If you’ve ever experienced it first hand, you’ll know that effective teamwork makes every part of work better. In terms of progress and productivity, a well-oiled team makes tough tasks seem easy, and on a personal level, each individual turns up to work feeling valued, motivated, and engaged.
But efficient teamwork isn’t something you can simply buy or install on your laptop. You’ve got to work at it, both through strategic decisions and a good use of technology.
In our 12 hacks for teams to work as one, we’ll cover both sides of the coin and give you some easy ways to get the edge on your competition through teamwork.
Effective teamwork is only valuable if you know where you want to go, and setting goals is the best way of creating a roadmap. Start by working out what success means for you as a company, and redefine it for specific projects. Perhaps your overall company goal is to eradicate plastic from the world’s oceans, but the goal of your first project could be raising awareness by getting social media shares.
Goals give your team a sense of purpose, which is ideal for collaboration as a team. But without metrics to measure success, it’s hard to maintain motivation. Therefore, you should set targets that will give each individual a tangible figure to work towards.
Many modern teams now use Kanban boards to organize their tasks, with a very clear reminder of the project goals. Having the overall goal always visible inspires effective teamwork that comes in especially useful when you’re under the pump and need to get your tasks over the line.
Big projects can be scary, and when deadline day is so far away, it can seem like you have an impossible mission ahead of you. People get overwhelmed with all the tasks to be done and lose sight of what’s in front of them.
That’s why one of the greatest effective teamwork hacks of the past few years is to convert big projects into sprints. Starting in dynamic tech teams, sprints have since spread to all industries and show no signs of going away.
The concept is simple: Set a timeline — two weeks is standard, but you can adapt this according to your team’s need. Then fill the time period with a doable amount of interconnected tasks grouped together. At the end of every sprint, assess the work you’ve completed and work on a few ways of improving efficiencies in the sprint to come.
Transparency is the basis of trust, which is what really gels a team together. That’s why it’s so important to create a company culture based on transparency so it becomes second nature.
When your team starts wondering if key decisions are being taken behind closed doors, they feel undervalued in their role. The seeds of mistrust are sown and they grow like a weed, choking all the good things you’ve grown.
In line with your goals, transparency helps everybody in your team understand why they’re doing their tasks. This comes in very helpful when you’ve got to ask a lot from your team — those boring, tedious tasks that simply can’t be avoided.
Project management tools are increasingly used to promote transparency. With access levels from “observer” to “responsible person”, you can open up each task for everybody to see, without offering them editing access so you can keep control.
Too many teams made up of talented individuals fall down because of poor management. One of the best teamwork hacks since the arrival of powerful project management tools has been the assignment of responsible people for each and every task. This stops jobs being left in limbo with everybody washing their hands of responsibility.
Assigning ownership also leads to more effective teamwork because the project manager knows who to speak to about each task, and the responsible person knows to be ready with answers.
On a more personal level, more responsibility almost always means more motivation. Each responsible person wants to bring good news to the end-of-sprint meeting, so will chase up incomplete work and learn from mistakes when deadlines are missed. All of this leads to a tighter-knit team too. When people are given responsibility, they see it as evidence that they are a valued part of the company, which gives them an extra drive.
The fruit of great teamwork is great results, and you can use the opportunity for a mini-celebration to further bring your team together. Studies show that recognition is more of a motivator than money, so by publicly praising your top performers, you can seriously increase your productivity.
A great point to offer praise is at the end of a sprint. Think about who really stood out and share it company-wide on your team’s news feed. As well as motivating the individual, you’re setting an example of what kind of performance you want to see.
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You can take a slap-dash approach to your organization, nobody is stopping you. But even if you’re a solopreneur, you’ll quickly find yourself misplacing documents, wasting time searching through folder after random folder, and wondering which of the ten versions in front of you is the correct document.
Creating a cloud-based file storage center with an intuitive, common-sense structure is one way of cutting out wasted time and improving productivity. For example, creating folder hierarchies and switching to a YYYYMMDD date format mean that anybody should theoretically be able to find what they’re looking for.
To the untrained eye, this kind of methodical, process-driven work could be seen as micromanagement. Therefore, it’s important to stress the reasons behind your rules from introductory onboarding sessions — saving time and stress in your team’s day-to-day tasks.
Similar to your storage, communication is another area where some simple rules enforced well make life easier for everyone. With a brief communication policy that everyone follows, you get consistency and predictability in your work, which saves countless hours over the course of a year.
Forget overflowing inboxes and entire excavation missions aimed at finding that one file that someone thinks they sent via chat last month. For efficient teamwork, keep all your task-relevant communication and file sharing to the appropriate task card in your project management software. This way, you’ll always know where to go when you need to find a record of changes, comments, deadlines, and who to speak to in one place.
Nobody is saying you can’t have an instant messenger channel to talk about the latest reality TV drama or tips for Dungeons and Dragons. But when it comes to task-based communication, structure and discipline is key.
It makes sense that you should get everybody working in their specialist area as much as possible. As you make your hires, you’ll already have a plan in mind for how to deploy their skills and create a better work group. But when your team grows, or when you’re creating cross-departmental scrum teams, it’s easy to lose sight of who is best suited at what.
That’s why top managers keep records of each worker, their contact details, and key skills in an organizational chart. For the most effective teamwork, you can also include the secondary skills they bring to the table. Perhaps you have a social media manager who is great at running team building events or a software engineer who is an indispensable problem solver. These skills are super important for great teamwork, and often overlooked by a focus on job titles.
Effective teamwork is as much about how well your team ticks than the combined skills of every individual. Building a team that simply works isn’t easy though. It’s an ongoing task that relies heavily on your hiring skills and the small, almost unobservable behaviors that you promote during the working day.
It’s important to avoid hypocrisy in this regard. If you preach transparency but spend most of the day sitting behind an opaque door, you’re not going to inspire collaboration as a team. Many teams now have a constant reminder of key messages on their office walls, which helps get the message across.
Transform your values into a story and include it in your hiring process, onboarding, and even your client-facing work. Just like all social groups from nations to religions, storytelling for a company brand is an ideal way of getting a message across in a way people can easily understand.
In the spirit of making people feel valued, remember that you don’t always have to find new people to solve skills gaps. Aside from new hires potentially disrupting your team’s balance, you can seriously motivate your current staff by upskilling them in new areas.
This is a clear way of rewarding your team for their hard work and motivating them into the future. It’s also a smart move because there is not always a clear position to promote people into, and it’s a fallacy that a good sales agent will automatically become a good sales team manager.
Aside from the realization that it’s cheaper and easier to retain staff than to bring in new ones, another of the top teamwork hacks for productivity is that you can train new skills, but you can’t train a new attitude. So when you find the ideal attitude for your team, hold on tight and don’t let them go.
Collaborative tools and smart room layouts all play their part in open, free-flowing collaboration. But what is collaboration at the end of the day? In its simplest form, it’s all about the exchange of ideas — something which is incredibly difficult in vertical, rigid hierarchies.
By releasing some of the pressure, you can create an environment of effective teamwork where everybody feels free to contribute. Some of the best methods of creating a collaborative environment include:
Deal with toxic behavior immediately
Open up a suggestion box
Ask everybody in the team for their opinion
Don’t overload your staff with work
Schedule in time for fresh new ideas
If you’re not already using project management tools with analytics, where have you been for the past ten years? With time trackers, you can monitor performance on a team and individual level and identify areas that hold you back.
This hack consists of taking periodic sense checks to work on removing your roadblocks, and soon you’ll see more effective teamwork. Perhaps you’ll find a conflict that needs resolving, a skill that needs retraining, or instructions that need clarifying. Whatever is holding you back, it’s up to you as a manager to identify and deal with it.
Now you’ve seen all the areas where teamwork hacks can give your team a much-needed boost, we’ll finish on a final piece of advice:
Organization is absolutely everything if you want to promote effective teamwork.
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