For most of my working life I been part of a team. Some teams have been small and some have been big. I have been the team rookie, I have been the team fossil, and I have lead some of them myself. I have been extremely fortunate; all the teams have been truly awesome and have given me the opportunity to work with a lot of talented and passionate people. A common thread in these successful teams has been my willingness and openness to engaging with the team by being guided by strategies to get there from management and the broader company.
A direct correlation has been shown between the quality of the relationships in a team and the quality of the work the team produce. Team-building takes many forms and doing activities together is fun, great for team spirit and more importantly brings us together face to face (or side by side). All organisations want people and teams that consistently deliver high quality output. Unfortunately, we can’t go offsite, climb mountains, drive go-carts and do cooking classes every week. So, how do we nurture and fuel the team spirit and maintain relationships in a team between the annual team-building day; and why is it so important?
There are a whole range of reasons, some more obvious than others. Some of the most attractive organisations to work for globally have done extensive research around creating the perfect team. Over a two-year period, Google interviewed 180 teams and hundreds of employees searching for the recipe. What they found wasn’t what they expected. Who is on the team matters less than how the team members interact. High performing teams almost always displayed these 5 characteristics; “Psychological Safety” being the most important.
So if that’s the case, what is the best way and what is the benefit of creating an environment where people feel psychologically safe? Let’s look at a few favourites.
Our social relationships have been shown to be the key to happiness in our personal lives. What might come as a surprise is that it also seems to be of great importance in the workspace. Not only does Google know how to create the perfect team, according to LinkedIn, employees who are hired to work for the most attractive company globally enjoy working there so much that they never want to leave. Google understand the value of people meeting face to face. Giving employees access to large areas with lounges and ping pong tables is about creating a space for people to meet, discuss, exchange ideas and have great conversations that might lead to new innovations and ‘the next big thing’. By increasing human interaction just a little, performance can increase a lot.
One of the key factors in great relationships is trust. In order to build trust we need to get to know each other. As with social interaction, this doesn't just apply in our personal life, it is also the case in our professional lives.
When people know and trust each other they also become more tolerant and supportive. They are more understanding and willing to get the job done. “Having teams that are open, trusting, and supportive of each other is a critical driver of an innovation culture”, writes Amantha Imber in her book The Innovation Formula. With the constant changes in the digital space, innovation is not only a buzz word, it’s necessary, in some places more than others. A company whose culture values teamwork alongside with risk and distributed leadership seems to inherently be more adaptable to these changes. Maybe it’s because they feel trusted to take risk and get the job done.
“Having teams that are open, trusting, and supportive of each other is a critical driver of an innovation culture”
Letting employees have a say and allowing them to make decisions is shown to increase productivity and work place satisfaction. More importantly, getting people on the ground doing the job and making suggestions about how to work smarter, increases productivity and cut costs; this in turn can make a big difference to the bottom line. Mining Company BHP Billiton did just that. They invited employees to put forward suggestions. A quarter of close to nine thousand employees made 4700 suggestions and the company believe it contributed to a total savings of close to 4 Billion dollars as a result. So not only is it good for the bottom line, employees end up feeling more involved and engaged at work which is positive in itself.
A little bit of love in the work place will also go a long way. Love doesn’t have to be a policy, but it can. Putting the interest of another person before yourself. Love can and should be a guiding star and philosophy in how we treat each other both in and outside of work. Love is about being comfortable with conflict and difficult conversations. In my opinion, what is even more important is the presence of love in everyday work life. A simple smile and giving someone the compliment they deserve can be enough.
I have experienced this myself. About ten years ago I was part of an amazing team in Norway. At our monthly sales meetings we would all give a short update about what we had achieved since we last met. Afterwards we would all put a Post-it with our name in a bowl and randomly pull out a note each. We then had to give feedback to another member of the team based on their update to the team, which had to positive.
The session was inspired by a segment from a reality show. The show called it “Black camel, White camel” where the contestants gave out one black camel for poor behaviour and a white camel for good behaviour to other contestants.
We renamed it “White camel, White camel” as it was all about creating a positive team environment. It sounds silly thinking about it but after this simple exercise where we put effort and into focusing on positive things we were all left feeling good, I know I did.
We tend to spend a lot of energy on things we can’t change. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a good rant and believe there needs to be a space where one can voice opinions, maybe give out a few black camels too. We shouldn’t ignore the ‘black camels” and there are ways of addressing negative thoughts and obstacles for success. By turning negative feedback and statements into questions we open for exploration and possibilities. The truth is that it feels much more rewarding giving out white camels and focus on positive qualities and behaviours and we should strive to turn the black ones into possibilities rather than barriers.
“The quality of the relationships in a team has been shown to directly correlate with the quality of the work the team produce”
There are many other factors that can play a role in how a team performs. Let’s revisit and look at factors like team size, gender mix and the manager and the role they play at a later stage. Elements like engagement, social relationships and trust, psychological safety and love are all things that we all can influence and practice to increase performance of self, colleagues and team.
Smile, give compliments, grab a coffee or go for a walk with a colleague. Schedule a lunch or after work drinks with people in your team this week. Ask each other questions and talk about things outside of work too. Don’t know what to talk about? Use tools like FuelBox with a 170 questions to get the conversation started and remember that great conversations are made up of both talking and listening. This won’t make the perfect team straight away but it’s a good start and best of all, you can do this today.
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