Building high performing teams is an opportunity that most companies, nonprofits, boards, leaders and talent management departments are challenged by. After all, in the middle of managing daily operations and seeking out emergent opportunities, it can be easy to overlook team building.
It’s typically only after notable challenges occur within or between teams that organizations look to team building activities (often in the form of a one-time group activity) to right all of the existing wrongs. While these events can be effective, team leaders, nonprofits and talent management departments should not overlook the day-to-day management of team dynamics.
MIT released a study a few years ago that broke team performance into a science. They identified that the major difference between highly successful and less successful teams was communication.
Specifically, high performing teams had high energy around communication. MIT defined energy as the number and nature of exchanges among teammates. An exchange could be a comment or acknowledgment—like a head nod. High performing teams also had high engagement, meaning all members participated, and engaged in exploration, meaning they sought outside feedback.
When you’re building an effective team, these are important behaviors to replicate. The question is: How do you manage team dynamics to encourage these behaviors and ultimately, create high performing teams?
Supporting Ongoing Team Building in Your Company, Nonprofit or Board
1. Choose wisely. One of the first steps in managing team dynamics is to understand what roles need to be filled. What skills are needed? What responsibilities will each person have? What environment will they operate in? Identify candidates who would be good fits for a team based on their skills and motivations.
2. Understand team members’ preferences. While selecting talented people is ideal, skill alone is not enough. It is important for the team to be able to interact. To support strong communication, create opportunities to understand how each member prefers to think and behave so you can foster an environment that supports everyone’s preferences.
For example, let’s say two team members are internal processors (what we call first-third Expressiveness), and the other three are external processors (what we call third-third Expressiveness). External processors are likely to share exactly what they are thinking, while internal processors may stay quiet. Knowing this is helpful because the team can commit to allowing space for thought before jumping into a discussion or making a decision, or all could agree to send out agendas before meetings (this is a good practice no matter what) so everyone can be prepared to give input.
3. Commit to open communication. “The squeaky wheel gets the grease” isn’t a great model for team building. Create an environment where all team members feel encouraged to contribute. If you are not hearing from a team member, look at their Profile and take the time to understand why. Are conversations becoming heated debates, and this individual prefers a peacekeeping environment? Do they need more clarity around their role within the team?
Find out what is going on and help change the team dynamics so that everyone has an opportunity to provide input.
4. Encourage cognitive diversity. Seeking differing opinions is great for business. The Harvard Business Review recently shared an article that discusses how teams solve problems faster when they are cognitively diverse.
Encouraging cognitive diversity within your team and seeking opinions from people outside of your group who offer another perspective can help identify blind spots and improve the services you deliver.
5. Make time for team building. As teams expand, grow and change, they will likely experience challenges, and it is important to regularly make time for team building. Consider training workshops like the Power of WE that can help set specific action plans to improve performance and build trust. For in-depth experiential team building, consider events like WEtreats and off-sites that can give teams a chance to connect outside of work and focus on practices or team norms they may want to bring back to the office. These events can serve as powerful complements to ongoing programs. The point to remember is that team building requires attention, so use one-time events in partnership with ongoing training to see better results.
6. Get to know each other as people. Studies, including MIT’s, have proven that when team members get to know each other, performance improves. Give team members opportunities to connect. Consider how to celebrate successes (and reflect on failures) together. When teams make these actions a regular practice, they tend to be more cohesive.
When teams implement these six approaches into their day-to-day engagement, they will be well on their way to strengthening communication and building a high performing culture.
So, the next time you are evaluating a team building program for your company, nonprofit or board or looking for ways to improve team performance, ask yourself how the programs you are considering will strengthen communication. If you can see the connection, it could be a great investment. If you can’t, you might consider moving onto the next option.
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