Have you ever managed a team that has rigid roles and responsibilities? What about a team where people don’t really help each other out much? If this sounds familiar, it might be time to encourage teamwork to improve the situation.
Teams who work together to achieve outcomes perform better than those that are simply a collection of individuals working separately.
Great Reasons to Encourage Teamwork
We’ve all heard sayings like “Teamwork makes the dream work”, but these are pithy statements, good for memes. However, there are some great reasons to encourage teamwork amongst your team members, rather than being satisfied at leading a group of individual performers.
Working to encourage teamwork will have several positive outcomes, including:
- Reduced risk: If your team members are used to helping each other, they’re more likely to know each others’ roles, and be able to assist if someone is struggling or absent.
- Performance bursts: Need to hit an important deadline? Team members who help each other will have an “all hands on deck” mentality which helps to hit those important milestones.
- Improved motivation: Variety is the spice of life. Team members who work flexibly tend to get involved in different tasks which can cut through the monotony of the day to day work.
- Greater resilience: It’s easier to keep going when you’ve got teammates beside you. And it’s easier to give up when you feel like you’re going it all alone.
Those are some pretty good reasons why teamwork is your friend. So now, let’s look at some ways to encourage it in your team.
How to Encourage Teamwork Today
Not feeling like you’re seeing enough teamwork? Never fear. Here are some good ways to build a culture of teamwork and become a more cohesive team.
1. Relax the Rigid Role Boundaries
First, I want to point out that it’s good to have defined roles and responsibilities in a team. If nobody really knows what their role is, you’re likely to see confusion, poor performance and low job satisfaction.
However, we can go too far with defining our roles and responsibilities. When you start to define roles in great detail, there is generally less flexibility for team members to perform a variety of different tasks.
Rigid roles also tend to reduce autonomy, a key factor in motivation. Flexibility allows team members to try different ways of working and experiment a little.
This is always a trade-off. Sometimes, you want a super-specialist in a role, or you need work done in a specific way to provide a high quality product or service.
You may also work in an area which has stringent safety or compliance requirements, which means you may need to operate in a more controlled fashion.
But in many teams, there are a variety of tasks or projects that emerge that don’t fit neatly into anybody’s role. In these cases, it’s nice to have a team that works flexibly and pitches in to get the job done.
Why Do People Want Very Detailed Roles and Responsibilities?
Usually when people seek very detailed roles and responsibilities, I find there is more at play than just role definition. Beneath the surface, there are often feelings of mistrust, or a fear of being blamed for failure.
In these cases, people are often trying to nail down responsibilities so they know they won’t get in trouble. This does not generally create a collegiate atmosphere, and suggests an environment where people are seeking to avoid or lay blame.
Listen to this related Thoughtful Leader Podcast episode: Episode 53; Why Trusting Your People Is Your Best Strategy.
Practical Steps to Promote Flexibility In Your Team
From a practical perspective, you can try the following:
- Encourage team members to step in and try different tasks, outside of their regular role
- Set up arrangements where team members share knowledge by shadowing each other. That is – observing what other team members do, and how they work
- Go with the flow. When working flexibly, you need to be prepared for bumps along the road. Address the problems and move on, without panicking or getting angry.
2. Encourage Teamwork By Setting Team Objectives
Many team members have individual performance objectives that they strive to meet. This is often in the form of some sort of yearly performance plan.
However, if everyone is trying hard to reach their own goals, this can have a negative impact on teamwork. Instead, it’s preferable if there are factors in place to encourage them to consider the team needs, as well as their own.
If you are managing a project team, this is fairly simple. The team objective is to successfully complete the project. However, for other teams, coming up with team goals may be less obvious.
The trick is to try to incorporate objectives that involve teamwork. An example could be setting goals for how well your team serves its customers, whether they be internal or external.
This works especially well if team members contribute to different parts of an overall process. Instead of setting targets for each individual part, you aim for an overall performance target. You may also consider adding behaviour goals, where team members are assessed for how well they work with others in the team.
3. Watch the Performance Balance
An important part of encouraging teamwork is to make sure that team members are putting in roughly the same degree of effort.
Some roles will be more difficult or complex than others, but the key is to avoid situations where one person is seen as a “slacker”.
Not all workloads need to be equal, and it’s common to have people in the team who are taking on more specialist or challenging roles.
However, if you have a situation where one or more team members aren’t contributing, you will destroy teamwork because others will feel like they are doing the work of the entire team.
This soon turns into statements like “What’s the point in working hard? Those other guys are getting away with doing nothing.”
Of course, poor contribution from team members isn’t always laziness. In many cases, team members may lack the skills, experience, capability or confidence to perform their role well, which may show itself as poor performance.
In these instances, it’s worth trying coaching, training or mentoring to reduce the performance gap with the rest of the team. When it really is laziness or lack of motivation, it’s worth digging deeper with the team member to find the root cause.
For more help to improve team member motivation, read this post: Motivation at Work: Moving Your People Along the Motivation Spectrum.
4. Encourage Teamwork by Highlighting the Impact of Team Dependencies
When you are faced with an individualistic team who aren’t collaborating, sometimes it helps to highlight the dependencies between the different work your team members do.
In other words, if poor performance or delayed work from one team member impacts another, it’s useful to make sure that everyone realises this. This can have the effect of helping your team members understand the impact of the work they do.
If your team members have very separate roles, try to involve them in joint team tasks to build collaboration. You can also have team members spend time understanding each person’s role, to build awareness of the challenges across the team.
When people aren’t collaborating or getting along, sometimes it’s because they lack visibility of what other people are going through. Increased involvement across the team is likely to build empathy and start to form the foundations of a healthy team culture.
5. Let Go of the Blame Game
One of the fastest ways to cripple teamwork is to blame people when something goes wrong. Indulging in a blame culture leads to finger-pointing, and team members become more interested in avoiding blame than working together!
When an issue inevitably occurs, focus on fixing the problem rather than jumping up and down about what caused it. After the situation has calmed down, you can investigate more closely what may have been the root cause.
Blame is easy and can feel good in the moment, because it takes the pressure you feel and dumps it on someone else. However, continuing to do this will only lead to fear, avoidant behaviour and a craving for rigid roles and responsibilities, which have a tendency to reduce teamwork.
Pointing fingers also doesn’t look good for leaders, because it makes them appear to be shirking responsibility.
I’ve found that laying blame is a common approach taken by insecure leaders, who are low in confidence. Self-assured leaders seldom need to lay blame. Instead, they can take the hit themselves and work with their teams to avoid it next time.
Encouraging teamwork is a great way to create a safe, enjoyable and productive team environment. A team that works well together shares knowledge, takes pressure off each other and builds trust.
Isn’t that the type of team that you’d rather be leading?