While this interdependency creates the potential for the whole to be more productive and creative than the sum of the parts, it can just as easily be a recipe for frustration and conflict.
So how can you help your team get the most out of working together?
Sarah Lewis is a chartered psychologist and author of ‘Positive Psychology at Work’ and she has five tips to help you get your team working more effectively:
Create a positive working culture
Very few people like to be in an atmosphere that is critical, hostile, unfriendly or cold. Yet many teams manage to create precisely this culture because they overly focus on achieving the task and fail to account for basic human nature.
Research over the last 10 years has convincing backed up what many of us intuitively knew; a good working atmosphere makes a huge difference to a team’s productivity. What the research found is that the key to the difference between high performing and low performing teams is the ratio of positive to negative comments in team meetings. Interestingly this doesn’t need to be balanced, it needs to be weighted in favour of positive comments, at least by a ratio of 3:1.
When people feel good they are more able to think well, be creative, and to work with others.
Help people play to their strengths
Many people have put much effort into attempting to address their weaknesses over the years – to little avail.
However recent thinking is that attending more to our strengths will reap greater benefit in terms of performance improvement. This is because when we are using our strengths work feels effortless, we are energised and confident, we are engaged and probably experience moments of flow.
Help your team members discover their true strengths and then find ways as a team to utilise everyone’s strengths to achieve the team task. Think of your team as an economy of strengths, and work out how to create extra value by trading your strengths.
Create commonality amongst team members
Teams are often made up of people with different skillsets and areas of expertise that tend to see the world, and the priorities for action within it, differently. This can lead to a great awareness of difference, and the differences can come to be seen as insurmountable. Yet at the same time there will be areas of commonality amongst team members, often in the areas of core values and central purpose.
A very productive way to access these commonalities is through the sharing of stories. When people are asked to share personal stories of their moments of pride at work, or moments of achievement or success, or the part of their job that means the most to them, they are expressing their values and sense of purpose in an engaging, passionate and easy to hear form.
In the best scenarios, as people share their highlight stories, a sense emerges in the room of ‘wow, these are great people I’m working with here, I’d better raise my game!’
Move from the habitual to the generative
Groups can get stuck in repeating dynamic patterns. When this happens listening declines as everyone believes they know what everyone else is saying – they’ve heard it all before. And so does the possibility of anything new happening. To break the patterns we need to move from rehearsed speech to generative speech.
To help the team make the shift you need to ask questions, or introduce activities that mean people need to think before they speak, that brings information into the common domain that hasn’t been heard before. Positively or appreciatively framed questions are particularly good for this. So too are imagination based questions, or example ‘If we woke up tomorrow and we had solved this dilemma, how would we know, what would be different?’ Sometimes just getting people to switch from their habitual seating pattern breaks old and creates new dynamics.
Create Future Aspirations
When teams suffer a crisis of motivation or morale it is often associated with a lack of hope – a lack of hope or belief in the possibility of achieving anything.
In hopeless situations we need to engender hopefulness. Appreciative Inquiry as an approach is particularly good at doing this as it first of all discovers the best of the current situation, unearths the hidden resources and strengths of the group, and then goes on to imagine future scenarios based on these very discoveries about what is possible.
As people project themselves into optimistic futures clearly connected to the present, they begin to experience some hopefulness. This in turn engenders some motivation to start working towards those more aspirational scenarios of how things can be.
By using the techniques described above it’s possible to get a stuck team moving again and a move a working team from good to great.