I spent a (mercifully) short time on a team with too many people and not enough to do. The boss would dismiss us in the afternoon with a big smile, encouraging everyone to go home and enjoy themselves. Sounds great, right?
Not so fast. Because of this attitude, people were afraid to tackle bigger projects for fear of succeeding and making others look bad. The peer pressure to keep your head down resulted in an unproductive group of people working well below what they were capable of. In fact, we spent so little time working together on larger goals that there wasn’t any sense of being on a team.
While my exact situation might not be very common, many work environments are structured in a way that makes people feel like they’re operating as a silo, not among a larger team. So, if you’re reading this and realizing that it sounds familiar, don’t panic. Instead, take a few steps to fix the situation and get everyone on the path to success. Here are some techniques to help you build cohesion, no matter where you are on the ladder.
1. As a Manager
Working independently has its perks (i.e., people get to do things their own way). But if your employees isolate themselves as a rule, they’ll miss out on valuable input from their co-workers. Not to mention, working together can increase job satisfaction—and happy workers tend to be better workers.
So, encourage your team to ask for feedback, share work in progress, and invite each other to join in on projects. If they have an over-developed streak of rugged individualism, being inclusive may take a little extra effort, but it’s worth it.
Here’s how to get started:
Schedule a kick off meeting where people describe what they’re working on and identify projects ripe for collaboration. Encourage them to choose interesting projects that everyone has a stake in. (Translation: Passing off grunt work won’t build any bridges.) Share the time commitment, goals, and expected business impact. Remember to highlight what’s in it for the team.
If someone comes to you for advice on launching a project, suggest she reach out to her team. Many people find getting started the hardest part of any task, and pulling the gang together for a quick brainstorming session can result in increased creativity and fresh perspectives. Contrary to popular belief, brainstorming can be fun and informal and—bonus!—it doubles as a team building activity. Empower your employee to lead the session by passing along these no-fail tips, as well as experimenting with different approaches as he or she gets more confident.
If yours is more of an email culture, recommend that she send out a project summary with clear questions to answer. A few places to start on almost any project include: Are there other approaches you’d recommend? Why might this project fail? What would you do differently? What am I missing?
2. As a Co-worker
As a team member, you should take it upon yourself to build a collaborative culture—it’s actually not just a job for the higher-ups. A key way you can do this is by supporting your co-workers’ contributions to any larger company projects, especially when they might otherwise go unseen.
For example, let’s say you’re in a meeting and the boss highlights a brilliant idea you had or tough problem you solved. Only it wasn’t just your idea: It was a team effort. Be sure to respond by graciously thanking your boss and emphasizing the contributions of others. Phrases like “I want to thank everyone who was involved” or “Actually the credit goes to a few of us” will earn the respect of your co-workers and highlight your integrity.
Another easy way to stand up for your team is over email. Let’s say you receive a congratulatory message that highlights your contributions—and no one else’s. Respond by adding all co-workers who were overlooked and call out their contributions yourself. If it’s a big accomplishment, add the boss or key stakeholders too. For big groups (and to avoid turning your response into an award acceptance speech), use a team or department name.
For example, you could say, “Thanks so much for your congratulatory email, Bill. The website design updates I suggested wouldn’t have worked nearly as well without our developers’ invaluable feedback.”
Last, but not least, you can always recognize colleagues by adding a presentation slide (or document footnote) thanking everyone involved.
3. As Anyone
It may not always feel like it, but your team is working toward a common goal. If things are fractured and out of alignment, step back and recall what you’re all trying to accomplish. Think about key deliverables and priorities that the whole team is responsible for. Bring everyone together to discuss what success looks like, and share ideas about how you can all work better together.
Here are a few things you can try today: Start by having real conversations with your co-workers. Ask about someone’s favorite sport, where he’s planning to take his summer vacation, or what she did over the weekend. Having something to talk about in addition to work lightens things up and helps you connect on another level. These friendly exchanges will speed up relationship building—just make sure your interest is genuine!
Another option is to organize a team lunch, coffee, or morale-boosting event. You don’t need a big budget: Try a free outdoor concert or brown bag it to a nearby park. When you take away the pressure of rushed meetings and urgent deliverables, everyone can let their guard down. The camaraderie you build outside the office will still be with you the next day.
Company culture is more than something to inquire about in an interview. If your team lacks cohesion, your office won’t be an enjoyable place to work. The good news is that you can get things (back) on track at any time.