Teamwork 9 minute read Written by Psychometrics Teamwork combines the skills and abilities of people to accomplish things that would not be possible for individuals to do on their own. Good teamwork is when people work well together – and this requires team members who can share their ideas clearly, understand others, and find collaborative solutions. The most productive teams are made up of diverse members. While it may take them more time to understand each other, they produce better outcomes and are rated as more effective in very tangible ways: Organizations with diverse boards generate returns on equity that were 53% higher, on average, than less diverse boards. They also generate 14% higher earnings, on average. Organizations with women on the board display better average growth. Diverse groups perform better than homogenous groups when making decisions. Groups with new and different viewpoints achieve better results than homogenous ones. To take advantage of diversity, teams need to make constructive use of the differences amongst their members. This relies almost entirely on the most mislabeled abilities – soft skills; which actually are some of the most difficult skills to develop. Team Communication Communication is the foundational skill required for teamwork. It is the ability to reach and be reached, placing it at the heart of working with others. When communication breaks down, work breaks down. Yet our research shows that poor communication remains one of the most common pitfalls for people. This challenge has only been exacerbated by the shift to teamwork online. The main reason why people have problems with communication is because they do not adjust what and how they communicate. Instead, they operate out of instinct or habit, failing to adapt to the needs of their audience or the specifics of the situation. But it doesn’t need to be this way. There are three principles of communication: Good communication is what works for the audience. Meaning lies with the receiver, not the sender. Good communication requires thoughtful consideration of content, method and frequency. Without some initial reflection, communication becomes a hit-or-miss affair, which quickly becomes frustrating for all parties. To avoid this, here are some questions that team members need to ask themselves: What are the needs of my audience? What method of communication is most appropriate for this topic or situation? How will I check with others to ensure we are on the same page? Effective Change Management Teams that are effective at managing change have two common characteristics: They recognize that people are different and need to be treated as such. Everyone on the team understands why the change is taking place. It is no surprise that people are different from each other. Yet teams that struggle with change often forget this simple fact. As a result, they assume that all the team needs to effectively work through change is the proper planning and focusing on tasks. Effective teams understand the psychology of change and recognize that success requires being people-focused and flexible. When a team recognizes the different needs of team members they can better engage and support each other – this results in a shared understanding. When each team member knows why the change is taking place, it removes uncertainty and helps them apply their skills to making it successful. To get better buy-in and understanding for change, teams should be able to answer the following questions. These questions will address the different needs of people during change and help the team understand why the change needs to happen. What is the global situation that explains why the change needs to be made? What is not working and how will the proposed changes help? What values drive the change? How will peoples’ needs be addressed? What is the logic behind the changes? What are the pros and cons of the alternatives? The ability to help others understand why is especially true for dealing with crises. Our research on the personality characteristics of employees and leaders during times of upheaval showed that employees desire to create some structure among the uncertainty, while executives push for higher levels of flexibility and adaptability. This difference creates significant friction and stress – which can only be alleviated by recognizing individual’s needs and building a shared understanding of why change is happening. Team Conflict Resolution Conflict is inevitable, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. Effective teams manage conflict in a productive manner, and it results in stronger overall team performance. And the results are sustained, not just short-term. Effective conflict resolution improves trust between team members, promoting increased performance. Also, addressing conflict requires that more voices are heard and perspectives are considered. These are two drivers of team innovation, as well as a foundation of diversity in the workplace. However, leaving conflict unaddressed results in both morale and productivity deficits. Strong teamwork skills will help you address disputes in the most common situations where conflict can arise, such as when you are trying to plan ahead for future tasks and goals, make decisions about challenges that your team currently faces, completing day-to-day tasks as a group, dealing with unexpected and arising issues, and implementing changes. Keep in mind that you will see disagreements more often when addressing situations where flexibility or adaptability is needed, as these tend to be higher stress situations also. Since the nature of conflicts are so different, a variety of approaches should be utilized to find a resolution. Here are the five conflict handling modes as identified by the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI®) and when they should be used: Avoiding – You disengage from the conflict. The best approach for diffusing a heated situation. Competing – You satisfy your needs at the expense of others. This is the mode for situations where a quick decision is required. Accommodating – You satisfy the needs of others at the expense of your own. This is a great approach when harmony needs to be maintained, or if you realize that your ideas are wrong. Compromising – You partially satisfy everyone’s needs. It is most appropriate when you need to make a decision under a time pressure, or the situation is too complex to come to a full agreement on. Collaborating – You find a solution where everyone gets everything that they wanted. This is the best approach for generating win-win outcomes and generating long-term solutions to complex issues. Stress Management in the Workplace Did you know that working with a team can help you manage your stress better than if you work alone? Your team can be a support network, and strong relationships become a source of morale and encouragement within the team. On the other hand, what happens when you see a teammate struggling? Effective teams support each other when any member is facing challenges. When it comes to solving problems and overcoming challenges, multiple perspectives are typically more effective than just one. Stress impacts the capacity for teamwork in a cyclical way. Increased stress from too much work or too little support starts to build resentment of management and teammates, even if the challenges have nothing to do with other individuals. This impacts how the person will interact with others, starting a cycle of negative interactions with teammates. This lack of trust creates a break down in communication. Whether it’s shutting down or hyper-focusing on how they’ve been wronged, team members become more hesitant to share with each other. This results in further misunderstanding and conflict. Finally, teams stop supporting each other. Less information is shared and silos are created. Both of these factors lead to overall decreased performance within the team, driving resentment between all parties. How can you create a team environment with less stress? Encourage well-being practices. Stress can be contagious, but so is well-being. By prioritizing activities that promote well-being for yourself (and maybe your team too), you could be the source of a well-being boost within your team. Put a focus on employees’ personal growth and development. Investing in personal growth and development is often considered the first step in unleashing creativity, enabling potential, and supporting sustainable productivity. Ensure there is time to disconnect outside of work. The “Always On” environment doesn’t work. Establish standards and limits within the team to promote rejuvenation outside of the work hours. Exercise empathy and compassion. It doesn’t cost anything, and the benefits are well-established. Having empathetic and compassionate support significantly improves employee performance and engagement. Share your vulnerabilities and the challenges you are facing. By being vulnerable (especially if you are a leader), you model that being human is ok. Being authentic helps build trust with others. Also, your team may have ideas that can help you with the challenge at hand. Building Relationships in the Workplace “People need people.” By nature, humans are social beings. However, people differ in the amount of interaction that we need with others, as well as how large of a group we are comfortable interacting with. This impacts the way that we will build connections with others, as well as how deep we are looking to build these relationships. While there are a number of theories as to what factors influence the strength of relationships, it’s a common finding that strong relationships result in effective teamwork. Teams with stronger bonds often see benefits such as improved task performance, increased trust, reduced conflict, and reduced stress. There are a few ways to build strong team relationships: Build trust within the team. It always starts with making each other feel psychologically safe: Create an environment where it’s ok to make mistakes. Support each other. Recognize each other’s efforts. Give credit where credit is due. Make sure that you’re giving an honest effort too. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Be transparent with each other. Offer and accept constructive criticism. Address conflict before it becomes an issue. Ask for help. Harness the skills and talents of your teammates when you are stuck or could benefit from their perspective. Collaborative Problem Solving The advantages provided by solving problems as a team are often overlooked. Many leaders assume that a quick decision made independently is the best one but forget that there are many benefits found in solving problems as a team. Discussing challenges with multiple people encourages and improves communication within a team. This act of complex communication often results in improved bonds and increased trust within the team. It also results in increased understanding about the challenge or task at hand. By discussing the issue, it brings up different perspectives, reducing the risk of having a single perspective dominate the decision. This increased understanding also results in greater buy-in towards the decision or solution, as everyone contributed to the outcome. These different perspectives also become the catalyst for creativity and innovation. How can your team effectively solve problems? Clearly define the problem that you need to solve and its underlying causes. Use “Blue Sky” brainstorming to generate ideas. Include others in the decision-making process. Remember that popular doesn’t always mean ideal. When evaluating potential solutions, don’t ignore people with different opinions. They may be seeing something that others have missed. Adopt a mindset of continuous improvement. Instead of looking for quick decisions, consider solutions with long-term merit. For more information on building effective teams in your organization, or to speak with one of our in-house I/O psychologists, contact us today.