In a culture that prizes individual achievement and emphasizes competition, teamwork may feel unnatural to many employees. They enter the workforce after spending years in schools and on sports teams that emphasize winning and coming out on top.
Yet most business executives agree that employee teamwork is one of the best ways to get things done. Harvard Business Review reports that the time employees spend working on group projects has grown more than 50 percent in the past two decades.
“When you take a group of independently talented people and create a team in which they can merge their talents, not only will a remarkable amount of energy and creativity be released, but their performance, loyalty and engagement will be greatly improved,” says Peter Economy, a best-selling business author, developmental editor and publishing consultant.
Economy advocates cross training as one of the ways to build a collaborative culture: “When employees understand how different areas of the company work, they are more apt to make decisions that benefit the company as a whole, rather than solely their own department or group.”
Susan Heathfield, a management and organization development consultant who specializes in human resources issues, advises against “one-off” events like ropes courses or corporate retreats: “Think of team building as something that you do every single day at work.”
Forming teams to solve real work issues and improve actual processes is a better way to go, says Heathfield. “Provide training in systematic methods and norming, so the team expends its energy on the project, not on figuring out how to work together as a team to approach it.”
Sean St. John is another executive who values teamwork. An executive vice-president at National Bank in Toronto, St. John believes success comes naturally when employees embrace common goals: “Part of my job is mentoring and cheerleading individuals to work together, giving them the tools they need to contribute to the team.”
According to St. John, “Our culture emphasizes encouragement and positive reinforcement, which are excellent tools to use in team-building. This positive force, as I like to call it, is what delivers results.”
Torben Rick, a senior executive who has worked at a strategic and operational level in Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, says that building a motivated and dedicated team takes good managing and staff development on a daily basis.
“To build its next-generation workforce,” concludes Rick, “organizations have to actively recruit and hire employees who excel at working in open, team-based environments. Leaders must build and support practices to help employees thrive such as encouraging the development of teams and empowering the use of high-value employee networks.”