Three Strategies to Improve Teamwork

Updated: Aug 24

Written by Madison Zaslav


Introduction


Over the past few decades, small teams have come into vogue as the core units of organisations. In fact, according to a 2016 industry report by Deloitte, 45% of organisations are restructuring around team systems. However, despite the ubiquity of teams, effective teamwork is difficult to develop and maintain. One study found that only 21% of teams are performing at an outstanding level while 42% demonstrate poor team performance (Wageman et al., 2008). This data suggests that almost all business can benefit from focusing on improving teamwork and team performance.


Teamwork at WBC


Here at WBC, teams and teamwork are the driving force. WBC is made up of the following eight departments:

  1. Human Resources

  2. Business Development

  3. International Relations & Enlargement

  4. Quality Assurance

  5. Marketing & Events

  6. Research & Development

  7. Law

  8. Information Technology

This allows WBC to utilize interdisciplinary diversity by bringing consultants from different departments together to work in teams. Furthermore, consultants are also able to bring in knowledge from their courses which need not be the same as their department. A 2012 report by Ernest and Young praised interdisciplinary teams, citing that they improve financial performance and reputation.


WBC harnesses this by forming project teams out of consultants from different departments. But beyond multidisciplinary diversity, WBC is also an extremely culturally diverse organisation. WBC has won “The Most International Junior Enterprise” award six times and is made up of consultants from over 33 nationalities. While WBC benefits from its diversity, there is always room for improvement. Three ways to improve teamwork are through increasing engagement, encouraging reflection, and improving psychological safety.


Engagement


Work engagement is defined as “a positive, affective-motivational state of fulfilment that is characterized by vigour, dedication, and absorption” (Schaufeli et al., 2002). One study found that engagement was positively correlated with job satisfaction and contributed to both task and contextual performance (Christian et al., 2011). An engaged team will work harder to complete a task and complete it well. Engagement protects against burnout and work addiction and is fostered by employee autonomy, challenging work, and social support.


Engagement is commonly measured using the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale developed by Schaufeli, which quantifies the three components of vigour, dedication, and absorption in a 17-item inventory. This scale and the manual are available online for free to be used by organisations. During appraisals, in March, WBC can include this short questionnaire and ask consultants to complete it. This will allow the HR team to gain an insight into the general levels of engagement at the company and even look specifically at departmental and project engagement. Using this data, WBC can address gaps in engagement by providing more task variety, performance feedback, and opportunities to learn and grow.


An engagement toolkit published by Harvard suggests that engagement can be fostered by setting clear expectations, relating back to the organization by citing values and purpose, giving and asking for feedback, recognizing strengths, and rewarding performance. In the last general meeting of the semester, six awards were given out to consultants who had gone above and beyond for the Danish Project. Positive, public rewards like these can serve to incentivise engagement and dedication.


Reflexivity


A second way to improve teamwork is through reflection. A 2017 report by Gallup on performance management suggested that reflexivity, when a team regularly reviews their performance in order to improve in the future, can strengthen performance and cohesion. One study breaks down the process of team adaptation into four phases: recognize, reframe, respond, and reflect (Frick et al., 2018). The researchers propose that these “four Rs” can be used by managers to better prepare against maladaptation and encourage greater cohesion and performance in the future.


WBC can enact this suggestion by holding reflective debrief sessions after projects are completed in order to identify strengths and areas of improvement. Anonymous feedback can also be collected from project members and these concerns can be discussed during the debrief session. In this way, problems can be identified and addressed before other projects are undertaken.


Psychological Safety


A final way to improve teamwork is by fostering psychological safety. The term psychological safety was coined by researcher Amy Edmondson in a 1999 study. Psychological safety is defined as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking” (Edmondson, 1999). This means that team members feel comfortable voicing dissenting opinions, presenting new ideas, and asking questions without fear of humiliation or punishment. A two year study by Google dubbed “Project Aristotle” found that psychological safety was the number one most important contributing factor to team effectiveness (Duhigg, 2016).


There are four commonly cited ways to increase psychological safety. The first is to encourage managers to model it by asking for feedback, acknowledging mistakes, and being approachable. The second way is through active listening which requires employees to not be on their phones, to summarize and repeat what others have said, and to ask for the opinions of others. Thirdly, a safe environment must be established wherein people do not interrupt, ideas are not judged, and blame is not assigned. Finally, openness must be encouraged by normalizing feedback, promoting out of the box thinking, and discouraging criticism in the place of strengthening others’ ideas.

Of course, an additional way to increase psychological safety is to improve overall comfort and familiarity. This can be achieved through encouraging team members to interact outside of work. The HR department has made it their goal to organise at least one team-building activity each month. These can be with the whole of WBC or even just two or more departments. Building trust and cohesion outside of work hours and areas will help consultants feel more comfortable and will especially help consultants not feel a barrier between themselves and managers.


Conclusion


WBC is an effective and familial organisation that is founded on teamwork. And because of the importance of teamwork, an additional focus should be given to it in the future. By adopting any of the three strategies described above and coaching both managers and consultants on how best to enact these practices, teamwork and employee engagement can be increased, thus leading to improved output and performance.


References


Christian, M.S., Garza, A.S., Slaughter, J.E., 2011. Work Engagement: A Quantitative Review and Test of Its Relations with Task and Contextual Performance. Pers. Psychol. 64, 89–136. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1744-6570.2010.01203.x


Deloitte (2016). Global human capital trends 2016. Deloitte University Press.

Duhigg, C., 2016. What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team. N. Y. Times.


Edmondson, A., 1999. Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams. Adm. Sci. Q. 44, 350–383. https://doi.org/10.2307/2666999


Ernest & Young (2012). Winning in a Polycentric World: Globalization and the World of Business. London: Ernest & Young.


Frick, S.E., Fletcher, K.A., Ramsay, P.S., Bedwell, W.L., 2018. Understanding team maladaptation through the lens of the four R’s of adaptation. Hum. Resour. Manag. Rev., Creating High Performance Teamwork in Organizations 28, 411–422.

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.hrmr.2017.08.005


Gallup (2017). State of the American workplace. Washington DC.

Schaufeli, W.B., Salanova, M., González-romá, V., Bakker, A.B., 2002. The Measurement of Engagement and Burnout: A Two Sample Confirmatory Factor Analytic Approach. J. Happiness Stud. 3, 71–92. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1015630930326


Wageman, R., Nunes, D.A., Burruss, J.A., Hackman, J.R., 2008. Senior leadership teams: what it takes to make them great. Harvard Business School Press, Boston, MA.

https://blog.impraise.com/360-feedback/what-is-psychological-safety-and-why-is-it-the-key-to-great-teamwork-performance-review

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