Teamwork: Playing any role needed to support the larger mission; coordinating, cooperating, and collaborating with others in pursuit of a shared goal; supporting and celebrating the success of others.
Research from my firm, RainmakerThinking, shows consistently that employees are least likely to form significant lasting peer bonds in their workplaces when work is less challenging, has less structure and less supervision, and offers less interaction with authority figures.
So, as a manager, the key to building authentic personal loyalties among your employees is to create an environment where they perform challenging work together under the strong direction of a highly engaged leader.
Consider the military. When young soldiers, airmen, marines, and sailors talk about loyalty, they invoke first and foremost their commitment to each other—to their peers and to their most-immediate leaders. But those peer bonds hardly form organically. They are not self-managed; they have a strict chain of command with clear leaders who are strong and engaged in the mission. They don’t get to choose their mission. They don’t get to choose who is going to be on their team. They don’t get to choose peers or leaders. And they don’t get to choose their own positions on the team. Not everybody gets to be the MVP; not everybody gets a trophy. Bottom line: the peer bonding is not forced, but all of the conditions are forced and peer bonding follows.
Of course, the military has a rare combination of profound patriotic mission, life-threatening gravity, and extraordinary resources. Those are hard conditions to approximate for most leaders in most workplaces. Still, you can be very thankful that lives are not on the line in your workplace. What’s more, you can draw many great lessons about how to build the right conditions to support great teamwork.
The strongest peer relationships—especially among young people—in the workplace form in environments with a strong focus on the mission, shared work, and common ground. Yes, it is important to value and leverage everybody’s different strengths on a team, but the key to supporting the spirit of teamwork is focusing on what everyone has in common.
In other words, nobody on the team chose the team, the mission, their positions, or the leaders. However, every member of the team did choose to be in their particular job. As long as they remain in those jobs, they are in it together. They must depend on each other to succeed, so they must each be dependable to one another.
To be sure, your best employees will see that they pull more weight than the weaker members of the team. Sometimes they have to be reminded, though, that no matter how much weight they carry on their own, they are not doing their job 100 percent unless they also are helping other team members succeed.
Want to learn more? Join me November 7-8 in Seattle for ATD TalentNext.
Note: This post is adapted from Bridging the Soft Skills Gap: How to Teach the Missing Basics to Today's Young Talent.