Working with a client recently, the group discussed the difficulty of creating truly effective teams.  They work in a fast-paced industry and say they have little time for team development inside the office.  They also experience relatively high turnover, a standard for their industry and market.  They have tried a few “team-building” events outside of the office, but they don’t seem to gain traction.

This is such a common story.  I hear versions of this across industry, from large and small businesses and from non profits.  What can you do?  In our discussion, we came up with an approach we think will work for them.  Maybe this approach will work for you as well.

It boils down to this:

  • Shared Values
  • Shared Expectations
  • Shared Experiences

Shared Values for effective teams

Shared Values

Are the values of the organization clearly identified, communicated to staff and lived out by the leadership?  Have current employees had a chance to create and shape the company, department or team values?  Do the values support the mission of the organization and help create the desired culture?

If you’ve worked with me you understand that I don’t suggest people spend time on Mission, Vision and Values just for the sake of having something to hang on the wall.  Unless these things are sincere, tangible and relevant they are useless.  It’s one of the reasons so many people groan when they find out they are going to a retreat to do strategic planning or “Revision” or any other jargon consultants can come up with.

The products of these processes are so often useless, that many people see the effort as a waste of time.  Rather than having a perfectly worded document that looks good on the website, do your guiding statements capture who you are as an organization and what type of culture you want to create?  If they do, you’ve taken the first step in welcoming new members to a culture they can understand and choose to participate in.

Shared Expectations

Does everyone know what is expected of them on a day-to-day basis?  Are expectations applied across the board?  Do the people in your organization have permission and the level of trust required to hold one another to these expectations?

One great place to check for shared expectations is in your on-boarding process.  Do your policies and procedures align with reality?  Often, hearing what co-workers say to new employees in the first few days on the job will give you amazing insight into this.  If you hear things like, “I know that’s how they say we do it, but…” or “That’s not really how it works,” or “They don’t really understand our work,” there may be significant opportunities to address expectations.  If written policies and procedures don’t align with reality, it can have a dramatic negative impact on the cohesiveness and performance of teams inside your organization. One hint: It takes a seasoned leader to understand if it’s the written policy or the actual behavior that needs to change.

Shared ExperiencesEffective Teams

There is just no substitute for shared experience when building a team .  When managed correctly, teams who have worked together, failed together and succeeded together are stronger.  Think of the best departments or teams you’ve been part of.  Almost always, there is some event, some struggle, some story that jumps out that made the team closer and increased cohesion and performance.  Does your culture support shared experiences and opportunities to cement those experiences with reflection or celebration?

It is also really important that employees have opportunities out of the the office to share experiences.  Whether those are social events, lightly structured team bonding opportunities or targeted team development events, it is key that your people spend time together away from the pressures of day-to-day work.  Not all of your employees will value this initially, but if these times are managed well and structured appropriately, the time will be much more valuable than you may expect.

Building strong teams is not rocket science.  But, it does require a sincere commitment, an effective plan and consistent effort.

Jerritt Johnston is the Owner of True North Consultants, which promotes organizational, individual and team growth through challenging, fun and relevant activities and processes.  True North is an Authorized Partner for Everything DiSC®and The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™.