The “powers that be” are instituting some mandates that I feel are short-sighted, oblivious, and reveal a lack of ground-level empathy for those of us grinding it out every day. It’s just another executive slight that makes me feel like I’m in the wrong place.
My phone rings. It’s my friend Laura. She sits only a few cubicles away, but she still prefers not to walk if she doesn’t have to. She’s ten years older than me and has a pretty bad back.
Laura read the same email I did. I could tell when I heard her audible disgust at the new mandates, too. She’s actually calling me to see where I’m at on the project her and I were assigned, though. We’ve only got two more days before it’s due.
I’m not going to lie. After reading about the new mandates, I was going to blow this project off in protest. That’ll show them, I thought. As if the executives upstairs were suddenly going to recognize how wrong they were after hearing that BJ refused to do his little Excel project.
But Laura’s call snaps me out of my tailspin. I like Laura. And her call reminds me that what makes my day-to-day work life tolerable are the real people I see and talk to each day. Maybe this isn’t my dream job, by any means, but I do work with some great people.
No one succeeds alone. While this phrase is often used as a reminder to reach out when you need help, today, it’s a good reminder that my work affects someone else’s success, too.
Maybe the higher-ups don’t care about whether I finish organizing this new spreadsheet. But Laura does. It’s important to her so that she doesn’t feel stressed. So I tell her, “Don’t worry, I’ll have my stuff done for you by the end of day.”
She hangs up, and I can hear in her farewell “Thanks!” that I’ve taken a weight off her shoulders. Maybe the third-floor suits don’t care about her day, but at least her teammate does.
I miss Laura. But I don’t miss my old job.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work.
Sorry. I couldn’t help myself.
Everyone knows how important teamwork is to finding success. Preaching to the choir, I know. We also know how hard it can be to maintain that sense of community when our company grows and the teams get larger and larger.
The more people you bring on, the more voices you introduce. The more working styles you have, the more opportunity you create for conflict on your team. So how can you maintain that sense of unity and teamwork while adding new faces?
The same way you created the team in the first place: you start small.
We had over two dozen people working in my department at my last job. Within this department were three or four specific teams. And within those teams were smaller groups that often shared specific workflows. Sound familiar?
At a company pushing almost 700 people, it was easy to feel marginalized and forgotten. You can’t please everyone. It would have been so easy for this company to fracture and draw lines based on departmental factions.
But we largely avoided this.
One of the ways that we stayed unified was to stay connected with the individual people that made up each department. No matter how much you felt like one group didn’t work well with your own, someone on our team always knew someone on their team that we could call directly.
Even within our own department, most people made efforts to walk over and talk to each other directly. At the very least, it was not uncommon to pick up the phone instead of waiting on emails.
People there liked each other. And we taught the new people that they mattered as individuals more than job titles.
Invite Your Team Into a Shared Story.
We stayed unified through many changes, mandatory overtime, and high-pressure deadlines because we knew each other on a personal, face-to-face level. We often teamed up with each other to help with daily research, weekly projects, and ongoing gossip-sessions.
Yeah, I know, gossip can be poisonous. But shared complaints can often unify individuals as much as shared celebrations. Fortunately, we also had a great manager who could mitigate the gossip when it got out of hand. Which it rarely did.
Your company is going to experience ups and downs, trials and failures, as well as successes. Letting everyone experience those things together helps bring everyone into the same story.
I’ve worked with plenty of managers who wanted to hide the company blemishes.
It’s like the old-school marketing techniques that refused to let the customer see you bleed. Life was only ever “cupcakes and rainbows,” as Poppy says in the movie Trolls (sorry, I have two kids). We don’t experience failures, we only discover opportunities to grow!
The thing is, that’s not how life works. The sun doesn’t always shine. Which is great because, when it rains, the grass has a chance to grow greener. When you try to cover your company’s blemishes in a shroud of secrecy, what ends up happening is that you create an atmosphere of mistrust and speculation.
In the absence of a clear story, people will invent their own. And when people are left to invent their own stories, they often create the worst possible scenarios.
You don’t tarnish the image of the company by sharing the struggles with your team. You invite them into the shared story of overcoming hardship and winning the day together.
Shared stories of overcoming obstacles unifies a team much faster than any food day.
How to Foster Teamwork in a Growing Company
If you have a team that is growing and you want to maintain that sense of teamwork that you value, I can’t emphasize enough the value of starting small. Smaller projects are a great way for new people to get to know some of your veteran members. And they give you a great opportunity to see each person’s communication style in action.
Successful teamwork creates a shared experience with each member that will help them feel more connected. It’s like performing a play with an ensemble cast. You will always be unified by that experience, no matter how much time passes.
Here are some key things to watch for as your teams start to work together:
How Do They Communicate?
Do they assign specific roles to each other, or freely take on tasks based on their personal strengths?
How do they update each other: face-to-face, by phone, or by email? What seems to be the most successful way they are staying in touch?
Do they speak to each other as friends or co-workers? Is there a hierarchy of communication that gets enforced, or do they talk like they’re all on the same playing field?
When Do They Communicate?
How often does each team talk to each other?
Do they communicate best in the early morning, late morning, early afternoon, late afternoon, or over lunch?
Do they schedule meetings to talk to each other, or do they meet freely as issues or questions arise?
Where Do They Communicate?
Do they get together in conference rooms, in communal areas, or do they just meet at each other’s desks?
Do they stay at the office all the time, or do they like to meet informally offsite?
Are they ever eating lunch together, or do they disappear around noon?
How Do They Handle Conflict?
This is a big one!
When conflict arises, do they talk about it face-to-face, or retreat to the security and distance of email?
Do they clear up misunderstandings individually or wait for the group to talk about it together?
Do they confront the conflict immediately, or do they wait and let it percolate before addressing the issue at hand?
It’s All About Learning Your Teams
There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. The point is that you are learning about the people on each team. With every project, you can learn more about who works well together and who doesn’t. If you know two people on a team have starkly different conflict resolution styles, you can mention that at the beginning so that the team can avoid misunderstandings later.
All this is information that you will learn over time with any team. But by taking a proactive approach early on, you can lessen the amount of time it takes for your people to grow together. And you may avoid some painful conflicts that can fracture a group prematurely.
Hopefully these questions can be useful to you and your team going forward. From my experience, nothing unifies a team like understanding and celebrating the individual people you work with every day.
Since no one succeeds alone, knowing who my teammates are helps me remember to do my part to support them. Because when they feel supported by me, they are happy to support my success, too.
Content Marketing Specialist
LTi Technology Solutions