Developing team spirit
Developing team spirit is a goal that has been around for many many years but it remains an elusive factor in some organisations. It may be that good team spirit exists within one department but not another.
Most employees would agree that team spirit contributes very positively to their enjoyment of work, their personal performance and their general wellbeing. Senior management may consider it essential in order for the organisation to deliver great customer service whilst maintaining business efficiency.
What is meant by "team building"?
Team building refers to the process of establishing and developing a greater sense of collaboration and trust between team members. Interactive exercises, team assessments, and group discussions enable groups to cultivate this greater sense of teamwork. Source: Wikipedia
Extending this definition into the workplace would see the addition of factors such as:
the selection and motivation of teams;
setting mutually agreed goals and action plans; and
undertaking group self-assessment of performance.
Why is it important?
Maybe a helpful starting point to answer this question is to explore what happens when there is bad team spirit. The following characteristics may be found where team spirit is poor:
Silo mentalities with poor internal communications and people talking disrespectfully behind each other’s backs.
Trust is low and casting blame is high – there is low rapport and no solidarity.
Work and contribution ethic can be patchy and productivity levels for the department may suffer.
The culture is more reactive than proactive and tensions can be high with everyone thinking their workloads are greater and their problems are worse. Conflicts are time consuming and not easily resolved. Goals are vague and there is little sense of partnership working and mutual achievement.
So it is important, therefore, to create the opposite:
People talking to each other and actively listening and respecting other people’s views.
Consultation is high and people feel included in how their work is set, managed and delivered.
Challenge is welcomed and not allowed to develop into conflict and disagreement.
Leaders coach and develop rather than dictate.
Employees accept their responsibility to contribute towards team success and enjoy personal growth through doing so.
Self-assessments and audits are welcomed as part of a proactive support mechanism to boost team performance and personal growth rather than something to be feared and avoided.
People are supportive and have an ethic of sharing and partnership. They are fully aware of their shared goals and shared responsibility and work together to jointly achieve their objectives.
So, teamwork and team spirit is essential for competing in today's economic conditions and to ensure high quality customer service. Exceptional individual performance is great but not as necessary as exceptional collective performance. In knowledge and service based organisations team working is the norm rather than the exception.
How to create team spirit?
Charismatic leaders and managers will find that the creation of team spirit may come naturally to them but there is also the risk that they will overlook key elements of effective teamwork if their personalities are so strong that they inadvertently alienate some people.
There is not one hard and fast way of creating team spirit and sometimes it can arise in adverse conditions where individuals pull together to make the most of those difficult circumstances. However there are some key steps that you may wish to consider if you are looking to improve team spirit in your area of work:
1. Consult to Engage
People cannot feel included in a strong team if they are told what to do. It is important to consult with everyone in a fair and open manner to allow for positive opinions and contributions. Negative criticism should not be allowed in such discussion and under no circumstances should personal attacks be made about people present or not present.
A useful way to have an engaging and productive consultation is to do some SWOT analysis – a simple description of that technique is set out below.
In groups ask the following questions (or others you can think of under the headings provided. Keep answers short, relevant and realistic).
What is our strongest business asset, or service or organisational feature? Do we have examples of positive customer feedback – what lessons can we learn from it?
How are we strong as a team?
What do we do well together?
What went well over the past 3, 6, 9 and 12 months?
Do we have any specific or unique expertise?
What has not gone well in the past 3, 6, 9 and 12 months? Why did it happen?
Which of these can be improved and how?
Do we have any competition and if so where do they have the edge?
What necessary resource and/or expertise do we currently lack?
Do we have budget problems? What can we do to manage this more effectively?
What trends do we see in our service area/industry?
What are the dominant external changes?
What opportunities do these trends and changes present?
What are we not doing well that offers an opportunity to improve?
Are there any additional opportunities we can think of?
What obstacles do we face in implementing any changes or opportunities?
Where is our competition and what are they doing which we are not?
What external economic factors are affecting our bottom line?
Do we need to be doing something different if these are too powerful?
What threats can be turned into opportunities?
Are there any additional threats affecting our performance as a team?
2. Agree clear action steps and goals – an inspiring vision or target
A critical feature of effective teams will be the clarity of their goals and action plans. These should be agreed through the consultation process and well documented. Equally important is that there should be appropriate levels of empowerment and decision-making authority to allow people to get on and deliver without overdoing meetings, email etc.
Dashboards and traffic light systems can help keep everyone on track and identify where support is needed to address any problems.
3. Celebrate success along the way
Work should be rewarding and fun if it is going well. Clearly if plans are slipping and customers are unhappy then all efforts need to be focused on getting that right first. However, if you are delivering to plan and achieving good customer satisfaction then you should celebrate along the way. Do this quarterly not yearly – waiting a year to recognize and reward success is too long. People need regular communication and recognition for their contribution and will spur them on to greater efforts. Celebration does not need to be expensive – it can be done very well with informal social events that can significantly improve internal relationships and team spirit.
4. Agree a common set of values
Again, through consultation, agree the values that you wish to adhere to as a team (honesty, positive communication, professionalism etc.) and publish these values on posters in the office, post-it notes on computers, by the water cooler, in the kitchen on the website etc.
5. Use external support when necessary
It can sometimes help to use external facilitators to help manage some of the discussions and processes above. They bring objectivity, independence, experience and ideas from other industries which may accelerate your development and help manage any potential difficult personalities that seek to hijack meetings.
6. Encourage diversity
By this we mean it should not just be diverse; it should make the most of it by involving everyone (junior to senior) and encourage:
the exchange of ideas in meetings
empowering ofcross functional teams
creative brain storming sessions
7. Encourage Success
Truly effective teams strive for team success. They understand the need to focus on team goals and seek to rise above personal ambitions. Personal ambitions are important but not at the expense of team success. They will feel that by being sincere and honest in their day-to-day work contribution that their team will benefit and personal recognition will inevitably come their way.
Other articles to study that will help build team spirit include:
The Mindful Manager
The Contribution Ethic
Coping with Change
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