Teams that feel strongly connected generally end up more productive, simply because they lean on their mutual respect and understanding of everyone’s strengths and weaknesses to challenge and support each other. Most teams, however, need a little time and guidance to get to this point. And the best leaders lean on a few key strategies (and, perhaps, a few group outings) to help the process along:
1. Ask the right questions of everyone in front of everyone else
Many people — even extroverts — will let someone else speak or lead if they don’t feel quite sure of where they stand with the group yet. Instead, they wait, listen, and figure out how and where they can contribute. By inquiring of each team member in front of the others with questions you know they can answer effectively, you give each person the safe chance to demonstrate their expertise quickly. The more evidence the others in the group have of competence, the more they will trust even the newest team members.
2. Encourage shadowing within the team
Having team members regularly shadow each other gives them valuable insights into the precise responsibilities and skills team members have. They can gain an appreciation for all the intricate steps or knowledge that others provide and get a much broader perspective about how everyone connects to the larger goal. They then can use that broader perspective when approaching their own work or asking relevant questions. Shadowing also reduces the tendency for team members to associate only with members of the team who have similar backgrounds or interests, reducing the “us versus them” mentality.
3. Give targeted kudos where due
It’s common for hierarchical teams to have one or just a few leaders in the limelight, taking credit for or representing the entire group. Giving legitimate praise and appreciation to individual team members reminds everyone that they are seen, and have something valuable to contribute. Doing so also motivates workers because they know they have the potential for recognition just like anyone else, rather than feeling “less than” or otherwise lost in the system of things.
4. Make team members accountable to each other
Accountability among team members is important because it encourages everyone to stay the course, even when things are difficult or less enjoyable. But encouraging people to check in on each other’s progress (in positive ways), pairing up to share work, or having team members discuss what they’d like to improve also bonds teams encourages teams to work hard toward common goals. Team members will also get to know what motivates their coworkers best, which can be useful insider knowledge for any “off” days. The key here is to have clear goals and commitments because accountability depends on measurable, articulable parameters and expectations.
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6. Get out of the way
This is the point that often is difficult for leaders, particularly if they are used to micromanaging. Backing off and letting the team work without you after you’ve set clear expectations demonstrates that you trust them to do their jobs well and get results. Because you model this trust, team members will be more likely to pay it forward and trust each other, too.
Generally speaking, establishing a cohesive team quickly will allow you to get better results faster. People are not cookie-cutter in terms of how much time or other resources they need to feel secure with others, however. So as you try to apply these strategies, be observant and flexible according to the organic feedback you get from the team. The more consistent you are with this type of support, the easier it will be for your team to truly find their rhythm.