How important is a cohesive team? According to Harvard University, it could mean the difference between life and death.
In 2006, Harvard published a study to determine the effect working as a team has on one of the most skilled positions you can have: a heart surgeon. They found that the overall performance of heart surgeons (measured as patient mortality) improved when they were able to work with their consistent team, rather than with unfamiliar people.
Now, your team may not literally save lives, but the principle remains the same: a team isn’t just a group of individuals who happen to be working on the same project.
No matter how skilled each team member is individually, without the cohesive team dynamic he or she won’t be anywhere near as effective.
And that can make a big impact on your company’s bottom line — and your own career.
Ready to learn how to manage teams to perform at peak levels?
1. Show how much you care
In almost every group, you’ll find both star performers and those who prefer to keep their heads down. But managing a healthy team means showing each member how much you value their contribution — even if they’re not headlining the show.
Surprising no one who’s ever held a job, a study by the American Psychological Association found an extremely high correlation between feeling valued and doing your best work. Of the employees who reported feeling valued, 93 percent said they are motivated to do their best at work and 88 percent said they felt engaged. For employees who did not feel valued, those numbers drop to 33 percent and 38 percent respectively.
And that’s nervous-making news when you’re talking about retention and turnover rates.
A lot of factors go into making your employees feel valued: verbal and written appreciation, recognizing their contributions in front of others, and overall compensation and benefits. You don’t have to go overboard handing out gold stars, but do try to look for small ways to make your team feel appreciated each day.
2. Encourage non-work chat
Work time should be for work talk, right? But studies show that it’s important to help your team create relationships that go beyond the daily grind at work. Gallup engagement surveys have regularly found that employees who reported having a best friend at work were happier and more productive on the job.
Veena Sidhu, CEO of Mindvalley Engage, considers building relationships one of the biggest parts of his management agenda. “When you know your colleagues on a personal level, you will start to appreciate them as a person, and working together is suddenly easier,” he writes on the company’s blog.
To that end, Sidhu holds weekly team lunches where work-related discussions are off the menu. This helps his team feel more connected to one another, which improves their communication skills and the effectiveness of the team overall.
3. Focus on the feedback
Being a manager means giving and receiving feedback — both positive and negative. From an individual employee’s performance to reining back in a project that’s going in the wrong direction, it’s up to you to, well, manage.
The key to giving and receiving good feedback is to start with a culture of openness. When your team members know you have their best interests — and the best interest of the team — in mind, they won’t perceive negative feedback as quite so personal.
On the flip side of the coin, building a team culture of openness and trust means being willing to take feedback yourself. Create and advertise an open door policy so that your team knows they can always come to you with questions, concerns, and frustrations.
4. Manage your team’s talent
As a manager, you’re also a mentor. And one of the most impactful things you can do for your team is to help nurture their individual talents.
Have regular conversations with your team members about their goals and how they would like to see themselves grow professionally, then help them get there through mentoring, courses, and trainings. These could be around technical skills that your team needs to master, or even interpersonal skills like communication or creativity.
Nurturing your team’s talent in this way not only will help them do their job better, it can increase engagement and loyalty with the company. In fact, one survey by CEB Global found that the number one reason people quit their jobs is because of a lack of career opportunities.
This is especially true when you’re managing millennials, who are increasingly looking for professional development opportunities in their jobs.
5. Be transparent
Transparency is a powerful tool to manage teams.
What does being transparent look like in practice? For a clue, let’s look at the company culture of Buffer. Two bullet points that stand out in their “Default to Transparency” section are:
- “You always state your thoughts immediately and with honesty.”
- “You share early in the decision process to avoid ‘big revelations.’”
Basically, keep people plugged in to what you’re thinking and planning. That way no one is guessing what anyone else is thinking — (which always turns out poorly) — or kept out of the loop when it comes to making decisions.
As Kenneth H. Blanchard writes in Collaboration Begins with You, “When people don't know what’s going on, it’s human nature for them to imagine a version that’s ten times worse than the truth!”
Along with making behavioral changes, the communication tools you use as a team can also encourage transparency. Use shared documents to take meeting notes, and chat channels like Slack to hold discussions. Make sure all decisions and resources are easy to access, and that everyone knows when they’re updated.
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