We’ve all lived through utterly awful “team building” experiences – like building towers out of straws or embarrassing role playing games. So much so that for most people “team building” makes their blood run cold. But we all work in teams so making our teams function better is important. The question is, what actually works to build your team?
Spend time with them
Everyone wants a quick fix to make their team work better together. The bad news is there isn’t one. There is no shortcut to actually getting to know and trust each other and that just takes time. You start the process by doing it yourself. Every day there are many opportunities to interact with your team. Rather than sending an email, go and see them. Learn how they do their job (without getting in the way). Notice when they are busy and help out. Have coffee with them. Bit by bit piece together who they are and what makes them tick. Nothing forced and not to control them but because you genuinely want to know them as people.
Give them power
There are teams where every decision is passed to the top for rubber stamping (“Permission to blow my nose, sir?”). There are teams where everyone follows a script (“Computer says no.”). And there are teams where everyone has goals and takes responsibility for working out how to achieve them (“Let me see how I can help you with that”). Empowering people means letting them come up with solutions you may not have thought of and removing the fear of being told off for using their initiative. Sometimes you need to hand them a problem and let them work it out themselves. And sometimes, even though it would be quicker to do it yourself, you need to let them learn so they have the confidence to do it next time.
Teach them they need each other
All of us are different and none of us can do all the jobs in the team. Teamwork is where we work together and show up to increase the performance of the team. You need to move the focus from personal status and how they can look good to others towards appreciating and looking after each other. And again you start by doing it yourself. Putting yourself out to help other people do well. Noticing when people are down and really wanting to know the answer when you ask how they are. Being honest when others are better than you at something and not getting defensive when you are corrected.
Make them feel safe
If you are a leader, then you need your team to feel you “have their back”. They need to know that when a problem comes you will be the one to step up and confront it and keep your team from harm. They need to know that you are keeping an eye on the risks outside so that they can get on and do their jobs. They need to know that you always have their best interests at heart and would never “throw them under a bus” to protect yourself.
But what if I’m not in charge
Even if you are a junior member of your team you can still make the people around you feel that you care about them and will stand by them. You can get to know them as people and can support them to do well. Share knowledge and trust people to still appreciate you. Learn new skills and trust people won’t dump jobs on you. Understand that making your team better is something you all do every day. You can build your team whatever your job title because you can do things that inspire people to do them too.