthen relationships and collaboration
When relationships between employees are strong, they are better able to communicate, work together to problem solve and manage conflicts. The goal of any activity designed to strengthen relationships and collaboration is to help team members change their mindset from a “me” mentality to a “we” mentality.
Working together for the common good is one way to strengthen those relationships, so gather your team for a few hours to do something good for the community. For example:
- Volunteer at a soup kitchen
- Organize a toy drive
- Compete in a charity run
- Raise money for a local school
These types of positive activities unite the group, and they also give employees a case of the “feel-goods”, both of which benefit the team.
5. Unite behind a common goal
Establishing goals is critical to team success. However, you can’t stop at merely writing them down! Periodically, you need to revisit, reassess, and perhaps even rewrite your team goals to ensure they align with the organization’s changing objectives. Each month, complete this exercise with your team to encourage everyone to work together toward a common goal:
- Explain that you want to write or revise a team goal.
- Ask each employee to answer this question on a piece of paper: “What is the most important objective for this team in the next four weeks if we want to reach our annual goals?”
- Collect the answers and list them on a flip chart, grouping similar answers together.
- Have the team vote by placing a tally or check mark next to their top two priorities.
- Choose the goal with the most votes.
Then together, answer these questions:
- What is our deadline for the goal?
- How will we measure progress on this goal?
- How will we know we have reached the goal?
To help make this exercise even more personal, have each employee write down three personal goals that help the group meet the team goal. Before each team meeting, have each person update the group on his or her progress.
If improving workplace performance and creating a culture of collaboration are organization priorities for you, these are five ways you can easily begin to build team-building skills.