Teamwork is indispensable — and almost unavoidable –in the context of a small business. You might have only three or four employees in your core team working in close quarters, or upwards of 20 or 30 on your payroll — either way, you’ll depend on each other to progress your business and get to know each other well.
The closer your team is on a personal and professional level, the more efficient and motivated they’re going to be. They’ll enjoy coming to work, talk freely about their thoughts and concerns, and rely on each other for support during challenging circumstances. The problem is, you can’t force people to be closer together. You can, however, take measures to ensure your small business team works together as closely as possible:
1. Build a Strong Small Business Team from the Beginning
Your first job is to select and assemble team members who are capable of working together. When hiring the core employees of your startup team, look for people with high levels of energy and a willingness to work as part of a team. If a candidate vocally prefers to work alone or seems difficult to communicate with, he may not be a good fit if you’re trying to build a collective team. It’s also effective to look for complementary skill sets or similar backgrounds to facilitate closer working relationships.
2. Identify and Resolve Disputes Proactively
According to the Harvard Business Review, the most productive way to resolve disputes between two people is to resolve them before they happen. As a leader, it’s your job to recognize subtle signs in your team that something might be wrong — sometimes before the team members themselves recognize what’s happening. If you notice a budding conflict between two of your workers, find a way to settle the dispute before it escalates into something that interferes with your regular work. Proactive dispute resolution means fewer disputes, and fewer disputes lead to a happier, more cohesive team overall.
3. Encourage More Group Participation
Group meetings are the perfect opportunity to get your team talking to each other. Here, make it your job to ensure that every individual brings something to the table. Invite discussion between the individuals on your team, and cultivate an atmosphere of collective listening and mutual respect. The more time your team spends talking to each other and exchanging ideas, the closer they’re going to become. You can also encourage more group participation throughout the day by creating a more open office atmosphere, and allowing people to speak to one another.
4. Set Goals as a Group
Rather than focusing on individual team members or even individual departments, try to set business goals that apply to the entire team. For example, you might set a goal to generate more revenue for the year (with smaller goals along the way), or generate a certain number of new leads. These goals align all departments and individuals together, and force people to cross-communicate and collaborate to achieve those goals.
5. Reward the Team as a Whole
According to Berkeley HR, effective team building relies on rewarding the group as a whole. For example, if you strive and eventually meet a specific collective goal, don’t hand out individual bonuses or thank your team members individually (though individual meetings are still important for business development). Get the entire team together to enjoy a reward at the same time. For example, you could take the team out for lunch or a nice dinner — doing so rewards every individual that participated in achieving the goal and simultaneously facilitates interpersonal conversation. On all fronts, the team grows closer together, and employees learn to function closer as a unit.
6. Create Smaller Teams for Individual Projects
For the majority of this article, I’ve talked about the “team” as it relates to your whole company, but don’t forget you can make smaller “teams” within that larger group. Assign two or three people to work on a specific project or task together, and vary your group assignments. Force people to work together in closer contexts, and make sure every individual on your team has at least a few opportunities to work with each other individually. This will facilitate more diverse working environments, better team problem solving skills, closer conversations and relationships, and eventually, a closer, more harmonious team.
7. Welcome Unpopular or “Minority” Opinions
According to a report by RICE University, closely working teams can sometimes settle into a phenomenon known as “group think,” where each individual in a group succumbs to a broader, accepted, “normal” way of thinking within the group. Anyone who identifies a pain point or concern might withhold those thoughts for fear of alienating themselves from the group. As a leader, it’s in your best interest to encourage and welcome these unpopular and minority opinions. It’s important to hear all perspectives, even less popular ones, to improve the group and company as a whole. Even more importantly, creating an atmosphere of trust and listening helps to produce a collective atmosphere where everyone feels like they’re a worthwhile and appreciated part of the team.
With these strategies, you’ll naturally encourage a closer, more engaged, and more productive workforce. There’s just one more caveat: don’t expect any drastic changes overnight. Implementing a handful of new habits and procedures isn’t going to make people like each other instantly, but over time, the increased exposure and engagement will yield to a more cohesive, centrally focused team.
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Hiring is the foundation here. Your team needs to get along with each other as well as get work done. Don’t be afraid to let someone go if they don’t measure up (it can be a morale killer).