The fact that a group of people is assigned to work together does not mean they will automatically become an effective team. If you are responsible for leading a team, whether that means you are tasked with leading a work group or division or if you're in charge of a project or other special-purpose team, you'll need to incorporate a variety of team building strategies to help the group become - and stay - a cohesive unit.
8 Key Team Building Strategies
The following eight strategies can help you build a cohesive team.
1. Establish Yourself as the Leader
According to the University of California at Berkeley's Guide to Managing Human Resources, "To lead a team effectively, you must first establish your leadership with each team member." This means you must use your leadership skills to build positive, trust-based relationships with individual team members and take ownership of the group.
Effective team leaders take a participative approach to leadership, seeking input from the team while also providing the support, clarity, structure and guidance necessary for the group to become cohesive. As team leader, you'll need to create an environment characterized by accountability and team-focused communication.
2. Get to Know Team Members
To effectively lead the work of a team, you need to have a sense of who the players are, in terms of their abilities, interests and personalities. As pointed out on Forbes.com, it's important for team leaders to develop a sense of "what defines the strengths and capabilities of your team." The key to doing this lies with getting to know individual team members, developing an understanding of how "they are wired to think and what is required to motivate them to excel beyond what is expected from them."
There are several ways leaders can approach getting to know team members, from informal discussions to formal assessments (such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or Everything DiSC Workplace). With this information, you'll be able to help the group reach peak effectiveness while best utilizing the unique talents and contributions of each member.
3. Encourage Informal Interactions
Team members also need to get to know one another. An Inc.com articles emphasizes the importance of informal "non-work" communication as a team building strategy, stating "managers should recognize that non-work discussions are critical to creating a team that looks out for each other. Otherwise, co-workers may begin to view one another as just cogs in the machine."
While, of course, team members don't need to be 'best buddies' outside of work, team leaders should encourage them to interact with one another informally. You don't have to schedule expensive team building events to do this. Inc.com suggests simple changes, such as ensuring team members have the same break time so casual conversations can occur naturally. Team potlucks, shared off-site meals, kicking off meetings with team building questions, and additional team building activities are other possible options.
4. Provide Team Bonding Opportunities
Scheduling opportunities for team members to bond with one another is a good way to help strengthen the bond that begins to develop as you get to know your team and the team members get to know one another. Participation in these types of activities allows the team to develop a sense of shared history, and that can contribute to cohesiveness. The types of activities you schedule have an impact on whether this strategy can be effective. As a U.S. News & World Report article points out, "Team-building activities should bolster the work employees complete together, or provide a genuine opportunity to relax and unwind."
Forcing people to participate in group activities that they are not comfortable with can backfire, so careful consideration of team members' interests, abilities, and schedules is important. Consider making a variety of options available, without forcing participation in any specific one. Appropriate bonding opportunities for teams can be things like engaging in charitable volunteerism as a team, participating in fitness-related activities or events, taking off-site training classes, attending industry conferences, or going on field trips.
5. Clearly Define the Team's Purpose
According to DesignIntelligence, "The single most important ingredient in team success is a clear, common, and compelling purpose." Every team has a purpose, and the team leader is responsible for being sure it is clearly defined and communicated to the members. This should be done very early in the team building process, because purpose is critical to team development.
As DesignIntelligence points out, "It is team purpose that provides the reason for collaboration." When members know what the team's purpose is, they have common ground around which to become unified, and they know what they are trying to accomplish. Purpose provides a rallying point that enables a group of people to become a unified team and to stay on-track when times get tough. Without purpose, a team is just a group of people put together, with little idea of what they are supposed to accomplish.
6. Establish a Team Charter
Once the team's purpose has been clearly defined and communicated, establishing a team charter is an excellent strategy to reinforce and clarify how the team will accomplish its work. A team charter can, as stated on EyeOnSales.com, be a powerful way to "improve team success." According to the Life Cycle Institute, a team charter "serves as a source for the team members to illustrate the focus and direction of the team." It also allows for the team to reach agreement on how the group will operate, determine roles, and clarify scope. Having a clearly defined team charter can also enhance common understanding and reduce the potential for confusion about the team's purpose, both within the team and throughout the organization.
Creating a team charter is not something that you should do on your own as a leader. It should be created in a group setting, with all team members participating. Allowing all team members to have input in charter development contributes to team member buy-in. You can view examples of team charters on the Learning Technologies, Inc. website.
7. Challenge Team Members to Stretch
While team members are often selected based on their experience and past successes, individual members are often able to contribute in innovative ways outside of the areas of expertise for which they are known. An article in the Harvard Management Update published by the Harvard Business School encourages team leaders to challenge members by "offering them the chance to use skills they don't normally exercise in their day-to-day work" in a collaborative way. This allows team members to contribute to the group in unique ways, develop an appreciation for other members' expertise, and expand their own skills and knowledge.
You can encourage team members to stretch by assigning them a collaborative task to come up with ideas related to aspects of the team's work outside of the areas where they ordinarily work. For example, you could assign customer service representatives and merchandisers to brainstorm ideas for new sales strategies and have the sales representatives work with purchasing representatives to brainstorm for appropriate responses to customer compliant calls.
8. Celebrate Team Successes
The value of positive reinforcement cannot be overstated. Celebrating team successes - from small victories to huge wins - is a critical team building strategy that is, unfortunately, overlooked too often. As stated in a Washington Post article, celebrating team success "is more important than you think." Reliable Plant magazine points out that team leaders need to make it a point to celebrate both individual and team successes, as well as when milestones are reached.
Celebrations don't have to be huge, splashy events or expensive prizes (though those are certainly nice at times). A celebration can be as simple as public acknowledgement of achievement, saying thank you, sending a thank you note, highlighting an accomplishment in the company newsletter, etc. Recognition of accomplishments lets people know they're appreciated and it can go a long way toward reinforcing team cohesiveness and commitment.
Laying the Groundwork for Team Success
Applying these strategies can go a long way toward building a cohesive team that is able to accomplish great work. The time you invest in building the relationships and structure your team needs to thrive will pay off exponentially in terms of long-term success and productivity. Plus, as team leader, your job will be much easier when the team is truly cohesive!