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Teamwork makes the dreamwork

In a previous column I wrote about the importance of a healthy working atmosphere – which is actually something that every company needs to have in order to run smoothly. If you want to go a step further than just ensuring that your business has a healthy working atmosphere, you can build team spirit.

‘Team spirit’ is the superlative of the ‘healthy working atmosphere’. It gives your business wings. It really does: if your company’s performance when there’s a healthy working atmosphere is fairly average, then with good (or would you say ‘high’?) levels of team spirit things will really pick up steam and you can move mountains.

Just take two installers who can't stand each other, and try sending them out together. Then the next day send the same guys out, but this time each with a colleague they get on well with – you’ll see the difference immediately.

When there’s good team spirit colleagues will collaborate, rather than dumping problems on each other’s plates. They’ll learn from each other, and they’ll help each other out with tasks. Colleagues become friends, who together are prepared to take on bigger challenges because each of them knows that if they get to a point where they don’t know how to proceed, the other one will get them through.

Team spirit makes people more creative, because they’re more comfortable and less afraid of other people’s (negative) comments. This can uncover hidden talents, and it encourages people to get the best out of themselves and to take responsibility for doing so.

We recently came across a study that found that staff who work for companies with good team spirit feel 74 per cent less stressed, have 106 per cent more energy, and are 50 per cent more productive. We haven't looked into how the researchers measured this, but the figures are certainly impressive. Less stress means less downtime, less chaos, and fewer mistakes. And being 50 per cent more productive would mean getting one-and-a-half times more metres into the ground – with a hefty pile of additional profit as a result.

"Yes, but,” I can hear you saying, "to have lots of team spirit, you need to have people who are open to that. People who enjoy working as part of a team. If you have even a couple of those in your company, you’re lucky. If your people aren’t team players, then what can the boss do about it?"

And you’d have a point there. Some people are rigid thinkers who are only worried about their own tasks and their own problems. People who certainly don’t want to get involved in their colleagues' issues, because oh no, what if it means that they don't get their own work finished and have to work overtime – or end up getting told off by the boss.

But if you have people like that on your staff, then why not think outside the box and ask yourself whether you couldn't maybe manage to cope without them. No one’s forcing you to keep them on. Especially if it feels like they’re a handbrake on the smooth running of your business, it might be a good idea to let them go.

Because every team needs team spirit in order to grow. Even teams that look good from the outside end up stalling if there’s no team spirit. They simply stop developing.

Team spirit is based on trust, safety and appreciation. Despite belonging to the team, team members must be seen as individuals and need to feel that their personalities are valued. The most important aspect here is trust.

When there’s trust, you feel safe to share and implement your own ideas. It encourages you to keep trying and to stay curious. It gives you the courage to admit your mistakes and to share your successes. In a safe team where the members trust each other, problems are raised and discussed rather than being swept under the carpet.

But this sort of team spirit doesn’t happen by itself. Even if all your staff are great people, who enjoy working as part of a team and are open to building close bonds with their colleagues, team spirit is something that you actively need to work on.

That doesn't mean having to spend a weekend a month on the side of a mountain doing a survival course with all your staff, or going to an Escape Room every Friday. Just like developing a good working atmosphere, building team spirit starts with the little things. Things like saying 'thank you' and 'hello'.

“Um, what?” Yes, really. That's where it starts. With saying 'thank you' and 'hello' just like they taught you back in kindergarten. It should be the most normal thing in the world, but you’d be amazed how many companies there are where it’s normal to just march straight in and get to work. You need to introduce the death penalty for that, immediately.

When your staff arrive at work, have everyone do a quick round of the colleagues who are already there, just to say good morning. For the first three weeks you’ll have to make it compulsory and insist that they all do it... and after that it will become a habit. And don't forget to create a separate ‘Water Cooler’ channel or the like in your chat app for those who are working from home.

The same goes for giving feedback in a friendly way, listening to each other, and looking your colleagues in the eye when they’re speaking to you: It's the little things that show that you appreciate each other. And when it comes to team spirit, appreciation is the most important building block.

"We really don't have time for that here," is the most commonly-heard excuse for not doing all these things, but it’s also the most typical factor that eats away at appreciation. Express your appreciation and let other people know that you value them. Look other people in the eye, really listen to them when they speak, say thanks – even when you’re in a rush. All the good things you give to your team will come back to you, in the form of increased team spirit.

Some other important factors in improving team spirit: be clear and straightforward. Give everyone in a team a clearly-defined role, with clear tasks and responsibilities. Be clear about your vision and goals for your company, and about the goals the team needs to achieve.

Communication might not need too much of your attention in everyday matters, but the more important or complicated the issue or project, the more of your effort it will require. As a general rule, it can rarely be said that colleagues talk too much about important issues. I’ve never heard anyone criticise a colleague for explaining something too simply and too clearly.

And don't forget to celebrate your successes, too. Treat your installers to waffles or ice creams, if they wrapped up a big project on time yesterday so you can now pop a nice big invoice in the post. Sponsor two crates of beer for the Friday afternoon drinks. You’ll recoup the cost tenfold once the various teams in your company get up to speed.

And of course, once you’ve done all these things – and the additional team spirit has made you extra-successful and brought in buckets of extra money – there’s nothing to stop you from organising regular mountainside survival weekends, city trips, and other fun outings for your team. <

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