How to Build Teamwork: 45 Tips
How to build teamwork?
You've had teamwork pounded into your psyche since you were a four-year-old budding soccer phenom.
Now that you're not a soccer star at all, but a concerned office inhabitant, you're still trying to figure out teamwork—how to build teamwork and how to keep it going when the combined behaviors of your very human team seem determined to derail it.
Download our free white paper, "4 Teamwork Trends To Beat Your Competition," to find out how excellent teamwork will set you apart from your competitors.
Most likely, you've seen teamwork accomplish great things. You've probably also seen the lack of it bring failure and shattered relationships in its wake. But can you put your thumb on what exactly creates and sustains great teamwork? Does it just come down to inspiration leadership? Or is there something more to it?
It turns out there's a lot more to teamwork—more than we can chronicle here in one post—but whether you're a team manager or team member, the following 45 tips should give you more than enough fuel to start improving your team's teamwork today:
1. Ban Micromanaging
Plainly said, micromanaging is kryptonite to teamwork. Instead of empowering each team member to know the team's objectives and act to their highest capacity to accomplish those objectives, it puts all decisions and control into the hands of one individual.
In the meantime, if the team puts up with it, micromanaging infantilizes the rest of the team and cripples their ability to manage and make their own decisions. If the team won't put up with the micromanager, mutiny will be imminent.
Are you a micromanager and, therefore, a threat to your team's teamwork? Flip through our SlideShare below and find out:
2. Let Everyone See What Everyone is Doing
It's hard to lend a hand to your teammates when you don't know what they're doing or where they're overrun with work. Unfortunately, office workers tend to keep track of their own work in email or spreadsheets—places where it can't be seen by their manager or teammates.
With each person's information locked away in their own personal silos, no one has visibility into anyone else's needs.
Fortunately, this problem can be fixed by keeping each person's work information—what they're working on, how much of their bandwidth is being consumed with each assignment, and what they have coming up—in a public space where the whole team can see it.
A whiteboard or a shared Google spreadsheet, for example, are a good way to start doing this.
3. Track Your Team's Time
Following tip number two, you need to see how each member of your team is spending their time. This isn't to police team members or bust them for wasting time.
On the contrary, it makes it way easier to establish how much work your team is doing, how much time each kind of work takes, and when they've taken on more work than they can handle.
Just as a forewarning, your team members will likely exhibit some skepticism and even hostility toward time tracking. But once you show them the benefits, they will warm up to it. This SlideShare will help you make this process easier:
4. Respect Their Work Time
Are you the kind of manager or cubicle-mate who just can't resist dropping in on a co-worker to ask a question or chat about the weekend? If you are, you need to stop.
According to a recent Workfront survey, 37 percent of office workers blame interruptions from their co-workers for bogging down their productivity.
If you're really serious about helping your team do their very best, you need to set boundaries when it comes to others' work time and then respect those work times.
To accomplish this, some teams go as far as to block out weekly "no-interruption" times on their team calendars, during which no one is allowed to call, visit, IM, or call a meeting with their teammates.
5. Make Sure Everyone is Sharing the Load
This seems like a no-brainer, right? Then why do so many teams fail at it? Why do you often have one team member with nothing to do and one who has to come in on Saturdays just to keep their head above water?
You might be inclined to think this is the result of selfishness or "just the way things are." Most often, however, the problem is a lack of visibility. As I've written in a previous post:
"You can't control demand unless you know how much demand you're getting. This means not just the number of projects in your queue, but potential resource requirements on each of those projects."
Once you start tracking what everyone is working on and how much time it's costing them, you can see who on your team is overloaded or underloaded and adjust assignments so everyone is pitching in. It's instant teamwork!
6. Cut Meetings
"Blasphemy!" you might say. But the numbers show that an over-abundance of meetings is actually killing teams' productivity. According to one survey by MeetingKing:
- 37 percent of employee time is spent in meetings
- 70 percent of meeting attendees bring other work to do during meetings (a sure sign that meetings are wasting time)
- 20-50 percent of meeting time is considered wasted
Do meetings provide together time that teams need for bonding purposes? Maybe. But if your team members, after giving a huge chunk of their day to meetings, are scrambling to catch up on their real work, then the benefit of so many meetings to teamwork is dubious at best.
7. Keep Meetings Focused
Of course, the occasional meeting has its place in the workplace, but you better make it an effective one. Workfront blogger Heather Hurst offers this advice:
"We already know that meeting attendees' attention spans are pretty short. Make sure what bandwidth they do bring is dedicated to the task.
Cell phones and laptops can be a huge distraction, and the vast majority of people agree that it's inappropriate to answer calls and read or send emails and text messages during meetings…
[S]taring at a phone or laptop is not only disrespectful to the team, but it's also counterproductive, resulting in questions or instructions that have to be repeated because someone wasn't paying attention."
So put away the phones, laptops, tangents, and chitchat for the duration of your meeting. Aside from not annoying your team members with another protracted, unproductive meeting, you might actually improve team member bonds with a new jolt of effectiveness.
8. Be Present and Attentive
Teamwork is impossible when people think you don't care about them.
Rather than being that person who tears around the office, constantly absorbed in the next meeting, the next quarter, the next campaign, blind to the human beings in your midst, be that team member who takes time to give their full attention to each conversation.
When team members see you listening to them, they will be more likely to buy into your teamwork-building efforts. As old-fashioned as it may sound, teamwork is the result of a group of people who care enough about each other to work together.
9. Enable Work Flexibility
Teamwork works best when each team member feels like they're trusted to do their best. Whenever possible, this should include the schedules that team members are held to.
Our recent "Work-Life Imbalance Report" found that 69 percent of workers wanted more flexible work schedules to improve their work-life balance and their productivity.
The same report found that 82 percent of those who use technology to work from anywhere said they are more productive because of it. Perhaps more importantly, the trust that this shows to team members will give a boost to teamwork.
10. Respect Your Team Members' Personal Lives
Again, the way team members feel emotionally about each other has a huge effect on their ability to support each other as a team. Managers or team members who disrespect or ignore the personal lives of their co-workers will find that others just don't want to work with them.
This includes such practices as calling co-workers outside of standard business hours and expecting an instant response or demanding that a team member cancel a personal vacation to see to a so-called urgent matter.
Respondents in our "Work-Life Imbalance Report" made it clear that team members need time away from work. In fact, 89 percent agreed that getting calls from their employers after hours was not cool.
11. Don't Make Overtime Your Team's Go-To
Too often, teams that don't have a clear view of what everyone is working on will just keep working until the work in their queue gets cleared out—and that usually means overtime.
The problem is, overtime becomes their go-to solution for their chronically clogged work queue and they work overtime every week. In some industries, this over-reliance on overtime has become "just the way things are." (We're looking at you, advertising agencies!)
If you have even a little experience working in teams, you know that overworked, burned-out people don't historically work well together. This fact makes chronic overtime a teamwork killer.
On the other hand, teams that adopt a "no overtime" or "overtime in emergencies only" policy will maintain a much better sense of teamwork.
12. Don't Rely Too Much on Email for Team Communication
Because email is such a common offender, we're calling it out specifically here. Email, which used to be a communication miracle, has morphed into a time hog.
According to our Marketing March Madness survey, the average worker spends 25 percent of their day in email-related tasks—sending, replying, organizing, etc.
Does this mean that email should be abolished altogether? No, there will always be a place and time for it. But you need to be mindful of using it in the right situations.
For instance, if you have several pages worth of information to convey, don't send out the War and Peace of emails.
If you need to give your boss a quick update (one to two paragraphs), email is okay.
At any rate, beware of the power email has to not only keep your team connected, but also to decrease their effectiveness. Think twice before you hit "send."
13. Plan Together
Teamwork starts with buy-in from your team members.
If the first time team members hear about your plan is the moment they receive a final plan document or a stack of assignments from you, you can kiss that buy-in goodbye.
Want to build teamwork? Get used to sharing and collaborating. This lets all team members weigh in on team plans, express any misgivings they have, and finally give it their blessing.
Taking this step at the beginning of each year or quarter will smooth the path ahead and let your team anticipate opportunities for teamwork.
14. Practice Early Detection of Work Fatigue
Take care of your teammates by learning to recognize when they're overrun with work and could use a helping hand. Unbeknownst to many teammates, these opportunities are lurking all around us, like the Shuffler here...
To see other workplace zombies you need to be on the lookout for, check out the entire "Working Dead" infographic.
15. Understand What Motivates Team Members
What makes your team members happy? The answer won't be the same for every team member. For instance, males tend to be motivated more by compensation and their interest in their work, while females are driven by their workloads, advancement, and the people they work with.
16. Give Back Together
If you've never tried team service activities, you'll be amazed at how much your team can bond during one of these.
Perhaps it's because service activities have a way of dissipating those petty office conflicts and politics in favor of the greater good. Or maybe it's just the good feeling that everyone gets when they help someone in need. Whatever the explanation, service tends to make teams tighter.
Where to start with planning a service activity for your team? It can be as simple as a call to your local United Way or homeless shelter. Here at Workfront, we hold annual cleanups at local national monuments and camps for disabled youth.
17. Waste Some Time Together
Team lunch. Impromptu ping pong matches. Group chocolate tastings (yes, we've done this). Nothing cements those team bonds—and members' willingness to work together—more than stepping away from work to enjoy some recreational activities together.
18. Make Team Communication Count
More communication is not always better. Burying your team in excessive communications via phone, email, or IM will not only build resentment between you and your team members, but also make them more miserable and less effective.
Studies have found that knowledge workers who are constantly engaged in text messages, email, and phone calls lose 10 IQ points on average.
With this mind, you're much more likely to build teamwork by choosing your communications carefully, maintaining awareness of how much you're putting it out, and how it could impact your team's sanity and productivity.
19. Play to Generational Strengths
It's no secret that Millennials don't play well with some of their older co-workers. And there's no love lost between some Baby Boomers and their younger counterparts. According to our most recent "State of Enterprise Work Report," however, each age group has something positive to bring to their work team.
Millennials, for example, are rated as most creative and tech-savvy. Generation X is known for their problem-solving skills and friendliness. Baby Boomers are hailed for their rock solid work ethic.
Those teams that can identify the strengths that come with every team member, no matter what their age, can build on those strengths to foster mutual appreciation and better teamwork.
20. Avoid Smothering Your Team in Software
Did you know 42 percent of workers have six to 10 software solutions open on their computers at a time? And then there are those 18 percent who have more than 10 open at a time.
"So what's wrong with a little multitasking?" you ask.
It's not the multitasking that we're especially concerned about here (although it's been proven to not be the virtue we've thought it was). It's what happens to your work information when you're working in too many applications. It gets spread out and becomes really hard to bring back together.
With your work info spread out, you can't get a clear picture of who is working on what. Without that clear picture, real, proactive teamwork can't exist.
21. Stop the Finger-Pointing
When crisis strikes, instead of turning their collective efforts to solving the problem, team members can turn inward on each other. This quickly devolves into the opposite of teamwork, as stated by Shelbi Gomez in an earlier post:
"Before you know it, your team, department, or even organizational culture becomes toxic because nobody feels safe—and there's no trust. So, what do you do when your project team becomes plagued with pointed fingers?
Projects are so risky by nature that setbacks and failure happen more often than not and when stakeholders want answers… it's hard not to find someone to blame."
22. Get Social Tools
Teamwork thrives where team members are in constant contact with each other, partly because this creates almost real-time visibility into what each person has on his or her plate. Weaving social tools into your team's processes is a cheap, easily adoptable way to get this constant interaction.
Says one report from Dell and Intel:
"As cheap connectivity shatters physical boundaries and facilitates the free flow of information, ideas, talent, and other knowledge resources, the world of work is being redefined and traditional expectations of workers, managers, and organizations are being challenged."
You won't find a tool more readily adopted by your team than social media. Studies have found that 83 percent of project managers agree that social media tools improve their work.
23. Recognize Team Member Accomplishments Consistently
When team members are praised for outstanding performance, they're more likely to stretch themselves in the future to reach their own goals or to help a team member in need.
But be careful with praise and rewards: if they are administered with even a hint of favoritism and arbitrariness, they could engender resentment and skepticism in your team and undermine your efforts to build teamwork.
The only way to effectively give praise and rewards in a way that builds teamwork is to do it i a deliberate, transparent, structured way. Criteria should be clear and indisputable to everyone involved.
24. Recognize Team Member Accomplishments Swiftly
"Efforts can be ineffective when recognition comes too late," said Sharon Roux, chief operating officer and partner of The Summit Group, a Salt Lake City PR firm, in our recent post, "6 Ways Managers Can Be Better at Recognizing Team Accomplishments."
Don't wait too long to reward or recognize team members for good performance. Just as willy-nilly recognition can breed lack of confidence or resentment, so can a late response.
25. Measure Morale
With the right tools in place, team performance is easy enough to track, but what about team member attitudes?
A team member in a funk can hurt not just their own effectiveness but that of their teammates.
You need to keep a close eye on your team's morale. If you are in a management role, one of the best ways to do this is to conduct regular one-on-one meetings with each team member where they can talk freely about their work and anything else that's on their mind.
If you want more tips on how managers can keep an eye on their team members' well-being, check out our post, "5 Ways to Reduce Employee Turnover."
26. Don't Start Until You Know What You're Working On
Nothing kills team morale—and the teamwork spirit—and turns people against each other like starting on a project but then realizing no one knows what they're supposed to do.
A study by ASAPM found that 60 percent to 80 percent of project failures come from gathering insufficient requirements up front, in addition to other factors.
On this phenomenon, G. Chandrashekar at the ProjectSmart blog commented:
"Innumerable studies have shown that requirements gathering is the single most important step… It's far more expensive to fix a requirements error than a coding error.
But somehow everyone seems to believe that a requirements specification document is the easiest part to produce… It can't be further from the truth.
No one ever built a good structure without the right foundation. Make sure that you take time to gather the requirements fully and analyse them in depth."
So force your stakeholders and your customers, internal and external, to give you all the information you need to complete your project—or risk tearing your team apart.
27. Keep Stakeholders at Bay
Speaking of stakeholders. As much as you want to keep them happy, it is a mistake to allow them to contact your team members directly about projects.
Consider, for instance, a creative team where a designer is working on a logo design for the vice president of sales, in addition to innumerable other project for other people.
In an effort to move the logo design along, Mr. VP of Sales might be tempted to hover over the designer, breaking their productivity and creating frustration. You might be tempted to let them, because of their position on the company totem pole.
If you are a manager, however, and you value your team's unity and productivity, you will place yourself between your designer and the vice president of sales. Stick up for your team, and they will be loyal to you and their teammates in the future. They will also, without those interruptions, become more productive and focused.
28. Celebrate Together
Hard-driving, high-performing teams have a tendency to meet or exceed their goals and then charge right into their next big project, without taking a minute to celebrate their win.
This represents a missed opportunity to strengthen team bonds and increase team spirit. In some situations, this can even build resentment in those team members who tend to be motivated by a little recognition (see number 23).
So rent out the local bowling alley. Order a cake. Take your team out for happy hour. Whatever method you choose, make sure you take a minute to celebrate what your team just accomplished.
29. Get Off of Spreadsheets
You thought it was a great idea. Just pass around a spreadsheet and have everyone update their information. Or better yet, store that spreadsheet in Google Sheets or on a shared folder and have everyone update it at their leisure. Best of all, you don't have to pay for a new solution.
What could go wrong?
Unfortunately, teams that rely on spreadsheets to manage their work tend to suffer from the poor visibility mentioned above.
Some teams have been known to take so much time to update these spreadsheets that, by the time everyone has had a chance to make their updates, the information is already outdated.
And then there are those teams that pack so much work info into one spreadsheet that their spreadsheet crashes regularly.
Want to see just how much using spreadsheets this way can cost? Download our ebook "The Unnerving Cost of Using Email and Spreadsheets to Manage Work."
30. Agree on Priorities Together
Remember number 13? No one wants to be assigned stuff without having a say in it, and no one wants to have priorities imposed on them without having a saying in the matter.
In fact, the quickest way to create disagreements about what your team should work on is to play dictator and simply apply priorities to the team unilaterally.
Take time to sit down with your team and agree together on how you will decide what projects get worked on and which ones get pushed back.
This isn't to say that managers should allow team priorities to be decided democratically. But they should certainly let team members speak their minds before the decision is made.
31. Get Your Marching Orders From the Top
It's easy for personal preferences and alliances to take root in teams and then tear them apart at critical decision-making moments.
That's why everyone needs to come to a mutual understanding of what their team is supposed to do and be, ideally from someone higher on the org chart than you or any one member of your team. This approach to team priorities has several benefits.
First, it removes the arbitrariness from the exercise of choosing priorities. Second, it gives everyone on the team a higher point of focus removed from "well, this is just what our manager wants." Third, it ensures everything your team does is aligned with the direction of the rest of the company.
32. Communicate Priorities
When priorities aren't clearly communicated to the whole team, they can feel arbitrary—even when they aren't. So let your team know exactly how you will decide what gets worked on. Publish this information so everyone can refer back to it when necessary and share these priorities with stakeholders.
33. Communicate Assignments
Seems basic, right? When something is assigned to a team member, you email or call them or stop by their desk to let them know. Then how do so many teams experience confusion as to who is working on what?
The origin of this problem lies in how this information is often communicated and how it is stored.
If done via email, an assignment can be buried in an inbox and forgotten. If done over the phone, you lack written documentation to refer back to. A desk visit might get you eye contact but, once again, there is no documentation that the assignment ever took place.
Flat out: you can't have organized teamwork unless you know what is assigned to each team member.
So your recovery effort has to focus on communicating assignments in a clear and unmissable fashion and then storing that assignment information in a place that your team can see into at any time.
34. Communicate Urgency
"When is this task due?" While this seems like such a basic question, the answer remains elusive for many work teams, and this problem can unravel your team's unity.
Our recent "State of Enterprise Work Report" found that 71 percent of work conflict comes from a lack of understanding about which tasks are most time-sensitive, among other things.
35. Get a Single Source of Truth
Have you ever found yourself in a meeting where one person argued the merits of their report versus that of the guy across the table? Even the most sophisticated teams can find their teamwork destroyed by a case of "my numbers are better than your numbers."
And when those numbers are coming from different sources, that is always going to be a threat to your team's ability to make sound, unified decisions.
The answer: choose one source of truth that everyone on your team will agree to abide by.
For instance, marketing teams need to choose one leads report and then ignore any others. Creative teams should work in one work management solution to track what they're working on, what has been completed, and what's coming up.
Lack of teamwork can come from personality differences or educated disagreements, but it should never be over discrepancies in your data.
36. Keep Score
We keep using the word "arbitrary" here and that's because arbitrariness is at the root of the confusion and frustration that ruins teamwork. But the opposite is also true: setting up structure and rules makes teamwork flourish.
One big way to remove the ambiguity behind your team's work is to develop a scorecard system. In engineering and IT settings, scorecards are used to determine how valuable an incoming request is versus other requests a team could be working on.
These scorecards employ objective, point-based systems so that emotion and other immaterial factors are taken out of the equation. The same concept can be used by other kinds of teams.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of using a scorecard system is that it provides a definitive measure for what the team should be working on and a rallying point for all team members to gather around and lend a hand.
37. Focus on Creating Business Value
In the course of trying to perform well in the business world, teams can get a little distracted. They can start to think that they exist to outperform the team next door. They can get tricked into thinking they exist to pull off their next promotion or to get public recognition from the CEO.
These ideas are inevitable, but they need to be constantly trimmed to keep teams from getting off track.
So why does your team exist? Plainly put, your team exists to create value for your business.
Teams that focus on creating value for their company—and clearly demonstrating that value to the company—will always go right. Interestingly, these teams tend to be the ones that also get the recognition, job security, and praise everyone pines for.
38. Record Your Team's Communications
So much of the health of your team can be seen in their communications with one another. Unfortunately, most team communications pass by in a flash, forgotten in your inbox before your day is through, much less later when you want to understand what caused that project failure or what led to your latest project success.
Ron Rosenhead at PM Hut has long recommended that work teams build communication "into the overall project plan," instead of treating it as something outside a project's organization, and "capture lessons learned all the way through the project—to be shared within the team and within the company."
Of course, teams will need to designate one place where all work communication is captured and cataloged for future reference. This might be a shared folder or a project management solution.
39. Stop Managing and Start Mentoring
"The greatest good you can do for another," Benjamin Disraeli once said, "is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own."
Want to build trust with your team members and build a solid foundation for teamwork? Show an interest in their career development.
If you are the team lead, this might mean taking off your manager hat and putting on your mentor hat, taking opportunities to train your team members and supporting their desires to gain additional education.
40. Adopt a More Democratic Work Methodology
"Agile marketing is getting more and more popular among teams that need to break work down and increase productivity," Workfront work management blogger Raechel Duplain has said.
"With an Agile approach to creative work, your team can keep a backlog of all their work requests and choose which work needs to be incorporated in the next one or two-week sprint. Then, all your team members will have the ability to see the big picture of what needs to get done each week and can keep their momentum going."
While every organization needs to find the work methodology that works best for them, some methodologies, like Agile, are more democratic than others. These methodologies, by their nature, help each team member feel more ownership and control over their own and more likely to reach out to other teammates for help.
41. Say "Thank You" and Say it Often
It's all about positive reinforcement. Unlike assembly line workers of old who could be motivated by threats and the thought of losing their livelihood, today's knowledge workers thrive when their work is recognized.
So first, put mechanisms in place that allow you to see your team's achievements. Then when they do hit their goals and blow out their quotas, sincerely express your thanks for a job well done.
42. Tear Down the Culture of Busyness
Remember what we just said about rewarding according to their performance? That last part is important, because too many managers reward team members based on how harried they look, how often they are the last in the office, etc.
This is a problem because those things aren't always signs of high performance. Sometimes they are a sign of the exact opposite: poor time management, excessively heavy workloads, etc.
Blogger Tyler Ward puts it this way:
"Though we all have seasons of crazy schedules, few people have a legitimate need to be busy ALL of the time. For the rest of us, we simply don't know how to live within our means, prioritize correctly, or say no.
Busy, it would seem, is a self-fulfilling prophecy."
Stop buying into the superficial—and frankly, outdated—cult of "busyness." Set up tools that allow you to see who is actually getting their work done on time and within budget. Set up tools that show you who is focusing on not only getting work done, but finding ways to make your whole team more effective.
43. Take the Surprise Out of Ad Hoc Work Requests
Few things throw a grenade into your team like ad hoc work requests. Boss stops by at 3:00 p.m. on Friday and needs a special PowerPoint deck in his hands by EOD. Stress breaks out instantly amongst your team members. No one wants a piece of that request.
Whoever gets stuck holding that hot potato gets resentful.
In his book, Getting Things Done, David Allen says:
"If you let yourself get caught up in the urgencies of the moment, without feeling comfortable about what you're not dealing with, the result is frustration and anxiety.
Too often the stress and lowered effectiveness are blamed on the ‘surprises.' If you know what you're doing, and what you're not doing, surprises are just another opportunity to be creative and excel."
So how will your team deal with ad hoc requests? Will you set aside time every week to work just on those inevitable ad hoc requests?
Find a method that works for your team and your stakeholders and you'll actually find that ad hoc requests can be opportunities for teamwork, instead of issues that undermine it.
44. Don't let Failure Become the Status Quo
Consider this stat, which comes courtesy of PMI: 70 percent of projects fail. This is financially costly for companies. But it can be fatal for teams.
When too many of your projects fail to reach completion on time or within budget, it's easy for your teamwork and confidence to go out the window. Team members get defensive. Loyalties wither. For some teams, their entire identity comes to revolve around failure.
45. Get Some Structure
By now, you're likely picking up on this idea: your tools and processes have a huge effect on your team's teamwork. Or the lack thereof.
That's right—teamwork isn't strictly the result of touchy feely hand-holding. It's hard to get everyone working on the most important stuff when your team is swamped in chaos. Your team can't come to the aid of a team member when they don't have the tools to see who's overloaded.
So although we've already said it again and again in this post, I will reiterate it one more time: get your team enough structure to see who's doing what and what's coming up next.
See our post, "How To Help Management Understand Your Team's Contributions: 5 FAQs About Metrics And How They Can Empower Your Team," for more advice on taking your team to the next level.