Roffey Park’s 2014 Management Agenda research highlights factors such as an absence of trust in the organisation and a culture where people actively avoid accountability as key impediments to effective team working. In fact, nearly six in ten managers reported that team members rarely challenge the unproductive behaviours of others in their team.
At the same time, organisations appear to be undervaluing the power of effective teams with only one-third of HR managers reporting developing teams as an important area of knowledge, and only 12 per cent of line managers stating that it is one of the top three challenges they are currently facing.
Yet teams are the Formula One cars of the workplace: high performing, but high maintenance and requiring high attention and expertise. But given the results can be extraordinary, how can you ensure your team is working effectively?
Trust with a capital T
It is virtually impossible to work effectively in a team without trust – it is the glue that holds the team together. Our Management Agenda research highlights the absence of trust as a key factor in team functioning with 35% of managers reporting they rarely admit their weaknesses and mistakes, over one-quarter are also rarely comfortable in discussing their personal lives with their teams. Without the willingness to be vulnerable, trust is hard to establish. And without trust, it is hard to have the frank and open conversations where differences are aired and worked through productively.
A common purpose
We know that organisations with a clear, common purpose increase their employee engagement and productivity and the same applies at a team level. As a team manager, you cannot expect your team to work together if they don’t know what they are working towards. Setting a clear, common goal that is linked to your organisational strategy will bring individuals together. Embed this by including team objectives as part of your overall performance management and ensure that individual targets are not given priority, so you do not have the situation where team members are actively competing against each other.
It is important to keep connecting what happens on a day to day basis with what the overall purpose is. People can get so focused on the task they can lose sight of what the outcome relates to. The ability to hold that bigger picture and remind people as and when needed key to keeping up motivation and commitment.
The Management Agenda research also showed that the most negative team results related to team members’ unwillingness to challenge unproductive behaviours. Individuals need to understand what is expected of them and of others, and to trust in you to do what is necessary when this balance isn’t right. This relates back to trust. If you haven’t established a climate where tough conversations can be had in a respectful way, then unhelpful behaviour can go unchallenged. Everyone in the team needs to be confident that all feedback is aimed at behaviours and not at them personally. It’s also helpful to make giving each other feedback, positive and negative, a normal part of how the team operates.
Use conflict proactively
Conflict is one of the biggest barriers to team performance. Conflict is inevitable; when two or more people get together there will be differences in background, opinion and approach. However, line managers should avoid being the referee in conflict situations, but encourage team members to take joint responsibility for resolving conflict and providing support in order for them to achieve this. Often this is about helping each party see the merits in the other’s position and working out how to use the difference effectively. Harnessed correctly, conflict can be the stimulus for creativity and innovation.
Balanced roles, responsibilities and workloads
Especially with more matrix working, project based roles or virtual teams, getting the right balance can be a challenge as there is much less visibility. Often managers will keep their heads down and assume everything is fine unless someone shouts. However, there is too much of a risk of people getting disgruntled, bored, or overloaded and going off sick or handing in their notice to leave to chance. If checking in with the team around these issues is made a regular feature of team meetings or 1:1 conversations then it is much easier to respond positively then having to react to a crisis.
And don’t forget the individuals
Of course, we know that teams are made up of individuals, but it can be easy to forget that they will all have different development needs, drivers, talents and goals. It is vital that as a team manager you spend time with each member of your team when you aren’t just talking about tasks and objectives. Learning to coach, to ask good quality open questions and really listen to the response, can be an extremely effective way of supporting and challenging each of your team members to really give of their best.