Improving Team Cohesion and Collaboration

During a recent coaching call with a senior executive at one of the big 4 banks in South Africa, the question of team cohesion and collaboration in a post-pandemic world, was raised. Top of mind for this leader – as for many others – was the realization that the future of work is already happening and that we aren’t ever going to get back to a situation where all of the members of a team are necessarily co-located in one venue, much less necessarily in the same country or even time zone.

With more and more people choosing to work remotely and with the inclusion of flexible staffing models, leaders are faced with a potential dilemma in that they are unsure of how to improve cohesion and collaboration in remote teams and how to ensure that teams are motivated and engaged.

We turned to local author and global HR Thought Leader, Deborah Hartung for some input and advice on this topic.

Deborah avers that,  although it may seem challenging to ensure team cohesion and collaboration when individual team members are scattered across time zones and geographical locations, it really isn’t all that complicated and it’s most definitely not a new concept. It just feels new to those of us who haven’t been working this way prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.  Having written about this very topic in her book Talent Liberation, Deborah shared some insights gathered by Google during their 2 year long study of 180 teams, conducted as part of Google’s Project Aristotle.

Google set out to establish just what makes some teams exceptionally successful and what causes others to fail. What they found, was that it doesn’t really matter whether teams consist of the best and brightest or whether they are co-located or globally distributed. In order to be truly successful, teams need:

  • Psychological Safety

No matter who we are or where we are from, it is a basic human need to belong to the tribe and to feel that we are accepted and we are part of things. The most successful teams create environments where every individual team member is appreciated and celebrated for their strengths and unique abilities and where everyone feels safe enough to be vulnerable, to take risks and to admit to mistakes.  Great teams have no place for the politics, gossip or back-stabbing that so often plagues our workplaces. Instead, diversity is celebrated and disagreements and conflicts are resolved in a progressive manner that improves relationships and performance.

  • Dependability

Having each team member be 100% responsible and accountable for their portion of the work, leads to improved performance due to higher levels of trust and dependability amongst team members. Each person can be relied upon to do their best and to deliver their piece of work on time and at a high quality. This can’t happen unless everyone is clear on their roles and responsibilities – which brings us to the next point.

  • Structure and Clarity

Individual team members on the most successful teams, have absolute clarity about the team’s goals and their individual goals. They know what their role is and what is expected of them, by when and at what standard.

There is clear, open communication and regular feedback instead of hoarding information and working in siloed isolation.

  • Meaning

If your work was utterly pointless and didn’t align in any way with your personal values or your life ambitions, would you still want to go to work every day and give your best hours and all of your physical, emotional and intellectual energy to your job and your team? Of course not! People crave meaningful work that challenges them and provides them with opportunities to learn and grow.

  • Impact

People often perform better when they see that the work they are doing, matters in some way and that it is improving lives or creating positive change. The best leaders are able to show individuals the positive impact that their work is having – even if it doesn’t always feel that way to the individual.

It doesn’t matter where your team members are located or if you have skills gaps or developmental areas in your team. What matters most, is that everyone knows what is expected of them and how they are contributing to the end result in an environment that celebrates diversity, individualism and vulnerability.

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