Fixing teams within a given workplace can seem absolutely, objectively impossible. But it’s actually doable. And we’ll show you how.
What we know: Healthy workplaces have good, effective teamwork. Perhaps more importantly, healthy workplaces offer team members a degree of “psychological safety,” where they believe they can fail in pursuit of greatness in front of each other without repercussions.
When teams are broken, typically the organization is broken. There’s no way to sugarcoat this. In fact, 86% of employees and executives cite lack of collaboration and ineffective communication as a major reason for workplace failures.
There’s an oft-stated idea about retention here too: companies that communicate and develop teams most effectively have been shown in studies to be 4.5 times more likely to retain top employees. Retaining your best people is a massive competitive advantage, and typically your best people want to work on projects in concert with other high-performers Making sure that teamwork is functional is thus crucial.
Teamwork is a hard concept to explain within the confines of a blog post because it underscores virtually everything about successful work. But we’ve never shied away from a challenge, so here goes.
How to foster effective teamwork in the workplace
Let us count the ways:
1. Set clearly-defined goals and objectives
Clear goals and objectives will get the whole team on the same page, moving in the same direction (often the verb used there is “rowing”) toward a common goal, and that’s the basis of stable, successful teamwork.
2. Foster trust and gratitude on your team
Building a culture of trust and gratitude is a big one, and is sadly sometimes ignored in organizations because, well, “gratitude” isn’t a balance sheet line item. But while it doesn’t reside on a P&L, it’s tremendously important for functional team environments and functional teams.
Further, an analysis performed by the London School of Economics and Political Science of 51 different studies shows that gratitude in a workplace can be a bigger, better motivator than compensation and bonuses.
3. Promote autonomy and not micromanagement
Simply put, leadership is about knowing when to let go. Most people don’t leave brands or jobs; they leave bosses. And when they leave bosses, usually the primary reason for that departure is that they had no real autonomy in the role.
📕 Read our guide on how to manage a micromanaging boss and work toward greater autonomy.
4. Hold regular check-ins with your team
The silent killer of companies is absentee management, where managers don’t engage with—or flat-out ignore—their employees. That’s no way to build a great team! Rather, you need check-in rounds and, painful as it may feel and as much as you want to believe they don’t have a role in an office, you need a way to encourage emotions at work. Humans are emotional creatures. Work is emotional for that reason. Process matters, but process cannot be everything.
5. Combat information overload and poor information channels
If you lined up 100 random employees of different companies in different verticals and asked them all to name the No. 1 challenge of their job, “communication” would probably rank very high. (“Compensation” might also rank high, but that’s a different topic.) Thankfully, there are ways to communicate better and reduce information overload on your team, all of which are noble pursuits for effective managers.
When we set out to accomplish anything, good teamwork is almost always necessary for success. Sure, one person alone can be successful. However, by working together with others who bring new ideas to the table the impact of that individual team member’s work is magnified. That's why teamwork is so important.
The “Angelic Troublemaker” idea
Bayard Rustin was a leading strategist of the civil rights movement. His big idea around the movement was that those fighting for civil rights need to be “angelic troublemakers.” That basically means: annoy the powers-that-be, as opposed to directly clashing with them.
Martin Luther King Jr. loved Rustin, even though he was (a) openly gay and (b) extremely liberal, which were major lightning rods at the time. One of the main reasons MLK loved him is because he was a classic agitator.
Now, obviously the civil rights movement and some fire drill in your widgets company are very different things. One was a major turning point in human history, and the other is an issue no one will remember in three hours. But the civil rights movement involved a great deal of organizing, strategy, and working as a team.
As this Fast Company article notes:
Angelic troublemaking—or going against the grain in a benevolent fashion—is a powerful philosophy for business as well as social movements. It’s not just about being difficult; it’s about forcing people to see situations differently. The concept is about making a mess, with good intentions, so things can change.
Building teams and teamwork does take time
Building teams takes time. To quote Lindred Greer, an associate professor of organizational behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business:
“Management dramatically underestimates the amount of effort needed to create and maintain a common vision for a team,” Greer says. “There is almost never enough alignment on this when teams are brought together.” Every team should take part in an orientation in which team goals are stated explicitly, benchmarks are established, and responsibilities of each team member are made clear. Greer also suggests teams contemplate what failure might look like and how to avoid it, as those that do tend to perform better over time.
This one can be hard for some managers, because a lot of business is admittedly about now now now and urgent work and projects. So it’s understandable that a short-term focus sometimes overwhelms an eye towards the long game. But if you follow sports, remember: at one point, the New England Patriots were not that good. They developed a team, and a dynasty, over time.
You can fit any successful sports franchise into that analogy and it works; same goes with teams. Google became Google not in the instant that Page and Brin created the algorithms. Google became Google when the right people were added to the team, and then that team developed over time.
The evolution of a successful team is not an instant phenomenon. It evolves with time.
Some companies hire with a focus on making sure employees can hit the ground running. While that’s great at an individual level, it won’t work at the team level. People need repetition. People need to regularly interact with each other to build a level of comfort and trust. With all that teams will have what it takes to get done what needs to get done.
Grafting, or how to bring someone onto a team
Above, we mentioned bringing new people onto a team and how it takes time for them to mesh with how the team already functions. That’s true, and you can’t change that, necessarily. Certain things do need time to play out, especially connections among people on a specific project or deliverable.
But it’s widely known that onboarding programs usually aren’t that great. 22% of the 1,500 largest companies in the world don’t even have a formal onboarding program, sadly. But onboarding is only part of the equation.
There’s a related concept called “grafting” that can help leaders bring new members onto a team.
It’s referenced in this article from TED, including this section:
Put yourself in the shoes of your newest team members, and try to imagine what they could be going through. Are they climbing a learning curve without much support? Did they just move their family from another area, city or state? Have they been given an ambiguous or brand-new job description? As you become aware of their challenges, make an effort to sensitize their colleagues, too.
Here’s a way to look at grafting. The work is important, and it matters, and it’s at the very least why you’re getting compensated. But the work itself isn’t everything. You also need to understand the experiences of the human beings you share a space with, meaning:
- (Simple) What TV shows do they like?
- (Simple) Where are they from and how did they end up here?
- (Moderate) Are they married or with someone?
- (Moderate) Do they have children?
- (Advanced) What do they want out of their career?
- (Advanced) What else, good and bad, has been happening in their lives?
Try to make the initial experiences of a team more personal, and less about the specifics of a project. Those specifics are definitely important, but the most effective teams will have a degree of personal connection among them as well.
What tools should you use to foster teamwork in the workplace?
Oftentimes, especially in our sales discussions, managers and leaders wonder if there’s a “tool” for good teamwork. There are actually multiple tools, and the sheer reality is, there’s no one tool that rules them all.
Range helps teams establish trust, build deeper connections, and achieve greater alignment. It keeps everyone, including remote team members, engaged by making a daily check-in part of the daily work routine. This all inherently helps with team-building and teamwork. But even the organizations using Range also use a mix of Google, Asana, Trello, and other tools to help keep their different teams in sync. There’s no pot of gold at the end of the team rainbow; it’s what works for your team at that time, and that’s very likely going to evolve.
The bottom line about the benefits of teamwork
Teamwork is the soul of an organization. If the teams within an organization can’t work together, the organization will likely begin to stagnate. Opportunities for growth will go unseized and, as a result, revenue potential will go unrealized.
Much ink has been drained over time explaining how exactly to cultivate successful teams, and ours is another part of that effort. The above can be a guide, but above all, monitor the progress and check in with your teams. How successful are they being? Are they on track? What do they need from the managerial side? What resources are preventing them from peak success? If the development of good teams is an active process, that’s a great way to ensure long-term success.