1. Formulate a shared mission
One of the key success factors for teams is a common mission. Do all team members aim for an ambitious goal? Then they will strongly focus on the result. They want to do everything they can to achieve this mission. Because you depend on each other, the mission automatically ensures solidarity. Good examples are soccer teams or symphony orchestras: their mission is crystal clear. And although the individual members of the team are very different (often with big egos), they will have no difficulty to train hard every day to achieve that goal.
2. Create a safe environment and trust
Trust is another important condition for successful teams. Do people dare to express themselves? Because they are not interrupted or ignored? Then the team performance immediately goes up. If you feel safe, you become more intelligent. You can be more creative. Because you can relax and think better. But creating openness is not always easy. The team members must be sure that they can share their opinion without any negative consequences. They must be asked to share any criticism they might have, preferably on a regular basis.
3. Give attention and support
A recent study of 67 teams in the US and China showed that the quality of team performance improved when team members are willing to help each other. The behaviour of the team leader has a big influence on this. Does the team leader actively support the team? Then it is more likely that the team members support each other as well.
4. Limit the load
Does a team function well? Then the manager is often inclined to increase the workload of the team. The team seems to pick this up easily. But, in the end it doesn’t work out. Because a team needs some time to coordinate the work. The team members need time to master the new tasks together. If targets are set higher and higher, there is less and less time and attention for the required reflection. And ultimately this shows in the performance.
5. Provide personal contact
In many organizations personal contact is lacking, especially with large teams. But that is not good for the team spirit and therefore cooperation. In some organizations, people hardly say 'hi' or 'good morning' to each other in the morning. Digital tools do not help either. Team members hide behind their screens and send Facebook messages to friends elsewhere on the planet. Do people stop looking each other in the eye? Then empathy disappears. So make sure you have face-to-face contact on a regular basis. That does not have to be very difficult: giving team members a hand every day and looking at them is a good start.
6. Encourage solution-oriented communications
In mainstream education you mainly experience problem-oriented communication: if there is a problem, you discuss the cause together. But, this makes a team less decisive. Because people can have different opinions about the cause of a problem. In a solution-oriented approach, the cause is not an issue. The team focuses on the solution. What should the goal be? Do we have everything we need to achieve that goal? Whether you agree with the arguments why you choose for a particular solution is not as important. As long as you agree on what that solution should be.
7. Ensure openness and dialogu
In a solution-oriented team, team members depend more on each other. Therefore, openness is more important. People need to know what everyone is doing, what the results of the work are, and whether something is likely to go wrong - or has gone wrong already. Team members must be honest with each other. And it is crucial for fellow team members to know everyone’s opinions. Therefore it is advisable to train communication and feedback techniques. So team members won’t ‘forget’ to mention that their project is not quite on track, out of shame or unease.
8. Listen to each other
In 2008, psychologists from MIT, amongst others, divided 700 subjects in small groups and gave them a variety of tasks. Some groups had smart people; some groups had less intelligent people. In some groups leadership developed naturally, in others it didn’t. But the groups that performed the tasks given best, all had the same characteristic: they listened to each other. These groups were more innovative and achieved better group results.
9. Provide room to learn
Ultimately, the intention is for the team to be able to work independently and overcome setbacks. That only works if they get the chance to sometimes make the wrong decisions or even mistakes - without management immediately correcting the team. Being allowed to make mistakes, involves risks. But, a team needs to learn to deal with its flaws. It must learn to deal with setbacks. No gain without fail. Therefore, let the team fail and struggle sometimes.
10. Make the process clear
The agile method is particularly successful in ICT. But also in other sectors it can work well, particularly in projects. After all, projects can be easily divided into clear components ('iterations' or 'sprints' in Agile language), each leading to concise output. The advantage of this is that the team quickly knows whether it is on the right track or not. The team feels it’s progressing, which gives them energy and makes room for creativity. Agile has proven itself, especially in large projects where preconditions are still vague and changeable - projects in which a team can hopelessly get stuck.
11. Accept 'hassle'
Conflicts are part of the group process and therefore not always negative. Accept that it is a part of it. Conflicts can disrupt a team, but they can also make the team stronger. It encourages employees to learn from each other and it can lead to better group decisions. Is there a conflict? That does not mean that the team is wrong, on the contrary. But it is important that the team progresses to the next phase. Too often, teams get stuck in the conflict phase. And the team members grow apart. Research shows that conflicts can be positive: they stimulate employees to learn from each other and they lead to better group decisions. So not every conflict is disastrous. However, it is important to discuss the conflict points.
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