Knowing how to best encourage teamwork and collaboration is key to reaping the benefits in your company. But without careful planning and practice, it’s easy for your teamwork and collaboration initiatives to go off the rails. Mario Moussa, a professor in the executive programs at The Wharton School of Executive Education, Derek Newberry and Madeline Boyer, lecturers at the Wharton School of Business and senior consultants at Percipient Partners offer these tips for avoiding common collaboration-killers.
1. Know what makes a good team
A high-functioning, successful team doesn’t just happen by accident or by chance. Throwing a bunch of random people together could work, in the hypothetical, but it’s better to understand the components of great teams and make sure you’re filling those needs. “Great teams, we found, are really good at having open, honest and transparent conversations about their work, their progress, their failures and their successes – it’s about psychological safety and trust,” Moussa says. If you don’t have that as a foundation, your team’s not going to work no matter how many rockstars you put in the same room.
2. Overemphasizing abstract goals
Transcendent goals, like “changing the world” are a great motivator and can be incredibly inspiring, and they can make your team’s work feel more meaningful. But don’t overestimate the importance of aligning personal and individual priorities when setting goals, says Moussa. “When teams overestimate the importance of inspiring vision when setting goals for their team, they risk not paying enough attention to aligning personal priorities with those bigger goals. If team members don’t understand ‘what’s in it for me?,’ it can be hard for them to commit to working towards team goals,” he says. Make sure that you have both big, collective goals as well as small, personal and individual commitments to drive performance.
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3. Underemphasizing roles
Again, don’t think that just putting your best people on a project together will guarantee success. Find out which roles are necessary and carefully select people to fill those roles, Moussa says. “Maybe you’re put on a project and discover that you need a marketing element, a hard technology element and a project manager to make it all go smoothly. Focus on filling the roles with good people, and maintain that structure,” he says. Well-structured teams generally outperform those with more raw talent-strength, skill, or IQ. Take time to find the roles and structure that make sense for your team, according to Moussa, Newberry and Boyer.
4. Making too many rules
Moussa, Newberry and Boyer’s research shows that the tendency in teams is to try to plan for every possible situation and create rules for all potential contingencies. This is both time consuming and ineffective, and it diverts energy away from the actual task at hand while impairing people’s ability to work together, Moussa says. Focus on the few rules that are likely to have the biggest impact on your team’s culture and performance: those that determine the how, why and when of information-sharing, decision-making and conflict resolution and let the rest go.
5. Ignoring reflection
Don’t fall victim to outcome bias, the belief that, if you’re successful, you don’t need to reflect on what went well, what didn’t and how to remedy the shortcomings. Reflection is as imperative when things are going well as they are when they’re going wrong. Making time for check-ins, status reports and open, honest conversations is key to successful teamwork, Moussa says. “Over time, your progress, your priorities and your commitments can change. That’s why it’s so important to have regular check-ins to reaffirm the goals, the status and progress. These don’t have to be all-day affairs, either; a few minutes or a weekly stand-up meeting works just fine,” he says.
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6. Failing to sell the change
Teamwork is successful when every member is on board with shared purpose, goals and strategy. Strength of will and charisma are not enough to push through change or to motivate teams to succeed, Moussa, Newberry and Boyer say. You’ve got to communicate about why your project or initiative is important and how teams can best contribute to these shared goals, Moussa says. “You have to get buy-in so that teams want to come along with you. Today’s work world is flatter – there aren’t as many hierarchies — and it’s faster, more fluid and more project-based. This makes it even more important than ever to get teamwork right,” he says.