Have you ever witnessed your best and brightest employees throw coworkers under the bus in an effort to rise up the corporate ladder? If so, it may be time to start studying how to build teamwork.
Choosing collaboration over competition doesn't make your company or employees weak. It helps make your business and employees stronger. (This is easy to forget when your workplace environment is more on the competitive side.)
So if you're thinking that your company should work harder on teamwork and collaboration skills, you may want to try these strategies.
1. Employ a "no gossip" policy.
Hudson Wealth Management in Traverse City, Michigan has done just that.
“One of the biggest culture killers out there is gossip," says Tim Alfieri, a junior partner at the firm.
“Here we have a 'no gossip' policy that everyone has agreed to and signed an agreement on. It is amazing how much this has improved teamwork and the workplace in general," he says.
That hasn't meant that rumors and hearsay have disappeared from the office entirely, Alfieri says, “but we are always putting in front of the team that it is not good for anybody, and the results have been outstanding."
2. Reward your employees for helping their coworkers.
If you only recognize employees for numbers and production, then “you are teaching them that it is in their best interest to look out for only themselves," Alfieri says.
But if you can find ways to make it pay off for people to help others, you're encouraging teamwork without anyone necessarily realizing they're doing it.
For instance, on the communication app the team at Hudson Wealth Management uses, they regularly broadcast acts of compassion and handiness that impressed management.
“At all our meetings we have a time slot blocked off where employees can recognize one another for things they've done to help the team or business," he explains.
When you operate this way, you can tap into people's competitive drive—but you're getting them to be competitive about being collaborative.
“All of our trainers receive a bonus if they are able to help new hires reach their production goals," Alfieri says. "This gives them a vested interest in the success of those we have recently brought on."
3. Include everyone.
Amanda Stemen is a licensed therapist, and the owner of Fundamental Growth, a therapy, coaching and consulting company in Los Angeles. Stemen encourages business owners to make sure that everybody is involved and can offer their opinions in meetings.
Of course, if you have 30 people in a meeting, or it's a company-wide meeting with 3,000 people, you're probably thinking, That could take a while.
If you make everyone's performance evaluation contingent on half individual success and half group success, then everyone gets the picture quickly that it's in everyone's best interest to help others succeed—because it leads to their success.
—Barry Moline, executive director, California Municipal Utilities Association
But including everyone doesn't have to mean going around in a 30-person circle. It could be as simple as having employees fill out questionnaires after meetings, so they can offer their input. Your main mission is to create a culture where everybody feels as if they can offer their input and feel that it's appreciated.
“Sometimes the best ideas come from the newbies or those lowest" in the org chart, Stemen says. "When you support that, they're more likely to feel valued and motivated to continue to do great work, as well as support the company in return."
4. Communicate often.
Communicating often with your employees is very helpful if you want your staff to collaborate with the company's goals, Stemen says.
“This isn't always possible," she says, “but when people understand why certain decisions are made, they're more likely to support them, even if it isn't how they'd handle the situation."
If you regularly communicate how decisions are made, then people will trust your or management's decision, she continues. And that may make them more willing to help out in any way they can.
5. Allow time at work for socializing.
Susan Harris owns the lifestyle blog Rooted Mama Health. She says that before she started her own business, she worked for a company in Raleigh, North Carolina “that was filled with employees sabotaging projects created by other employees in order to make themselves look better."
It made not only a toxic work environment, she says, “but also gave our clients worse results as the employees weren't working together."
The danger of producing subpar work for clients is an excellent argument for why it's important to encourage collaboration.
For those who want a culture where teamwork is prized, Harris suggest employers create an atmosphere where coworkers can get to know each other.
“Every job has work that must be done each day, but often times companies forget about the social aspect of work," she says. "If employees only think about work, it's hard for them to grow a relationship with their fellow employees.
“It's harder to stab a friend in the back compared to someone you don't know," she adds.
Stemen agrees. She often encourages businesses to put in what she calls “play" and “creative expression rooms" in the workplace.
Consider designating a break room where your employees can hang out and play ping-pong with each other, work on puzzles or draw. It may sound like a waste of time and resources, but Stemen says, “there's a ton of research on the benefits of play in boosting innovation, decreasing stress, increasing motivation and creating connection, all of which contributes to a more collaborative environment."
6. Encourage group projects.
You can't really expect your employees to work well together if they aren't given a lot of chances to do just that.
Barry Moline is the executive director of the nonprofit California Municipal Utilities Association. He recently wrote a book called Connect! How to Quickly Collaborate For Success in Business and Life. Moline has structured it so that his staff is involved in a mix of individual and group projects.
“If you make everyone's performance evaluation contingent on half individual success and half group success, then everyone gets the picture quickly that it's in everyone's best interest to help others succeed—because it leads to their success," Moline says.
With that financial incentive, and especially if you have employees who do like each other, it can work really well, Moline says.
But that last part is important, he stresses. People can work together successfully when they barely know each other, Moline says, but it makes a difference—and you'll see better results—when they care about each other.
"When holding staff meetings, take a few minutes to discuss what's going on in each other's lives—kids' baseball games, upcoming travel, a sick relative," Moline says. "It doesn't matter what the topic is as long as everyone shares a bit and no one dominates. It doesn't have to be perfect or touchy-feely. It's not difficult."
Stemen suggests, if you can, whipping out that corporate credit card and offering team-building exercises and opportunities to your employees.
"This is a go-to in most companies, but the key is to incorporate it often and consistently, not just at a yearly retreat," she says.
"Setting aside time each week or even day, if possible, allows employees to connect in less stressful situations that will carry over into more intense work-related situations," she adds.
That may be the most important reason why business owners should learn how to build teamwork and urge their employees to choose collaboration over competition. Working can be intense enough as it is. Wouldn't it be nice to be working among friends who are lifting you up?
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