Team building — what’s the first thing that springs to your mind? Picnics, paintball contests, seminars or another event claiming to be building a team spirit among co-workers. But team building is more than just a series of events; it’s a whole philosophy that aims to motivate people, make them more productive and more efficient in their work. Team spirit makes communication between employees themselves and between the team and the management more open and effective, it improves understanding between the members of the team and fosters cooperation. Ultimately, this leads to better quality of work, so it’s no wonder that virtually every employer is doing something in the area of team building.
Central to successful team building is, not surprisingly, the figure of the team leader. Great leaders create great teams by acquiring and employing an understanding of other people, by balancing a number of different personalities that all require attention and recognition, all in view of getting these people to perform at the top of their abilities. It needs to be pointed out that managers are not always leaders though it may say so in their job description. Leadership is a state of mind combined with strong expertise and skills, people skills. Forbes contributor on leadership Glenn Llopis lists six tactics that successful leaders employ to develop winning teams.
The path to any success starts with self-knowledge and team building is no different. Successful leaders should be aware of their own leadership style and the techniques they use to motivate their teams. This means constantly monitoring the effects of this style, if it is being welcomed by the team or not, and if it is as effective as the leader may think. In other words, good leaders constantly evaluate themselves and they do it critically, looking for areas to improve their own performance before seeking to improve their team’s.
The next most important thing is being familiar with the team members. Successful leadership involves understanding the needs of those who are being led, caring for them and holding oneself accountable for any decisions that need to be made. In-depth understanding of the different strengths and weaknesses of team members will make it possible for the team leader to harness the strengths and reduce the effects of the weaknesses of each individual team member. Understanding and caring means a leader will know how to motivate everyone on the team and how to leverage their unique capabilities in the best possible way. As Llopis puts it, the team can be seen as a set of puzzle pieces that can be combined in a variety of ways.
Another constituent of a successful team is a clear definition and correct allocation of roles and responsibilities. This follows from the understanding of every team member’s special strengths and capabilities. A team can be seen as a mechanism whose parts are interconnected and interdependent, ensuring its smooth operation. For instance, one member of the team may not be especially good at their particular job but they can have great organizational talent, and if they are given the chance to apply this talent, it will more than make up for their professional ineptitude. This is because although a team is a mechanism, it is an organic mechanism, and each member’s contribution is equally importan; this is why understanding is so essential for leaders. Keeping tabs on individual performance is also key, making sure there is no aggressive competition within the team, with one member getting ahead without helping the others do the same, since such competition would destroy cooperation and ultimately hurt the whole team.
The next factor that makes for great leadership and team building is feedback. Regular, proactive feedback is an absolute must for a successful team. If a team leader only waits for a problem to occur to give team members feedback, usually in the form of criticism, chances are the team will have the feeling they are only being criticized and never praised, and that they are being kept in the dark about how they are doing overall. At the same time, inviting feedback from team members is no less important, making them feel that they can always approach their team leader with a question, share an idea or a worry. In other words, successful team building means open, honest, two-way communication, both positive and negative. It means helping team members improve their work by guiding them to better use of their strengths, not criticizing them for their weaknesses, and doing it as informally as possible — being too formal with feedback takes away much of its positive effect.
Linked to this is showing every member of a work team that they are being appreciated. Statistical data from Gallup shows that a lot of people feel disengaged with their jobs because they don’t feel they are being appreciated by their managers, which at the end of the day hurts productivity. And appreciation is such a simple thing, says leadership mentor Simon Reynolds. It just takes focusing more on the positives than on the negatives, never missing a chance to celebrate some individual or group success, however small it may be. Acknowledging achievements and celebrating them will go a long way toward having a happy, successful team. This is especially important in view of too many managers taking good performance for granted and unwilling to praise their team members for “just” doing their job. But this job can always be improved, and each step in that direction deserves praise. Even if an employee is performing at the top of their abilities, such excellence also deserves recognition and reward. In other words, there is no such thing as “just doing their job”.
On the subject of happiness, there has been a recent study by British and German scientists who found that happiness can improve productivity by as much as 10%. That’s hardly news, one would say, but presenting a particular figure, and an impressive one, would be bound to have a greater effect on team leaders than the vague common sense knowledge that happiness breeds productivity. Perhaps some managers would say that it’s not their job to keep their employees happy but that would be wrong. Although a team leader can’t be responsible for the overall wellbeing of every team member, they can make sure the team member feels happy at work. This is linked to all the factors already discussed. Being happy with a job generally means doing something you enjoy, and the things we enjoy doing are usually things that we are good at. A great leader can even help their employees maybe find some new areas in which they could be both happy and contributing to the team’s performance. It’s because of things like this that the importance of knowing and understanding what makes every employee tick cannot be stressed enough. Naturally, an intimate knowledge of every single employee in a 1,000-plus company would be impossible for the chief executive, but there would be team leaders below them that should have this knowledge and be able to harness it in a constructive way.
Building a great team is a challenging thing to do. It requires constant efforts and thinking about much more than just the bottom line of the team’s performance. Leaders bent on success need to be flexible, ready to adapt to changing circumstances and they need to be always ready to give credit where credit’s due, not assume the total responsibility for a team success. A true leader needs to be a combination between a parent, a teacher, a friend and a supervisor. It’s a tough role, by all means, as it takes a major degree of commitment, great confidence and patience, combined with a positive attitude and the willingness to constantly seek and find new ways to make a team’s work better, but it sure is a rewarding one for everyone concerned, leader and team alike.
1. Glenn Llopis. “6 Ways Successful Teams Are Built To Last.” Forbes, October 2012. http://www.forbes.com/sites/glennllopis/2012/10/01/6-ways-successful-teams-are-built-to-last/
2. “Team Building in the Workplace.” Education Queensland. http://education.qld.gov.au/staff/development/performance/resources/readings/team-building-workplace.pdf
3. Reynolds, Simon. “Appreciation: The Key To High-Performing Employees.” Forbes, April 2014. http://www.forbes.com/sites/siimonreynolds/2014/04/09/appreciation-the-key-to-high-performing-employees/
4. Womack, Jason. “Why Happiness Is Your Secret to Productivity.” September 2013. http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/228519
5. Stillman, Jessica. “Happiness Can Boost Employee Productivity by 10 Percent.” Slate, March 2014. http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2014/03/26/happiness_research_happy_employees_can_boost_productivity_by_10_percent.html