Teamwork is one of the most powerful forces in any modern workplace. When it works, it’s a beautiful thing. Trouble is, while a united, company-wide approach to business is a proven success driver for senior managers and HR departments – delivering benefits everywhere from innovation and creativity, to efficiency and ROI – it can be tricky to facilitate for a whole range of reasons.
Team building in a modern workplace
The growing reliance on external contractors and specialists is one major complication, with each person bringing their own culture, processes, motivations and politics to the wider team dynamic. Modern managers have a delicate role to play here, providing a conduit between these often disparate parties to keep things on track. It’s quite a skill, akin to international diplomacy at times. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t.
Another big factor is the impact of the increasingly casual workforce on the physical team and workplace. Whether in an office, a factory, a worksite or even a retail showroom, historically teams have been able to come together, face-to-face, relatively easily. Today it isn’t so simple. Many employees – sometimes even managers themselves – are no longer physically present on a regular basis. This has a fundamental impact on the way teams operate. For one thing, it demands far greater planning and organisation from managers. It also creates a heavy reliance on technology to facilitate collaboration and keep the team connected, wherever its members happen to be.
While every team dynamic is different and presents its own challenges, here a four key strategies to keep in mind.
1. Communication counts
Great teams invariably have great communication. Whether it’s through face-to-face meetings and/or Skype calls, regular WIPs, the use of real-time project management software – or a combination of them all – do everything you can to keep the communication lines open at all times. Encourage all employees to contribute as equals, speaking openly and sharing their ideas freely with the wider group on an ongoing basis. It’s also important to ensure external consultants have access to the information, data and systems they need – so they can do what you’re paying them to do!
2. Clarity is critical
Problems can quickly arise in a team situation when the task, objectives or process is unclear. To nip this in the bud, clearly outline roles and responsibilities right up front, and set out defined goals - preferably in writing - both for individual employees and the team as a whole. With greater focus, there will be far less chance or misunderstandings or 'shifting goalposts'.
It’s inevitable there will be communication breakdowns and differences of opinion in the workplace. While a certain amount of conflict can be very healthy for a team, be sure all discussions take place respectfully and that a clear conclusion is always reached. In the case of an impasse you may not be able to keep everyone happy, but you must at least ensure everyone’s view is heard.
Chemistry can have a huge influence on the success of any workplace team. Think long and hard about how different individuals, and suppliers, are likely to work together, both from professional and personality perspectives, before engaging them in your project. While you may not be able to avoid all potential conflicts, at least you can be prepared for them. Another thing to consider is how and when to bring your team together. Sometimes it may be wise to use smaller groups (teams within the team) to help keep certain team members apart!
Ultimately, managing a workplace team is a delicate juggling act that will present many new challenges to navigate and overcome. While there’s no single solution, one thing is very clear. As business teams continue to change and evolve, so must the HR departments and managers who oversee them.