Businesses are constantly looking for ways to make their teams more productive.
Having attended around 1000 team meetings and conferences I have heard a huge range of strategies, including tired team-building exercises, efficiency strategies and more recently a range of business perks like on-site food and gyms for employees.
But there’s a simple way to improve team performance that has nothing to do with dishing out benefits or cutting costs.
According to Andy Williams (who recently joined me on the Born To Speak podcast) his experience in the Royal Marines, running six marathons in the Sahara desert and rowing the Atlantic, all taught him how to build a supportive team.
Today, Andy is a business coach and he helps clients to build teams that can overcome any obstacle — no matter how intense the pressure.
Here’s what it takes to build a supportive team.
Don’t try to build a perfect team. Build a supportive team, instead.
During our conversation, Andy shared his experience rowing across the Atlantic Ocean from La Gomera to Antigua. During the event, 30 crews from around the world race to cross 3,000 miles of ocean, powered only by their own strength and determination.
After months of planning and training, Andy’s team of four novice rowers embarked on a 42-day journey that brought them face-to-face with 50-foot waves, blisters, sea-sickness, sunburn, and extreme exhaustion. There were even more obstacles along the way as equipment failed and the daggerboard (a machine that keeps the boat from drifting sideways) broke halfway through the race.
It was through supportive teamwork that Andy’s four-man crew was able to achieve their goal, completing the race, despite their lack of rowing experience.
“None of us were rowers, but we had our minds set firmly on the goal: to complete the race, feel good about ourselves, and feel that we’d done the best job we could,” explained Andy. “Through that experience, we were able to obtain tremendous insight into mindset and how we can achieve amazing things through adversity — even under intense pressure — by supportive teamwork.”
This same idea applies to any business. The individual talent and the size of a team don’t equal success. It’s the team that works together, no matter what challenges arise, that’s able to achieve any goal.
When that synergy happens, employees often exceed expectations.
“Imagine if every team was delivering 10% more or being 10% more effective, what a difference that would make to a whole organization,” says Andy.
When you’re part of a supportive team, you thrive on overcoming difficult challenges as a group. You work together to get the job done — no matter what.
To build this type of team Andy suggests you focus on these five things:
- Create structure. A supportive team needs to have an effective organizational structure in place to carry out a company’s mission. Your structure holds everything together and is the blueprint for growth. This includes determining roles and responsibilities, how people will be organized, and the lines of communication and accountability.
- Agree on a common goal. It is critical for a successful team to have a goal that everyone is committed to, cares about, believes in and is willing to work towards. This will also help you to stop negative conversations and behaviors by reminding people what the goal is and making sure everyone stays on track. Toxic behavior will reduce and motivation will increase.
- Improve your self-awareness. Being part of a team means understanding group dynamics. Being a good teammate requires you have enough self-awareness to do what’s best for the good of the team — understanding different personalities and working together toward a common goal. It’s hard to support your teammates if everyone has their own vision for how things should get done. Pulling together means knowing what impact you are making on the team so that you can be a positive influence on others.
- Set ground rules. Having rules is an essential part of creating a supportive team. When you have standards, everyone is held accountable. The team knows they have to look after each other to function well and be successful. Think of the rowing analogy if you lose someone through poor hydration, poor nutrition, sunstroke, or falling overboard, you aren’t working together and your goal isn’t met. The idea is the same for any business, it’s vital to have ground rules and ensure people stick to them.
- Give feedback in a more human way. We often associate feedback with negativity. It’s an alarm that signals we’ve done something wrong and can bring up feelings of anxiety, tension, and shame. Three simple tricks can help make feedback feel more natural. First, give a positive evaluation, aimed at telling the truth and moving forward together. Second, ask for feedback on your own work instead of waiting for it. Third, go for a walk instead of having a sit-down assessment, to create the right atmosphere for an open conversation. When you create an environment where feedback is no longer feared and encourage ways to make it part of your daily interaction, the team will expect it, receive it positively and be more supportive.
Supportive teams help each other and can suddenly be achieving goals they never imagined possible. When you’re searching to increase productivity, remember it’s not about finding the perfect team. It’s about creating a team that pulls together.
You can hear the full conversation and all of the insights direct from Andy if you listen to my new podcast ‘Born To Speak’ on iTunes.