Sports teams aiming for the ultimate prize in their particular sport will have seen lots of images of other teams holding up the trophy, celebrating and sharing their reward for winning and this allows them to imagine what it will be life for them to win. Likewise, we all need to be able to imagine what success for our team will be like.
How will we feel and look?
What kind of expression will we wear?
How will our team share its success?
While a shared goal creates a bond between team members, it is not enough on its own to really unite the team. On teams, people bond in much the same way as in day-to-day life, by engaging in simple activities together outside of work-time. Sharing mealtime and break-time have long been shown to be one of the simplest and most effective bonding methods.
Shackleton recognised the importance of shared mealtimes for team members (from Tom Crean: An Illustrated Life by Michael Smith)
The Polar explorer, Ernest Shackleton, made shared mealtimes a priority for the men on his expeditions. It was during these times that the team members had the opportunity to share their stories, ideas, and concerns and to engage in humour which is such an effective de-stressor. In the workplace, break-time is often the only regular period that people have to chat and get to know each other better.
Especially in today’s world of online communication, the opportunities to talk face to face with our team are becoming less and less. When we interact directly with each other, we connect in a way that doesn’t happen online, starting with the simple fact that we have to look at each other with no screen to ‘hide’ behind. Additionally, multiple studies have found that tea and coffee breaks not only give us a chance to break away from the demands of work but also create a space for exchanges between people which have been found to have a positive effect on productivity.
Proper preparation for teams is vital and involves good training and skills acquisition. When a team trains together, it makes it possible to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the team. It also allows us as individuals to identify our own strengths and weaknesses. It is incumbent on the team as a unit, and on us as individual members, to ensure that we have the necessary skills and training so that neither team members nor the achievement of the goal is endangered.
While there must be unity of purpose and vision on a team, we must also allow for difference and individuality in team members. There is room on each team for a diverse range of people who express their passion in different ways. On teams, we should allow personalities shine through and make space for good inter-personal relations to develop. We shouldn’t assume because someone is, for example, introverted, that they don’t have the same passion for the goal as an extroverted person. Good team members can be lost if we don’t recognise that they have the necessary want and skills, even if they don’t conform to the stereotype.
When a team reaches its goal, it is a time of great emotion. It is very important when the goal has been achieved to celebrate as a team and to honour the input of each member. There is often a sadness or anti-climax after the high of the celebrations and we need to recognise this is a normal part of the process and allow space for the sense of loss that comes when a team has fulfilled its aim and dissolves.
The foundation blocks of effective teams are:
- a shared goal (the cornerstone on which to build the team)
- clear communication
- proper preparation and training to ensure each team members has the skills they need for their particular job
- recognition of the individual contribution of each team member bondedness
- shared stories
- space for individual creativity
- recognition of and respect for the emotional life of a team