Move your team from dysfunction to action
When team members don’t get along, it impacts their ability to do great work. That’s why team health is so critical to building a new product, designing a plan, and launching new ideas.
The most fruitful teams know their purpose, what their responsibilities are, and have a sense of camaraderie with their colleagues. When these dimensions align, people perform better (which is good for both them and the company alike).
But how do we get teams to get along? Cooperation doesn’t come at the snap of a finger — it’s cultivated with intention and is the precursor to everything else.
I recently partnered with a global pharmaceutical company that needed to merge two different teams from two different parts of the world. In addition to having major cultural differences, the groups were working in really different ways. My solution? A workshop designed to rally the team, establish a sense of purpose, and co-create a vision of the future that everyone felt invested in, all by employing a few specific methods.
Give people a chance to share their POVs
To build trust and help people feel invested in their work, you have to allow individuals to share their input. I’m not talking about the kind of input that happens during the Q&A portion of a presentation. Instead, you need to level the playing field so everyone can share their original ideas and beliefs. For example, during the workshop for my pharmaceutical client I sought to engage every participant with exercises like:
- Belief & Purpose Statement Definition: Ask individuals to complete the following statement on their own: “We believe _____, We exist to _____.” This should be specific to the purpose of their team. Collect the answers then post them on the wall (each with its own number). Have the group cast votes for their two favorites, then workshop the leading statement until it feels representative and accepted by all.
- Team Values: Have each person quietly write down a list of values — as many as they can think of — then ask them to share their list with the group (while capturing inputs on a whiteboard). Next, have each person choose the three values they think best describe the team from the options listed. Let each person share their final votes with the group, then discuss as a team which values have staying power.
When you give each person air time and a voice in the room, it reinforces that their opinions matter and will be reflected in the outcome of the work, which brings me to my next tactic…
This is a bit nuanced from the last tip, which focuses more on making sure people feel like their voice matters. When it comes to co-creation, the goal is to get the whole team involved in building a future that everyone is invested in, from the outcome to the action plan.
For example, once team members had aligned on their beliefs, values and purpose, they were finally in a space to talk about the future. At this point, I introduced a few ideation exercises:
- Co-create a 1-year plan: Identify the outcomes the team wants to be able to say are true in 1–1.5 years. Have each individual make a list then choose their top 3 outcomes to share with the group more broadly. Post the inputs on the wall, number each, then have each person cast votes for their top two priorities. Follow the same model for a Key Results exercise so you can add a few measures for each top priority.
- Co-create problem statements: Ask each team member to write their own “How Might We” statements for the problems that are most important for the team to solve. Decide if it’s important to keep submissions anonymous, then post each suggestion up on the wall. Let each person rank their favorites and workshop the sole finalist until the group is happy.
Successful co-creation can only happen after the pillars of purpose and value have been established. That’s why it’s so important to create a foundation before moving on to big-picture thinking. By the end of the second day with my newly-unified team, we had already generated ideas for the work they wanted to do and built a 6-month plan to support their vision. Because the team already knew they had shared meaning, it made ideation and exploration more accessible (and minimized friction).
Check-in with people on a human level
I’m a big proponent that people only do their best work when they feel seen and heard. Achieving this can be both structured and spontaneous, and makes a big difference when it comes to the quality of your team members’ contributions.
- Set the tone up front: I love asking the team right away on Day 1 of a workshop: “How do you want to feel at the end of X days together?” It’s not about what they want to achieve, or how much they want to accomplish. Instead, it puts the focus on feeling and emotion (two things that are often ignored in work environments, yet so critical to team success).
- Check in throughout the day: My first order of business on each workshop morning is to ask teams how they are and how they’re feeling. Give each contributor a space to share, then acknowledge where they’re at. Similarly, tune into human needs over the course of the session, recognizing where there might be a tension that has to be diffused, or a team member in need of a 1:1 moment apart from the group.
I talk about this ethos in depth via another article meant to help people feel more comfortable in meetings. The bottom line is this: people who feel seen and heard are more likely to contribute and less likely to hold back their best ideas.
Want more resources for getting teams to work better together? Read this story I recently shared about a dysfunctional team that wasn’t playing well together while undergoing a leadership transition, and how we got out of the weeds. And, as always, feel free to leave me a comment, hit the “follow” button, or learn more about me via my website.