In the book Smarter Faster Better, the author highlights an interesting example from military basic training. New recruits are in training, and part of the leadership’s focus is on ensuring they develop the ability to problem-solve and think as a team. They’re faced with a nearly impossible obstacle course and have to work their way across while tethered to their teammates. The exercise goes on for hours under tough conditions and requires real ingenuity, leadership and teamwork.
While the military has invested millions of dollars in determining how to foster strong team dynamics and a culture of collaboration, today’s small and mid-size business leaders can get similar results from their own teams. Here are four strategies that you can use today to foster better teamwork and collaboration.
Sponsor Cross-Department Problem-Solving Sessions
Innovation often happens at the nexus of two disciplines. Foster better teamwork across your organization by sponsoring cross-department problem-solving. What would happen to your customer acquisition, for example, if sales and marketing were regularly in the room together? Could you develop a better customer experience if team members from customer service, IT and product development regularly shared their priorities? Try this as a one-time experiment focused on solving a single problem. Think of it as a hackathon or a solutions jam. If the experiment helps build bridges and break down silos, consider scheduling them quarterly (or as often as makes sense in your organization).
Make It Safe for People to Share Ideas
Google recently undertook a project to build the perfect team. With some of the world’s top performers and access to the world’s data, the company came to a very clear conclusion: the best teams are the ones where people feel free to share their ideas. During brainstorming, do ideas get shot down? Are people competitive with each other and quick to point out why an idea won’t work? When that happens, people shut down and contributions decline. Instead, focus on creating an environment where your workers are willing to bring their wildest blue-sky ideas to the table. Teach your team how to listen, productively give feedback and create open and safe spaces for everyone to share their ideas. For example, rather than simply saying an idea is bad or won’t work, encourage team members to highlight the positive or points of agreement, ask questions and be specific about areas where they disagree. As trust is built, people become more open and will be quicker to point out issues, make real contributions and drive innovation.
Humanize Your Team and Their Strengths
Real teamwork and collaboration are built on relationships. Relationships are built between people. It’s hard to feel empathy, interest and engagement for someone who is just a name and a job title. This reality is compounded by the fact that we’re often in different cities and time zones. Take the time to find ways to facilitate meaningful relationship-building. Encourage people to share details about their backgrounds, interests, hobbies outside of work and families. Companies can achieve this by:
- Asking new team members to give a short introduction on their backgrounds and interests.
- Setting aside time during project kickoffs for detailed introductions.
- Allocating sessions during retreats or team meetings to “spotlight” specific contributors.
- Facilitating opportunities for team-building during offsite meetings and encouraging colleagues who work together closely to connect virtually during dedicated time to get to know each other.
Use collaboration tools that help put a face to the name. Look for collaboration tools with features that make it easy to quickly view a personal bio of a colleague you don’t know well. Ensure that you have an image or avatar to further personalize chats and other interactions. Some companies encourage each staff member to record a brief intro video that’s stored in the collaboration system and can be accessed when colleagues begin working together for the first time. Make opportunities in your everyday workflow to help your team really connect and understand where everyone is coming from.
Backup Your Culture with Technology
A forward-thinking and collaborative culture is one that is supported by the right technology. Make it easy to engage by creating clear expectations for what technology your team will use and how it supports your goals for deeper engagement. For example, encourage people working in different offices to use video conferencing when possible to build stronger face-to-face experiences. Leverage the status feature of different platforms so colleagues can see when their co-workers are “in the office.” Technology can help your team feel more connected and facilitate the logistics that build a collaborative culture.
Making the most out of communications investments often begins with having a strong culture. However, a culture of teamwork and collaboration isn’t always organic. By making it safe to share ideas, building bonds over a shared purpose, helping team members get to know each other and creating the technological and institutional frameworks that encourage collaboration, you’ll lay a foundation that benefits your business for years to come.