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Above all else, be proactive

It’s often assumed that if you put a group of people together in the workplace, they will automatically become a team, working harmoniously towards a set of common goals. As team work and training expert Rosie Garwood of Reflection Consulting reports, if only it was that straightforward.

Of course, not surprisingly, the reality is often somewhat different. In the real world, there is no magic glue that bonds a disparate group of individuals into a cohesive team, but there are a number of simple, effective strategies that can make a significant difference to your team’s performance.

Media headlines are unremittingly grim than; workforce stress levels are up, one in three people admit to ‘skiving’, trust between staff and senior management is at an all-time low, and it is proving increasingly harder to find high calibre staff. In addition, absenteeism is estimated to cost the UK economy a staggering £32 billion annually – not just because people are sick, but because they are often sick of each other. I have worked with teams and their managers for many years, both in partnership and as an impartial adviser. If the two real examples in this article have parallels with your own teams, applying some of these strategies may have a significant impact.

Case study one
“We’ve lost 30 percent of our staff in the past year through redundancy. The work is still being done and targets are being met, but there’s no buzz in the office any more”. Redundancy, no matter how necessary, inevitably has an unsettling effect on staff. Absorbing extra, unfamiliar work with no handover, the loss of friends and colleagues and the threat of ‘who’s next?’ is a sure-fire combination for destroying team spirit. Targets may still be met, but for how long and at what real cost to the business and its people? To shore up the team and build motivation and confidence, we did three things: We held an all-staff strategy day to map out plans for the year ahead.

The aim of the day was to answer questions, and provide reassurance, giving staff an opportunity to tackle challenges together, build relationships and enjoy each other’s company. Secondly, we re-allocated tasks and responsibilities to the people with the skills or expertise to do them well, providing training and resources where necessary. And thirdly, good delegation, consultation and refreshed thinking helped the team work smarter and collaborate more effectively and celebrated milestones, no matter how small, and ensured that the contribution of each member of the team was recognised and rewarded. The results were instant and long-lasting, saving the business a fortune by enabling them to retain good people who could then perform to their potential.

Case study two
“We run care services for adults but relationships in the team have been fraught for 12 months, with complaints and disciplinary action adding to an already difficult atmosphere. We’ve reached the point where staff won’t speak to each other. Bad enough in your average workforce, but we rely on this team to administer care and medication, and to maintain a good environment for our residents.”

Complaints and disciplinary procedures are time consuming, expensive and damage morale. In this example, the dedicated and caring staff, management and trustees welcomed the intervention, wishing it had come earlier. The strategies used included: A behavioural profile and one-to-one feedback discussion with each member of the team, giving them an opportunity to speak freely with an impartial professional and talk about the characteristics that help and hinder them under pressure. Two, half-day team sessions to resolve issues, plan ahead, focus on resident care and delivering excellence. By separating these sessions by four to six weeks, the team had space to implement new ideas and feedback on their progress. Boosting the skills and confidence of the manager with training and support. Allocation of responsibilities for delivering changes across the team, rather than the entire onus being on the manager to police and motivate.

As a simple checklist, create your own team glue with a smart combination of the following: Good team managers. Not those reluctant, over-promoted souls who make up 60 percent of our workforce, but enthusiastic people with the skills and confidence to succeed. A clear strategy or vision, shared well and frequently with all the staff. Interesting, interactive and inspiring team meetings. Transparency, fairness and integrity in everything you do and the confidence and space to fix team niggles as soon as they arise. Teams can fall apart for a huge variety of reasons, but prevention is always better than cure, so it makes sense to implement team building strategies from the outset rather than waiting until your team disintegrates.

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