published December 9, 2019

Can Your Work Team Increase Productivity & Profitability? Here’s How to Build (& Sustain) a Great Team

Can Your Work Team Increase Productivity & Profitability? Here’s How to Build (& Sustain) a Great Team
  • Good teams make good employees even better
  • Good teams make employees want to come to work; this makes them more productive
  • Good management is an integral part of building a good team
  • Bad management disengages teams and brings a variety of other problems
  • Read more for suggestions on how to build and sustain great teams with group exercises

Better together

When vocal groups harmonize, a magical phenomenon can happen. In a quartet it’s called the fifth, “ghost,” or ringing voice. It happens when the harmonics of the four voices combine or reinforce each other in a way that creates what appears like an extra voice. It’s a sound that becomes bigger when all are together: It’s also an example of how the magic of synergy and how the sum can prove to be greater than its parts.

A good team at work operates in much the same way.

When a team has members that can fill-in or expand on the skills, abilities, or experiences of other members, they’ll also be able to “ring” together—able to go beyond their individual limits.

Better and longer

Team building is a great strategy for maximizing talent and boosting the productivity of your workforce, but there’s much more to alliance building than merely improving efficiencies and “how” the players do their jobs. There’s also “why” they do their jobs. And for that, improving intra-staff relations can yield enormous benefits. When employees have friends at work, they are seven times more likely to be engaged in their work—and conversely, if they don’t like their coworkers, they’re not going to like the job. This too will affect their work—negatively. And the numbers don’t differ much between genders; 60% for women, 56% for men. Friendships at work, just like those outside of work, take time. Those in entry level jobs are least likely to say they have a best friend at work—53%—while those with 6 years of experience or more were most likely at 60%. Percentages can vary depending on job role, level of work experience, and age—Millennials and GenZ have the highest (62%) and those over age 50 have the lowest (50%—the drop may have something to do with their job titles and not their social habits).

Building stronger teams is also tied to avoiding attrition: It’s better not to break up the band.

A staff with work friends, and work spouses, can be a good sign about the psychological health of your team. When employees have someone they can share both good and bad experiences with it can be invaluable to their well-being. And here’s the secret sauce that all managers and business leaders need to know: As executive coach Annie McKee says, “When we feel cared for—even loved, as one does in a friendship—and when we belong to a group that matters to us, we are generous with our time and talents because we’re committed to people, not just the job or company.”

Office mood swings

By creating an environment where employees can form positive alliances and friendships with co-workers, you also create an opportunity to boost productivity and performance.

But it can easily go the other way too: McKee also says that bad “emotions spread like wildfire.” An ill mood from bosses, especially intemperance or flashes of anger, will also affect work performance and bring down the whole team. Negative emotions can hurt productivity, morale, and quality of work. Bad bosses can also increase absenteeism. This isn’t just because it makes the subordinate staff frustrated or upset, when we focus on the negative it saps our cognitive abilities. We also know that overly intense emotions will block effective communication and hinder problem solving. It creates a toxic environment. And you don’t want that.

Says McKee: “When a manager is having a particularly bad day, you are likely to start having a bad day.”

The fact that you can absorb the bad mood of another is not simply poor discipline or a failure of mindfulness. Emotions spread person to person because we’re biologically hardwired to mimic others outwardly. When we mimic their outward displays, we also adopt their inner state.

Managers, watch your mouth

In building a great team, sustaining it is an absolutely necessary component. Losing a valued team member will cost you and take note—this study by the Center for American Progress says employee replacement costs can vary between 16% of salary for low-earning positions to an astounding 213% of salary for those more highly skilled. (See here where we dig deeper.)

Good leaders also understand that leadership is a conversation—a two-way dialogue—and not a diatribe. A leader who isn’t toxic and engages their team doesn’t use language that:
  • undermines others—especially if they airing frustrations with another employee or higher ups
  • isn’t supportive
  • is competitive
  • is dishonest
  • focuses on status—this includes sharing confidential information from the executive suite
  • doesn’t respect an employee’s time—especially when they’re not at work
  • is inconsistent and often changes direction

Your teams know that managers play a critical role in their success. To ensure you sustain the talent you have, be aware that:
  • people want to feel the boss has their back—they want confidence that if their boss says they support their idea, they will; they want to know their boss will stand for their ideas against the trolls
  • they don’t want managers that believe their employees are disposable and are only there to serve management
  • they want to believe their managers will support them even if it doesn’t direct benefit them directly to do so
  • negative behaviors and toxic language used by managers drives your best employees away—because they know they deserve better

The importance of not being emo

“Emotional intelligence” refers to an ability to read, understand, and respond to emotions in ourselves and others. It’s said to be a vital predictor of career success, more so than an impressive résumé or high IQ score. Yet, while we think we can accurately read the emotions of others, we tend to overestimate this ability.

Research has found a large performance gap between leaders that are socially intelligent and those that aren’t.

This only offers even more reinforcement to how much effect the quality of management can have. According to a Gallup poll, the number one cause of unhappiness at work was bad bosses. Of people who voluntarily left their jobs, 75% did so because of their boss or immediate supervisor. These are the kinds of bosses that don’t think of employees as assets but as liabilities. A bad boss is not only unpleasant, it’s unhealthy. They can also shorten your life: A bad boss situation can increase the risk of stroke by 33%.

As is often said: People don’t leave bad jobs. They leave bad managers.

What’s management to do?

Before a strong and engaged team can be built, your employees will want the respect of their manager. And here’s the hard part: Respect is not offered up through enforcement; it’s earned through actions.

Here’s what your employees want:
  • You chose them, now respect that choice: Respect their intelligence; respect their ability to do the job that you presumably both thoroughly and painstakingly selected them for—from a large pool of candidates to do; also, respect their time and their dignity.
  • Respect them personally: Now that you respect their ability to do the job, trust them to do it well. Don’t micromanage them. Provide support and guidance. Treat them like adults.
  • Show them you care: Be sincere about their well-being. Still more respect: Respect their feelings, emotions, and their personal lives—including time.
  • Give them props: Do not take credit for work they did. Recognize their contributions. Give them reasons to be engaged about their job.
  • Expect that this will be a long relationship: When you want to invest in them, through training, education, or other opportunities, you’re showing them that you believe in their contributions and that you’d want them to stay. As billionaire Richard Branson said: “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don't want to.”

More on what a good boss needs to be here.

How to build a great team:
  • Choose your players wisely: A thorough selection process for picking your team members has greater long-term benefits, even if this means you spend more time recruiting than you’d like to. Hiring someone just to have bodies in the room can harm your team. Companies that do this wind up becoming a revolving door, whether it’s because prospective employees see the role as a temporary landing pad and are less interested in learning, or because you decide later on that they aren’t the right fit. This winds up costing you more money in the long run. Investing your time and money in people who truly specialize in the role your company needs will have immense payoffs later.
  • Employees crave a trust-based workplace, where employees can be their actual selves and not have to skulk around trying constantly to avoid a wrath; unfortunately, fear-based environments are much more common. Employees have two ways to respond to these workplaces: 1) they can leave, but more often they may not be able to for a myriad of reasons, so they stay and 2) disengage—with lowered performance and higher resistance. They may find outlets both on the job and on the internet for expressing that disengagement. Neither of those are good for your company.
  • Teams will bring a diversity of ideas. When they also bring a diversity of gender, culture, and ethnicity, they bring even more disparate elements to traverse—and manage. A diverse team can be great on paper—a broad range of personalities and experiences that can bring so much to the table. But the reality is if they’re not managed well, what might make them great can lead them to also be a productivity disaster.
  • Unmanaged diversity can likely to cause more problems, including employee dissatisfaction, a lack of innovation and reduced performance—the very things you brought the team together to accomplish.

Exercises your team can practice to make it stronger
  1. Communication & transparency: Good teams demand a culture of transparency. A barrier to their continuous improvement can be due to members being too afraid, shy, intimidated, or simply don’t want to take the time to ask the important questions. Having such questions answered can often dramatically improve the quality of their work. By creating a safe forum for sharing questions you also create an opportunity to share knowledge. Ask team members to make a list of at least three questions as they go about their workweek. Have them share their questions in a group meeting setting. The team can discuss and find the answers among themselves—with management’s help. In this way the team builds competence, transparency, and comfort with each other and management. All are important for creating a strong team.
  2. A core purpose: Does your team have a shared mission expressed in a mission statement? If so, it’ll help them find focus. It also helps them with motivation and gives them a powerful reason to show up to work each day. Referring to the mission statement helps the team understand collaboration and see its own progress. If they hit snags with the work, or even undergo changes, they can refer back to the mission statement. Their actions should all relate back to and contribute toward this document. The mission statement should be written by management and the team and should be in a place visible to all so it can be viewed regularly. This is what your mission statement must have: What actions will need to be taken on a regular basis for the organization and why; what impacts on the organization these actions will have, and ultimately, on the impact on the world outside the organization; who benefits from these actions; and who is the end-user or customer.
  3. Feel the accomplishment: Let your team assess their accomplishments and newly acquired knowledge and allow them a chance to share gratitude in the work that the team has done together. To acknowledge these milestones together creates motivation and community. Making sure this happens is the responsibility of management. Give the team a weekly chance to enjoy the accomplishment—Friday mornings are a good time. Have team members and management write down the major achievements and at least three new things that were learned. The meetings are also an opportunity for management to acknowledge the individual and team successes and lessons. This will in turn foster even more progress and growth with the team—and management. It will also build stronger collaboration and a way to a sustainable progress.

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