A group of happy, high-performing individuals is not a team. Even if each of the people who report directly to you is highly motivated and wants to do great work, you will still need to spend time actively developing a sense of unity and collaboration to foster a true team-oriented environment. Many managers make the mistake of assuming that just because people are working in the same space or on the same projects it makes them a team by definition. Working in parallel with others is not the same as being mutually supportive and dependent on one another.

Building a team takes time—you can’t expect to complete it during your first 90 days or even your first year. You can, however, learn the components so that you can build up these factors over time.

Here are the top three things you need to focus on as you work towards a team oriented culture:

All effective teams operate on a foundation of trust. Whether you have participated in team sports, or have only known of teamwork in your professional life, you are probably familiar with the concept that the whole team should be greater than the sum of its parts. This principle (known as Gestalt theory) summarizes the concept that each individual member of the team brings certain skills and abilities which, when combined, make the whole team better.

Of all the objectives in this book, building trust among the members of your team will take the longest. Trust is based on pattern recognition. Each person on your team needs to see consistent behavior patterns from you and their colleagues over time to be able to believe a certain person will act a certain way. You can jumpstart the trust building process from day one by committing to the following principles:

1. If You Don’t Know Say So: If your team members know you won’t make things up, and you will admit to what you don’t know, they will be more likely to believe what you say when you do claim to know the answer, and will rely on your word.

2. Limit Your Emotional Volatility: While it might feel good to vent, if you act like the sky is falling all the time, your group will refrain from telling you when there are problems, and you will come across as unstable. Keep your emotions in check, and if you must blow off steam, do it outside of the office.

3. Keep Your Promises: If you make a commitment, stick to it. If you can’t, communicate the change quickly and clearly. The more often you back down from commitments, the more you will erode your team’s trust.

4. Insist on Respectful Communication: Like a parent at the dinner table, you are responsible for maintaining a standard of professionalism in the verbal and written communication within your group. Be clear that you expect and encourage healthy debate, but personal attacks or inappropriate comments will not be tolerated.

While building trust is a long-term process, the benefits of having a trust relationship among your team members are substantial. In the reading list I recommend Patrick Lencioni’s book, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” which clearly articulates trust as the foundation of productive working relationships.

Open Communication
A healthy team will have debates, sometimes even heated arguments. While having these conversations can be great for your team’s creativity, you want to ensure they remain within the boundaries of respectful communication. Challenging another team member’s assertion can help refine an idea and make it more marketable. Coming up with multiple solutions to a problem can get it solved more quickly and efficiently. You will need to mediate these debates to ensure they stay on track, and you should encourage everyone to contribute to the discussion.

In addition to endorsing open communications in meetings and among team members, you should have an open door policy for yourself. Regardless of how much you have on your own plate, you need to practice the discipline of putting it aside and being open to hearing from your team members if and when they need your time. You can always place boundaries on this policy if a particular employee is over-using your availability, but that’s generally the exception rather than the rule.

Being available to your staff for questions, brainstorming sessions, and acting as a sounding board will encourage them to keep you in the loop on issues. Make sure you approach these conversations with positive energy, and focus on using active listening and questioning skills.

Mutually Supportive Goals
In several other posts I’ve talked about the process for setting and tracking goals for individuals and for the team as a whole. As you do this, you should be mindful that if you want your team to work together and support one another, their goals should be in alignment and one person’s goals should never be in conflict with another’s.

Your aim is to encourage your team members to work together where it makes sense, and to share information. If the success of one person undermines another person’s ability to reach their own objectives, they will not be inclined to help their team-mate. It’s your responsibility to review everyone’s goals and determine whether there are any conflicts.

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