Lay the foundation before you begin construction. In my experience, the most successful teams invest time in laying the foundation to create a common framework for everyone. The building blocks are in the team infrastructure and team dynamics. You may get started by addressing the following: What is the purpose of the team; their function in relation to the business goals; the actual team goal? I recently posed these questions to a newly formed team of 17 people and got 17 different perspectives. Don’t assume everyone is on the same page until you have the discussion.
Make the team aware of the four stages of development. Those stages are: forming, storming, norming and performing. Explain that the team will progress and digress depending on multiple variables such as turnover and change. Ask the team which stage of development they see themselves and what needs to occur to move to a higher level.
Take a team “pulse.” This can happen in a couple of different ways. One way is through an initial team survey that generates data on how members perceive team functioning and interactions. A survey will include topics such as commitment, trust, communication, and conflict resolution. Administer the survey at least quarterly to determine progress and team development priorities. Another way to take a team “pulse” is to have periodic frank discussions about what is working and what is not. Practice regular, informal conversations that keep communication channels open.
Assess. Identify a tool to assess behavior work style (such as DISC) of each team member. This exercise invariably illuminates each member’s style preferences, their team contributions, and gives everyone information to adapt and work together more effectively. For most people this creates an “ah ha” experience that is pivotal in fostering understanding and communication.
Push Pro-activity. Don’t wait until there is conflict to establish a team charter. A charter, generated by team members, should specify guidelines and behavioral boundaries. This will set expectations and clarify what is acceptable and intolerant behavior. Make it clear that the charter can always be amended. Be sure everyone has a copy. Review it on a regular basis and go through it carefully with a new team member.
Form common skills. Be sure everyone has a common skill base for communication, conflict resolution, problem solving, giving and receiving peer feedback. I find that teams who have these common skill sets are much more productive than teams that don’t. Technical expertise is only half of the success quotient.
Examine Expectations. Are the expectations of team members and the leader clearly communicated? This goes beyond job descriptions. For example, what do people expect to get out of working together as a team, i.e, expression, creativity; what can be expected of their contributions? There is a very user-friendly instrument, Managing Work Expectations, by In-scape Publishing, that be helpful in this process.
Acknowledge unique talents and contributions. Each team member brings value to the team. Point out or showcase various abilities. Take time in a meeting to recognize one or two members. Be sure everyone receives equal recognition.
Build dialogue, extinguish monologue. Aim toward two-way interaction, exchange of ideas, and developing new insights in regular communication. Invite members to ask about others reasoning or thinking and explain how they think of or see a situation. The Ladder of Inference referred to in Peter Senge’s, The Fifth Discipline, is a good starting ground.
Do Some Team-Building. Initially you may consider a series of team sessions that incorporate the suggestions above with team building activities. Once the team is grounded, you may benefit by having quarterly or bi-annual team building sessions. The type of team building you choose, from classroom experiential to rope climbing, needs to match the culture and challenges of the team. There are hundreds of activities that are metaphors for what goes on or doesn’t go on, in the team experience. Whatever you choose to do, be certain there will be valuable learning and fun.
Laugh together. Laughter is a common language the entire team will understand. So legitimize levity among team members and you will likely lessen their stress and build their bond. Create times for people to laugh together and loosen up. This will also stimulate creativity. Consider some of these ideas: start a meeting with a relevant joke or funny story, show a clip of a comedy video tape (or sports bloopers) that pertains to a current challenge; buy everyone a pair of Groucho Marx style nose and glasses.
Celebrate. Provide a continental breakfast or bring in lunch and celebrate for no special reason than to say thank you to the team. Or identify a theme (Mardi Gras, Cinco de Mayo) and ask people to bring in food to share. Play music and decorate the lunch room. Don’t expect employees to gather after work hours. Most people have family obligations and personal commitments.