Let’s be clear: teamwork is really hard. For every blog article proclaiming how beneficial teamwork is, there is a manager struggling to make it happen in the real world. In this article, we’ll look at five critical steps that help these managers lead a team to success.
1. Setting a Clear Charter and Goals
Some teams are intact workgroups who are responsible for providing ongoing services and products over time. Others are temporary groups that come together only for a unique purpose and then disband. When starting up a new team or chartering a new set of goals for an existing team, the most important team building activity is establishing or sharing shared long-term goals and making sure everyone understands why that goal is important. Regardless of its length of time together, a good manger needs know:
- the team’s goals and timeframes for delivery
- where the goals come from (foundations for the project)
- who the goals are for (audience and customer)
- what success looks like (any outcome measures or metrics)
It is also important to set small, short-term goals that allow the team to achieve early wins and practice working together. A good first goal is establishing a project plan and timeline for generating early outlines, a concept of operation (how a new product or service will work) or draft documents.
Pryor’s seminar on Strategic Goal Setting offers solutions for both near-term and long-term goals with your team and how to communicate about them in a compelling way.
2. Establishing the Team and Its Practices
Regardless of how long a team is together, it is important to provide them with the appropriate infrastructure to do its work. For this article, we assume you have already selected or been assigned team members – and that they are now ready to get to work! Examples of start-up activities include:
- Facilitating team orientation or chartering/scoping discussions, project planning meetings, teambuilding sessions or joint training sessions if needed to develop specific skills for the task.
- Setting up a dedicated meeting room if the team is onsite and/or a dedicated account for video meetings.
- Establishing regular meeting times with the manager, client and project sponsor to check in on goals and progress.
- Setting up a file management site and structure, and collaborative software for communication and file exchanges.
- Providing templates for work products or processes, or examples of past deliverables that you would like the team to work with to reduce the learning curve.
- Deciding on file management protocols and developing team ground rules are teambuilding activities that help the team learn how to engage with each other.
- Establishing role clarity. Teams work best when each person understands his or her role, and when handoffs between people are clear. Gaps in roles or overlapping roles can lead to interpersonal conflict, poor communication and inefficiencies. Talk actively and clearly about who has what roles on the team.
- Providing training in team feedback. Both teams and individuals need feedback to continuously improve. Feedback training is a great teambuilding activity that reaps many benefits. When team members are given a shared model for delivering and receiving feedback, it makes the process easier to do on a daily basis.
Pryor offers many courses on team development and leadership. In particular, our seminar on Leadership, Team-Building and Coaching Skills for Managers and Supervisors can identify new ideas for establishing a strong relationship with your team.
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3. Emphasizing Communication Early and Often
Regardless of mission or goal, all teams need effective communication skills to succeed. As such, leading a team to success means leading them to effectively communicate. Here are four tips for building communication skills on your team.
- Engage in frequent problem-solving sessions. On a regular basis, identify a shared pain point or problem and dedicate a meeting to resolving it. Solving a problem together develops and validates communication skills in a very practical way, with immediate payoff. Through the process, team members learn each other’s communication styles and, when the problem is solved, have a shared success.
- Frequently revisit team goals. Many team-focused articles talk about the importance of mission clarity and alignment, but it can feel simplistic to stop and ask on a regular basis, “why are we doing this activity?” Talk about team goals at the start of meetings and ask the team to review how the meeting topic relates to those goal in a practical way. Doing this exercise requires effective communication – and keeps people focused on the greater good.
- Express and invite appreciation. Use active communication to share how the team’s work is useful and valued, and how a specific team member’s actions made a difference. Effective team members communicate appreciation for the skills and contributions of others.
- Remind the team to assume best intentions. When there is conflict, communicate with the team about the differences between intent and impact. Remind them that assuming someone is operating from a place of good intentions can spark empathy and opens communication channels.
Want to build your communication skills? Pryor has a whole training category on Communication Skills Training, ranging from classes on communicating with tact and professionalism to emotional intelligence and managing emotions under pressure.
4. Engaging in Regular Teambuilding
In today’s workplace, teams may be virtual, in-person or hybrid. Regardless of “together mode,” teambuilding can be a useful activity for building effective permanent or temporary teams. Here are some ideas.
- Host an Awards Social Hour: Take some time to celebrate success! If you have an awards program already, take it online or in a hybrid session to acknowledge people for their work and successes. If you don’t have an awards program, create a casual one with virtual certificates to mark noteworthy contributions. The first part of the session should be a recognition event – then leave the room open for people to casually connect.
- Schedule team breaks and opportunities for social connection: One example is, “Twenty on Tuesday,” where the team establishes a regular weekly 20-minute block when people can drop into a virtual meeting room to say hello and share updates. Another example is Trivia Time, when a volunteer facilitator prepares trivia questions and uses polling features in online meeting tools to assess responses.
- Schedule virtual office hours with leadership: This meeting offers a structured time for people to join a virtual meeting room to check in with leadership – either to get work-related questions answered, or to just say hello and connect.
- Hold Family Social Hours: Encourage people in advance to bring their partners, kids and or pets to meet the team during a set hour. There can be an educational component to share the team’s work with family in a fun way, and to add some structure to the time.
- Create Team Art (Virtual or In-Person): Post chart paper around the room or ask people to work individually online. Ask them to create art that captures a key concept (like “creativity”), documents a team success, or describes team goals (“This Month, We Will…”).
- Take a Walk Together (Virtual or In-Person): Take a meeting on the road or build in a walking break at lunch that people can do together or over the phone. This could include a weekly trip to a local farmer’s market or park; an open lunch hour, where people meet at a common place or a regular team social hour to welcome new people or play board or card games.
- Hold an in-person teambuilding day: For teams that work onsite, or that are starting to reconvene periodically in a “new normal” work environment, consider a team building day out with the group. Volunteer together at a food pantry, community center or other social services center. Take a day trip to a local park or sports event.
- Host Self-Development Training: Pryor offers a range of skills training in project management, communications and leadership that your team may benefit from experiencing together. Developing individual skills also supports the team.
To conduct effective team building, it is important to have and explain the “why” behind the games – communicate a larger goal that your team can get behind. For example, your goal may be to provide a shared structured experience that allows team members to get to know each other better. You may want to host an activity that will develop a skill you believe is a blind spot for the team. You may want to diffuse stress and tension to enable a team reset on a high-stakes project. Tell the team what your intent is – so they can reflect on the experience in a way that is aligned with your goals.
5. Celebrating Success
Part of leading a team to success is letting the team know you think they are successful! When you accomplish key milestones, acknowledge the success and mark the moment by reflecting on what went well and how it informs future action. The Pryor seminar Inspiring Employee Motivation and Engagement has great ideas for celebrating individuals and teams in both inspiring and meaningful ways.
When a temporary team completes its work, take the time to conduct close-out activities:
- Document the team’s activities and key deliverables in a project summary
- Consider writing a news article about the team’s success in an organization newsletter or blog
- Host a close-out meeting and thank you session with the client or sponsor
- Write up performance feedback for team members to support their annual reviews
For permanent teams, it is also important to mark key milestones, even if the team is engaged in providing long-term support services. Acknowledge key anniversaries or milestones in the team’s work together; note the launch of updated processes or documents; or note specific “above the call of duty” actions that took members took to support other people. These day-to-day “thank you’s” can make a huge difference to people serving customers and clients with dedication each day.