An unproductive, stressed team is often fragmented, unmotivated and lacking direction with unhealthy thinking patterns that block effective collaboration.
APATHY: No one cares so why should I?
LAZY: Not my role! Too hard …
BLINDED: Too busy!
One of the hardest things a manager has to do is to make members of the team they lead think about team goals as much as personal goals.
In environments where stress is low most people find it easy to look out for co-workers and push hard to ensure team goals are prioritised and managed effectively. However, as the stress increases and the pressure on each individual mounts there is a severe shift towards self-protection.
This is where the problems begin, and it raises the challenge: how does a manager create a culture of collaboration in a high-stress environment?
Here are a few things you can do:
1. Acknowledgement and rewards
As complex as human psychology can be, the laws of reward and reinforcement hold true. If you carefully select the behaviours you want repeated then they should be rewarded quickly and effectively every time those behaviours are displayed. Any inconsistency in reward – either in how often the behaviours are rewarded or if they’re rewarded for some people and not others – will create the opposite of the desired effect. Shared wins are effective and productive – acknowledge individual acts and reward the entire team. Acknowledgement as a reward has a really positive reinforcing effect.
2. Sharing goals and updates
Isolation is the enemy of collaboration. The more you can share goals, updates and progress the better it is for getting the team to work together. Most people are inherently motivated to do their best work, but become disheartened when they come up against roadblocks they don’t know how to overcome. If you turn the individual’s challenges into a group problem-solving exercise you will quickly find that everyone is offering more and helping each other.
3. Shared leadership and decision making
When people are promoted to a management position they sometimes lack experience in making decisions and allocating resources, and this is where a manager can become a much stronger performer by working with the team to determine and agree on best strategies. Ultimately, a manager needs to be in control – but not in an old-fashioned military-style chain of command that only moves in one direction. The modern manager works hard to build capacity of everyone around them, so they contribute effectively to challenges, problems, decisions and direction. This is not about voting … it’s about reasoned discussions and taking suggestions from the group, or senior leaders, about possible lines of action, or weighing up pros and cons of the various options. This is how a manager’s skills are developed and the collaborative culture emerges.
4. Fun and competitive
High-stress environments push people into an individualistic mindset. Ensuring a fun environment, sometimes in a competitive way, can really create interactions and excitement that would not have otherwise happened and often collaboration increases as a result. There is a lot of gamification theory emerging that suggests humans are fundamentally game players and are very motivated by games. Add a score line to any activity and it suddenly becomes very fun and motivating. The reward doesn’t have to be anything amazing, just something that gives people the ability to chase for a ‘win’ within their overall role, which probably has much longer term goals and aims.
5. Continuous improvement and innovation
Beyond simple game playing, a collaborative team is at its best when the people within it are really pushing each other to improve. When everyone is striving to come up with the next idea or plan, or to boost their performance, or increase efficiency, you will see people becoming very creative in how they look to solve the challenges they face. Note how different this is to the ‘order-taking’ approach of yester-year. When your team feels they have the room to take initiative or make suggestions without fear of any negative response then you will not only have an easier time of managing but you will also see some great collaborations. The list I’ve outlined above is something that takes conscious effort. We are hard-wired to become individualistic when stressed, so taking the time to put some of these measures into place will bring team-oriented behaviours to the fore. It won’t happen by accident, and left unattended you will quickly see an environment of personality clashes and politics.
The great thing is that you can start right now.