I hear it all the time: “How can I get my team to all focus on a single goal? How can I get them pointing in the same direction? Honestly, some days ‘herding cats’ seems easier than leading my team!” I get it.
As it turns out, a team of co-workers is not the same as a school of fish. I’m no ichthyologist, but my understanding is that fish are basically mindless, instinct-driven creatures. And while there were days when I might have described my team that way, the truth is that my team was made up of intelligent individuals, each with their own aspirations, goals, and motivations.
Your team is no different. Because of this, the answer to the dilemma may seem counter intuitive.
The key to building a cohesive team is, paradoxically, to treat them as individuals.
Here are 5 ways to do that.
- Give Them a Collective, Compelling Goal. Look, nobody’s going to get on board the train if they don’t like the destination. You, as the leader, have to be an artist. You have to paint a picture of the target outcome, and it has to be a picture that fires their imaginations. It’s got to be a compelling picture of The Promised Land. “Yes, there are going to be hurdles. Yes, there are going to be setbacks. But look at how great it’s going to be when we get there!” And you can’t just paint this picture once (say, at a staff meeting) and then say, “There, that’s done!” You have to keep painting the picture over and over again. Keep that image of The Promised Land in front of them as often and consistently as possible.
- Put Them in the Right Seats. In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins talks about getting the right people on the bus. That’s important, but I think equally important is making sure they’re all in the right seats. It’s very demotivating when a team member holds up (or messes up) the entire project because he or she is doing work that he or she isn’t suited for. (And just imagine how demotivating it is for that team member!) What if, instead, each team member were in the right seat, meaning that they could play to their individual strengths, and contribute to the project by doing what they do best? Can you see the difference that would make-to both the individual and the team?
- Explain How They Fit. Talented team members don’t like to feel like they’re doing mindless work. And virtually everyone likes to feel like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves. That’s one reason why we join clubs, churches, and associations. So why not take advantage of these two nearly-universal human traits? You can do this by making sure that each member of your team knows exactly how their individual job contributes to the bigger picture. Make sure they know how important their individual contribution is to the ultimate goal – The Promised Land.
- Realize that Difference of Opinion is Not Lack of Cohesion. Again, people are not fish. Your team members are intelligent individuals with their own opinions and ideas (right?) This is actually a good thing! Team cohesion does not mean mindless lockstep! Too often I see weaker leaders feel threatened by a differing opinion. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the team member with the differing opinion isn’t on board with the project; he or she may simply have a different (maybe even better) idea of how to get there. This is a good thing because it means that that team member is actively engaged in the outcome. So instead of feeling threatened, look at that team member as a valuable ally. Listen to what they have to say. You, as the leader, can either agree or disagree with it, but if you do it well, you’ll have made that team member feel listened to and valued. That’s how you build cohesiveness!
- Celebrate the Victories. Celebration is an important part of the human experience. Every culture around the world has their celebrations, and your team should be no different. But don’t leave it solely to the very end. Yes, you need to celebrate the achievement of the goal. The Promised Land should come with a party! But don’t forget to celebrate the smaller victories along the way. You made it past that first big hurdle? Take the team to lunch! You made the Phase 3 deadline? Buy a new coffee maker for the team! Group celebrations unite the group. That’s why every culture around the world has their celebrations: to unite the group. So if you, as a leader, truly want to build a cohesive, united team, then look for opportunities to celebrate!
If you follow these steps, I’m confident you’ll start seeing more cohesiveness-and better results-within your team!