As we kick off a new year, we’re finding that 2022 brings with it continued but daunting challenges. The global pandemic has seen another surge, and many workplaces are experiencing the “Great Resignation,” making it challenging to both recruit and retain talent. Leaders find themselves tasked with ensuring their teams are working collaboratively, remotely—and, often, striving for near-impossible targets.
It’s a good time to pause and consider how we as leaders are engaging with our teams. We’ve spoken to a number of clients who are currently taking stock, asking: “Where are we strong? Where have we faltered over the past year or two? And most importantly:
“How do we need to operate to be successful in the coming year?”
If you’re anything like the leaders we’ve worked with recently, chances are your goal is to have a team that works as one: transparent with one another, collaborative, and effective at resolving conflict. Research suggests that these things can be fostered through team cohesion. And for that, we have a few ‘New Year, New Team’ resolutions you can consider:
1. Make time for your team members each week.
When work becomes increasingly hectic, the first meetings we cancel are often those with team members. We can become hyper-focused on delivering on client or stakeholder commitments and prioritize results over people. Although it might be necessary in the moment, consistent failure to touch base with individuals can create misalignment and hurt engagement. Especially in remote work groups, communication must be intentional and goals frequently reiterated. There’s no time like the present to reprioritize your team. As Jacqueline Carter and Rasmus Hougaard recently put it: “Leadership is about people….if you find that you are ‘too busy’ to focus on supporting and developing others, you have a problem.”
Action: Proactively schedule meetings with your team members for the entire year (or at least a couple of quarters out) and hold this time sacred. Whether that involves meeting with a couple of team members each day or allocating one day a week to connect with all individuals, aim to meet with each person for at least a half hour every other week (depending on the size of your team and needs of your people). Of course, things will always come up, but reschedule immediately rather than ambiguously postponing, and try not to reschedule the same meeting more than once. Your goals here are twofold: to send the message that your people are important to you, and to make sure they’re operating the way the business needs them to.
2. Find more moments to bring the team together.
Like we mentioned above, team effectiveness first starts with team cohesion. In other words, strong teams are built on a foundation of trust, respect, and even camaraderie. It’s these positive relationship elements that keep teams effective through stressful situations…like, say, a global pandemic and complete shift in workplace protocol. One way of helping the team build these relationships is to get them talking more often on both work and non-work topics. When facilitating team sessions, we like to start with an exercise that gets folks to open up and share something personal, but not excessively vulnerable. We ask, “What is a value instilled in you since your youth, and how does it guide you now?” Or: “What is something about your background that your colleagues might be surprised to hear?” It’s amazing how this simple exercise gets colleagues—even those who have known each other for years—to empathize and connect on a deeper level.
Action: In addition to full-team meetings, build in extra moments for the team to connect. Consider starting your Monday staff meeting an hour later, giving folks time to catch up with each other before diving into the week’s tasks, or a monthly social event (for non-work interaction). Ask round-robin style prompts where each person has to share, whether it’s a challenge they faced that week, an update on their project, or a funny anecdote.
3. Create a 2022 Team Compact.
With organizations throughout the world experiencing high turnover, your team at the start of 2022 may look very different than the team you will end 2022 with. Nevertheless, a fresh new year can be a good time to engage the team in creating “rules of the road” for how everyone will work with each other.
Action: Ask team members, individually, to consider a few questions about the team’s performance. For example:
- “In what ways has the team been successful this past year?”
- “What are you proud of about this team?”
- “What one thing, if improved, could take the team’s performance to the next level?”
Then, bring the team together to discuss and create a list of new behaviors, values, or norms the team should establish moving forward that members can commit to. These commitments should be actionable, specific, and measurable.
We also understand it can be difficult to get a team to engage truthfully around these topics. If your budget allows, consider bringing in an outside resource to facilitate these honest conversations. In our own work consulting to teams, we’ve found that setting ground rules as objective facilitators often allows the leaders to engage as one of the group—it invites transparency in a way that builds cohesion.
4. Cultivate understanding of team dynamics.
Our work involves helping leaders, as well as team members, understand how their behavior can show up and impact others. Often, we leverage personality instruments, as these can provide a common language for people to discuss their behavior and how it emerges in the workplace. For example, take a team we’ve recently worked with, who were having trouble aligning their efforts. There was redundant work, foggy accountabilities, and they weren’t showing up to the rest of the business as a united front. Imagine then, their aha moment when they learned that, according to personality tools (i.e., Hogan Suite), half of them were inclined to prioritize speed and agility while half preferred slow and thorough decision-making. They simply had different motivational drivers. Now, when they action-plan as a team, they account for this with specific deadlines, contingency plans, and communication tools.
Action: Identify if your organization has personality-based tools that your team can take. Partner with your Talent or HR organization to administer these assessments, and use the results to foster conversation among team members about how they can better collaborate with each other. In our experience, these meetings have often allowed individuals to express vulnerability, build awareness, and partner with their colleagues to create better working relationships.
It continues to be a difficult moment in our working lives (and arguably, outside them). People are feeling burned out, disengaged, and even simply overwhelmed. A high-performing, cohesive team with shared accountability for results makes it that little bit easier on everyone. What’s more, it equips the organization with the fortitude required to continue surviving – even thriving – through uncertainty.
How has your team grown or evolved over the last year? What best practices do you use to foster trust and collaboration? Share with us in the comments below!
This post was co-authored by Jasmin Martinez.