One common complaint we hear from managers about their staff is that there’s a lack of teamwork – but it can be taught.
It’s almost as if they think teamwork is some secret, magical quality their staff are lacking.
Perhaps they think there’s a wand we can wave and teamwork will miraculously appear.
I like to take a more practical approach.
1. Choose wisely
There are certainly personality traits that enable people to play well together, like having a preference for collaboration.
Being productive requires more than a will to collaborate, however.
Before you form a new team or hire a new team member, take the time to consider how they’ll contribute as well as how they’ll fit in.
For example, you might have the brightest mind in your field on the team, but if they’re intimidated by others and don’t speak up, they may as well not be there.
- Do they have the level of technical expertise we need to get the job done?
- Will they be willing to do what’s needed to make the team work? For example, they may need to feel uncomfortable occasionally and share an opposing view. Productive teams don’t agree on everything, and that’s a good thing.
- Are they bringing to the team skills and potential we don’t already have on the team?
- Will their preferences help or hinder the team’s productivity? If your team is high-velocity, but this person prefers a slower pace — or if they love to be well-organised, but the team tends to be more fluid — you might be building tension into the team. Tension’s not always a bad thing!
- How will they react when things go wrong?
2. Lead the way
Can you name many sporting teams that have succeeded with a poor captain?
As the leader, you set the tone for the team both regarding how they behave towards each other and the wider world.
You also give them direction, so they know what they need to achieve. They’ll also look to you to model how they can be productive.
If setting the context and giving the team a vision of what winning will look like feels too hard, it could be because you have the wrong team. Or it could be time to work on your skills.
There’s no better way to develop skills than by using them, as long as you are open to feedback and learning.
Isn’t sharing your learning a great opportunity to model appropriate behaviour for your team?
To function well, have healthy interactions and be as productive as possible, your team needs to feel safe and supported.
They also need to be held accountable.
This TEDx talk by Amy Edmonson provides insights into the importance of providing both psychological safety and accountability for your team.
3. Get out of their way
This is when the magic happens. But it won’t happen if you try to micromanage the process or control the outcomes.
As a manager, you now need to step back and let the team get on with the work you’ve selected and guided them to do.
Some managers make the mistake of assuming they can go straight to this step.
If you think that way, I can tell you that back-tracking to fill in the gaps you’ve missed by not choosing wisely or showing leadership can be arduous and painful.
It’s the bread and butter of our consulting practice, so you can believe me when I say it’ll cost you a lot more time and money than you saved by assuming all would be well without your input in the early stages.
I’m sure most of us have had the experience of sitting in a team meeting thinking there are so many better ways we could be using our time.
Either our talents are not being utilised or we don’t know what we’re supposed to achieve — or both.
That sense of futility is a sign that the secrets above have not been applied.
Sometimes the elusive ‘teamwork’ just happens like magic. More often, it takes work to have a great team.