Teams are made up of people. And people are, well, human. They have different work ethics and communication styles, bad days and good days, conflicts and cliques — and until machines replace us, understanding how to make your team work more effectively together is a must if you want to keep things happy and productive.
Dealing with conflict is a major part of being a manager, but as you’re well aware, your job isn’t simply putting out fires. It’s also about motivation.
People are increasingly seeing social connections as a vital part of an effective teamwork experience. In fact, one study found that teams made up of friends performed better than groups made up of acquaintances or strangers.
Seunghoo Chung is a doctoral student in management and human resources at Ohio State. He says: “When you’re working with friends, you tend to be in a better mood and can work through the adversity and strain that sometimes comes from having to produce a lot in a short time.” Friends can also “coordinate tasks more effectively.” He adds: “They know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and can figure out how to break up the work in the most efficient way.”
So the key to getting the most out of your team may involve treating them more like friends rather than colleagues. This doesn’t mean you all have to be best friends already (and in fact, more often than not, this isn’t possible), but there are things you can do to help them build that social connection faster.
1. Get to know your team
If you’ve managed the same team for a while, you’ll have a pretty good understanding of how each person works, and who works best together. But have you ever sat down and really thought about why certain people gel and why others don’t? Gaining an understanding of what each person has to offer leaves you in a better position to form teams in general and mix up your usual pairings with more success.
What may initially seem like a difference in opinion or work ethic could, in fact, be a difference in communication style. Teach your team how to recognize the differences, and they’ll learn to be more understanding of each other (and able to work together more effectively).
2. Ask questions (and respond appropriately)
Teach your team about the benefits of using constructive language. During workplace disagreements, using what’s known as a ‘funnel question’ can be an effective way to diffuse tension and get to the root of an issue. Rather than saying ‘no’ or ‘yes, but’ (i.e., ‘no’ in disguise), encourage them to ask ‘why.’
Asking someone to go into detail about their issue distracts them from their anger, gives you the information you need to offer them a solution, and calms them down as something positive is being done to help them.
The more you encourage the other person to elaborate, the more detail you’ll discover. More often than not, you’ll realize you’re working towards the same goal after all — you were just taking a different route.
3. Create a culture of openness
Mistakes and missed deadlines happen. The best way to recover is with honesty and action: be honest and propose a solution. Encouraging a culture of openness will help your team feel empowered to own issues and fix them — as well as speak out sooner when they foresee a problem on the horizon.
4. Encourage positive feedback
Positive feedback isn’t just something that makes people feel good: it promotes engagement, positivity, and confidence. Helping others feel valued is a key part of being a manager, so set the tone for the rest of the team and lead by example.
Top tip: Remember to give out positive feedback fairly and equally — you may well have your favorites, but showing it could strain relationships within the group.
5. Brush up on your communication
Good communication may sound obvious, but it’s so much more than just talking and listening to each other.
To make sure everyone’s working towards the same goal (whether that’s a team deadline or a wider business aim), you need effective organizational communication skills. And when it comes to interpersonal relationships, you and your team need to know how to adapt to different conversation styles, have difficult conversations, and navigate all of the seven barriers to communication.
The same goes for communicating online: good etiquette is just as important when talking to someone over email or via a team chat app — if not more so because there’s more room for misinterpretation. As a general rule of thumb, you should always respond to people, take care with your spelling and grammar, and keep things positive — and if in doubt, add an emoji or GIF to lighten the tone.
Everyone is different, with their own needs, styles, and goals — including you and everyone on your team. Take the time to understand how people work and communicate. You’ll be able to respond with more empathy, build connections faster, and collaborate more effectively, which is an invaluable soft skill to have. And if you teach your team to do the same? They’ll be unstoppable.