Sometimes trying to manage a team of strong personalities can feel like herding cats. The great strengths that make each team member fantastic on their own may cause them to butt heads when it comes to a group setting.
If you’re at the helm of a team of independent spirits, it can be challenging to establish cohesion – but it’s not impossible. Here are some techniques to help you weave all your team’s individual strengths together into a solid, functioning whole.
Open up the communication
Sometimes the biggest barrier to team cohesion is poor communication – people are getting left out of the loop, decisions are being made without everyone’s input, assumptions are leading to wrong conclusions, and no one’s on the same page about priorities.
If this is the case, try centralizing your team’s communications with a tool like Slack or Trello, where people can check notifications and see a whole conversation, rather than just cc-ing everyone on email chains. It may also be helpful to hold a quick weekly status report meeting to ensure everyone is aware of what everyone else is up to.
Use complementary strengths
The main value of working as a team is that individual strengths can be combined to accomplish tasks more effectively.
Determine your team members’ strengths – both hard skills and soft skills like communication, teaching, and mediation – and then delegate tasks based on those strengths. Assign team members with complementary skills to work together, and make your expectations about who is responsible for what completely clear.
Get some definition
As chaotic as your team may feel at times, you’re all working towards a common goal. Taking time to remind everyone just what that goal is can help bring a sense of alignment back to the team.
The problem comes when everyone only sees their own piece of the puzzle, and has their own definition of success. If you’re feeling like your team’s overall goals have been fractured by everyone’s viewpoints, it may be time to hold a meeting to get everyone back on the same page.
Define deliverables, parameters, and goals so that you get everyone on board for a common goal. Once everyone knows what success looks like, you can all work toward it.
Connect on a personal level
Many misunderstandings happen when coworkers don’t really know each other outside of their roles in the office. While the normal workday may be too busy for personal chitchat, try hosting a team lunch every Friday, or building in time for things like celebrating birthdays and other milestones. The more casual setting may help people start to open up and build real relationships with one another.
Getting to know each other better can dispel resentments caused by not understanding a coworker’s situation, too. It’s easy to get frustrated with a coworker who takes random afternoons off, until you know that she’s caring for her aging mother, or is struggling with illness.
Give and ask for feedback
You can’t expect your team to do their work in a vacuum without any feedback. Create a habit of giving regular constructive feedback not only at the end of completed projects, but as the project is going on. This can be a combination of feedback for individual team members, and thoughts on improvement for the team as a whole.
Be sure to focus your feedback on how the team worked together, along with how the technical aspects of the project went. Along with giving feedback, be sure to ask your team for their thoughts on what worked or didn’t work. Getting multiple points of view can really shed light on how things went, and help your team be even more cohesive on the next project.
Building team cohesion can take time, and challenges that you thought you’d overcome during one project may rear their heads differently in the next project. As a manager, it’s your job to continuously reinforce good teamwork behaviors. Draw attention to times that your team worked particularly well together, and congratulate team members who’ve had successes.
When giving out recognition, try to highlight the ways your team members’ individual strengths contributed to the success of the project, and point out all the ways the strengths worked together to be stronger.
As you continue to work towards team cohesion, you may find these moments of success coming more and more frequently.