July 17 2020 03:51 AM

History shows — and we know — that we are better together! By working well together we can truly accomplish more that we can as individuals. Mother Teresa wisely said, “I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.” Helen Keller cut to the chase by stating, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” By working together, we can pool our collective strengths, wisdom, intelligence, skills, talents, and experiences. By working well together, we can cover for a teammate that is temporarily down by life circumstances... and can support each other when dealing with a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. By working together, we can experience true synergy, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts!

Ways to Work Better Together

The end goal of being better together is to create team collaboration — cultivating a teamwork-focused environment. Experts say — and research shows — that when we create an atmosphere where our team members feel safe, valued, and able to share their ideas and solutions, they become more creative, effective, innovative, and productive. Research from Salesforce found that:

99.1% of employees prefer an open, honest, and collaborative working environment

89% of employees felt a lack of collaboration is responsible for workplace failures

< 50% of employees feel that their employers provide a collaborative environment

So, how do you go about cultivating team collaboration? Here are five key ways:

1) Collaborative Leaders. Leaders set the tone and model what is most important to the team. Collaborative leaders are inclusive in their behaviors and set an example worth emulating. An “inclusive leader” is someone who:

Makes team members feel valued

Ensures equal and respectful treatment of all team members

Gives team members a sense of belonging

Is both confident about, and inspired by, the team’s work

Respects all people regardless of background

Research conducted by the Harvard Business Review found that inclusive leaders who fit this description bring about measurable change to a team’s performance and mindset. The results show that teams with inclusive leaders are:

29% more likely to report behaving collaboratively

17% more likely to report they are high performing

20% more likely to say they make high-quality decisions

10% more consistent at coming to work

2) Shared Mindset and Common Purpose. Leaders can model and encourage a mindset that we need each other, and avoid the “us versus them” thinking that can creep in. Participatively establishing an inspiring common purpose can stimulate the sense of working together we covet. Clarifying our mission (why the team exists), vision (picture of our desired future), and values (what do we believe is important) provides the foundation for a common purpose. Adding specific SMART goals and the Strategies to achieve them rounds out the common purpose we need.

3) Make Giving a Priority. I recently read Adam Grant’s book Give and Take, which provides scientific evidence to back up the importance of giving. Grant shows that the workplace is made up of three types of people:

1. Takers: those looking to receive from others

2. Matchers: those looking to reciprocate as much as they receive (and no more)

3. Givers: those who share without expectation

According to his research, teams that are made up of givers tend to be more productive, creative, and collaborative. Why? Givers do not see success as a zero-sum game. Instead, they look at their teams as one unit who can benefit from the free-flow of information, advice, and support. “Givers,” Grant writes, “get to the top without cutting others down… expanding the pie that benefits themselves and the people around them … in groups of givers, it may be true that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”

His findings are backed up by research from the University of Western Australia. In a study of teams working toward a common goal, they found that interdependence and the willingness to share were vital to a team’s success. In teams where individuals were self-involved and not forthcoming with helpful information, teamwork broke down to an unproductive level, and they eventually became unsuccessful in reaching their objectives. Although the individual maybe stood out, the team fell apart and did not reach their goals. In contrast, the teams that focused on giving, teamwork, and collaboration were dramatically more productive and able to reach their goals.

4) Create Psychological Safety. Psychological safety is when team members feel they can safely and without negative consequences share their thoughts, ideas, advice, opinions, and mistakes. Executive and author Timothy Clark describes it as “a condition in which you feel (1) included, (2) safe to learn, (3) safe to contribute, and (4) safe to challenge the status quo — all without fear of being embarrassed, marginalized, or punished in some way." It can also be defined as a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking. In psychologically safe teams, team members feel accepted and respected.

Google’s Project Aristotle study revealed the keys to their most productive and inventive teams. Surprisingly, the top teams were not the A-teams composed of their top scientists, but B-teams which contained people not considered the smartest or most knowledgeable. The top performing teams had the best sense of connection between team members (fostered by interest in teammates’ ideas, empathy, and emotional intelligence) and also a feeling of psychological and emotional safety. Team members feeling safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other was “far and away the most important dynamic that set successful teams apart.”

5) Supportive Systems and Processes. Having the right systems and processes in place is crucial to maximizing team performance and working together well. This includes maintaining a reward system that reinforces good performance and living the team’s values; an information system that provides access to the data needed for the work; an educational system that offers training and development; and last — but not least — ability to secure the resources required to do the job, such as funding and technological assistance. While no team ever gets everything it wants, we can head off a lot of problems by taking the time to get the essential pieces in place that our teams need to be successful.

6) Follow Lencioni’s Five Key Behaviors. Patrick Lencioni, in his classic and bestselling book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, emphasizes five specific behaviors to maximize teamwork and team performance. These five behaviors build upon each other, and include: vulnerability-based trust, healthy conflict, active commitment, peer-to-peer accountability, and a focus on results.

Former LinkedIn CEO Reid Hoffman asserted, "No matter how brilliant your mind or strategy, if you're playing a solo game, you'll always lose out to a team." Baseball legend Babe Ruth observed, “The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.” Bottom line: We are better together!

Wes Friesen (MBA, EMCM, CMDSM, MCOM, MDC, OSPC, CCE, CBF, CBA ICP, CMA, CFM, CM, APP, PHR, CTP) is a proven leader and developer of high-performing teams and has extensive experience in both the corporate and non-profit worlds. He is also an award-winning university instructor and speaker, and is the President of Solomon Training and Development, which provides leadership, management, and team building training. His book, Your Team Can Soar!, can be ordered from Xulonpress.com/bookstore or wesfriesen.com (under Book) or an online retailer like Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Wes can be contacted at wesmfriesen@gmail.com or at 971.806.0812.

This article originally appeared in the May/June, 2020 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.