Building team cohesion in uncertain times

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Despite the fast approaching Halloween deadline, there’s still no real additional clarity around what Brexit will mean for any of us; including the implications for business and employment. There is a great deal of talk about uncertainty and, from a business perspective, there’s only so much operational planning that can be done for such an ‘unknown’. Which begs the question whether a better approach is to focus on building a strong team foundation and making sure that employees have the resilience, adaptability and innovation required to weather any forthcoming storm.

So, how do we build team cohesion in uncertain times?  Like so many things, it’s all about communication.  Here’s some of our top tips:

Be Honest

It’s OK to say that you can’t offer clarity or reassurance right now. Just keeping a dialogue going makes people feel included and gives reassurance that the matter causing uncertainty is on your agenda. Even if there aren’t currently any answers. Commit to regular updates using a range of communication methods. This all helps foster trust and reduce anxiety.

Ask for Input

Leaders cannot be expected to have all the answers or all the ideas, but it is their role to identify the best plan, based on all the information available. And asking for input from the team helps ensure that all facts, angles and potential solutions are considered.  Plus, giving people the opportunity to contribute to the solution can reduce the sense of powerlessness that uncertainty can bring.

Provide the Rationale

As you take decisions, be prepared to explain your thinking. If people understand the rationale behind action planning, it creates a better foundation for generating support and inviting more constructive input – having the plan interrogated is a useful test of its robustness. Better still, ensure the relevant people are involved in decision making processes – involvement is a key factor in employee engagement and could be the difference between individuals getting onboard or not.

Be Flexible and Adaptive

In uncertain times, new information can become available that may challenge the plan or present a better solution. It’s understandable that, having formulated a way forward, we might prefer to stick with it as a way of increasing certainty, but we should be prepared to keep a mind open to adopting better solutions as they arise.

Be Positive

Now is not the time for doom and gloom!  Much like nervous airline passengers look to cabin crew to check whether they appear calm and in control, your team will watch how you’re reacting to the uncertainty. So, assuming the brace position is not recommended!  Confidence is crucial.  Much as composure in leadership is important, a reciprocal confidence in your team is also critical – when individuals feel more certain about their own role and how this contributes to future objectives, it promotes greater proactivity and willingness to collaborate with colleagues.

Create Small Wins

Identify small but meaningful wins that the team can achieve quickly and easily. Then celebrate them!  This helps to boost confidence, foster a ‘business as usual’ mentality and create momentum. Where uncertainty exists, feedback is key – it’s important the team understands the impact of their combined efforts and have an opportunity to reflect together on where their collaboration is achieving success and how they might need to adapt their approach.

Build Trust

Hand in hand with honesty, transparency breeds trust and in uncertain times, trust is a great commodity to have. Team cohesion relies on establishing a foundation of trust between colleagues – this requires clarity of expectations in relation to different roles and a collective understanding of different team members’ strengths and attributes. Cohesion is also strengthened in the presence of shared values.

Case Study – WPG team cohesion in action

Having reviewed our core business priorities, and with the aim of enhancing team cohesion in order to support collaboration in working towards our objectives, WPG’s annual business review day this year had a particular ‘team focus’. The purpose was to build a shared understanding of the team profile and how this relates to WPG’s overall organisational culture, in order to foster more effective team working strategies.  To begin, we split into two teams and competed to build and sail a raft across Carsington Water, Derbyshire. Both teams quickly identified the strategists (to design a robust vessel and define the game plan) and the pragmatists (to tighten knots, secure ropes and position barrels to ensure optimum buoyancy)!

Competition – and collaboration

Despite the competitive nature of the activity, the groups collaborated successfully. Each was willing to listen to and support each other, (especially when the fear of launching our rafts onto open water set in!) and to trust that everyone was working towards the same goal – setting sail safely without capsizing!

Building trust beyond the comfort zone

From soggy wetsuits to the fear of water, several people were pushed outside their comfort zones. But those who shared their trepidations were met with encouragement and understanding. This helped to build both trust and a collective optimism! Both teams managed to build vessels sail-worthy enough to survive a round trip across the lake, each carrying six people.

Uncovering the WPG team profile

The rest of the day was spent examining the team profile and how it functions overall. This involved each of us reflecting openly on our strengths and development areas, and both providing and accepting colleagues’ constructive feedback. Requiring a degree of trust and honesty, this is something that’s done regularly. Each week, we share observations of our colleagues’ actions and behaviours that demonstrate WPG values (‘values in action’). At the business review day session, we tried to build on these weekly examples, creating a shared dialogue around how we interpret our values in the context of our organisational culture. This required listening, seeking input and sharing views in a safe environment, a willingness to be flexible and compromise, so that we could reach an agreed definition of our values in practice.

Using team cohesion to overcome challenges

Outside of what may or may not happen post 31st October, greater cohesion and awareness help the WPG team in several ways:

  • to overcome any challenges associated with being geographically dispersed,
  • to generate alignment and learning between different client and service portfolios via collaboration,
  • to encourage development and confidence in our individual team members by generating a supportive environment in which there are opportunities for challenge and shared insight.

If you would like to comment on any of the issues raised in this blog, or would like to talk to us about creating more cohesion within your team, please get in touch with us.

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