3 Tactics To Build Great Teamwork
At Corporate Rebels, we are growing our team. It reminds us how crucial (and difficult) it is to build one that works smoothly. But we do have one big advantage: we can draw on inspiration from the bucket list companies we have visited over the past two years. Below, we share three great lessons we learned.
1. Organize around a shared purpose
For larger organizations, organize your company into a network of small, multidisciplinary teams of ~10 to 15 people. Unite the teams around a shared purpose, and don’t forget to make this explicit.
The ‘network of teams‘ we encounter are structured in many ways. For example:
- Region / country (e.g. Buurtzorg)
- Product / service (e.g. Finext, Incentro, Haier)
- Client / customer (e.g. FAVI, BvdV)
But the glue that really unites them is shared objective/mission/purpose. It’s their common cause. It elevates team matters above personal ones. The reason is simple. Being part of a collective united in a common cause is way more powerful than being part of an unconnected group.
To keep the connection clear and strong, dare to challenge the necessity of the team at any time. Be willing to ask why the team exists. For example, ask:
- “What is the purpose of our team?”
- “Why does it exist?”
- “What objective do we want to reach?”
- “When are we most successful?”
If you can’t agree on satisfying answers to these fundamental questions, there is a serious problem. Either focus on defining the shared objective quickly, or dissolve the team altogether.
Extend to people the freedom and trust to decide which team they will seek to join. Encourage them to join one whose purpose and values they share: or let them form a new team.
Then let them figure out how they can best use their talents to make the team successful.
2. Focus on communication
Communication across teams is just as important as communication within teams. How can we know what progress our organization is making unless we talk about it?
It’s up to the leadership group to make sure teams talk together, to achieve clarity, and to collaborate effectively. They should try to eliminate any barriers. There are two relatively simple practices that support transparency:
Radical transparency seems to a pillar of progressive organizations.
A common practice is to hold a regular (e.g. monthly) gathering with the entire organization. Spotify calls them Town Hall meetings. Google calls them All hands meetings. There is just one rule: make attendance voluntary. This encourages leaders to be relevant and interesting.
Online collaboration tool
Kill most of your internal email. Use an online collaboration tool instead. We like Slack. We use it to message internally, and also to communicate with others interested in our mission. (Interested? Click here to join.)
Not only is it important to know how the organization is doing in pursuit of its objectives, it is very important to know what progress your team is making. Make it a habit to talk about progress via regular (not obligatory) moments:
Monthly meetings focus, first, on how our accomplishments over the past month get us closer to our objectives. Only discuss the main targets. Then move to the upcoming month. We do this too, and use it to practice Open-Book Management.
Hold short daily stand-ups to discuss what people are working on that day. Have everyone in the team answer questions like: “What did I accomplish yesterday?”, “What will I do today?” and “What do I need help with?” This can be done in person, or (when travelling like we often do) through tools like Slack, WhatsApp, or simply by phone.
In every team, there is some shit to do every single day. Traditionally, we have distributed those tasks based on job descriptions. But forget about that, and try this: Let people distribute tasks amongst themselves based on talents/interests. As a first step, create an activity list showing the stuff that needs to be done, and display it. Then invite people to add their names to tasks they will pick up.
You can do this by creating an activity wall with post-its, or create a digital version with online software. (We use Trello.)
What about the tasks that nobody picks up? Stop doing them. If they don’t become a problem, it’s good that you stopped doing them. (By doing this, many teams have discovered there are tasks that nobody likes to do and, apparently, are not needed.)
So what if a problem does occur? Look for those interests in new hires or simply outsource the tasks. And then continue to focus on the things you like to do.
3. Dream and reflect - together
Getting shit done on a daily basis is important. But it is just as important to spend time together reflecting on the past and dreaming about the future—as Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman’s told us.
Progressive organizations set aside time to envision what the future organization will look like. They can follow these three simple steps:
The leadership shares a first draft of how they imagine the future organization. This might be where they see the company in ten years. This works best if you go far enough beyond present-day problems, but not so far that you have no sense at all of actually getting there.
A vision should not be a mysterious thing full of bullshit bingo. A vision is simply an inspiring picture of what success at a particular time in the future will look like. It should answer questions like: “What does the organization look like?”, “How big is it?”, “What are we famous for?”, “Why does anyone care about what we do?”, “How do people who work here feel about their jobs?“
Don’t just share this draft. Make sure you invite feedback from people in the organization and adapt as needed. At Zingerman’s, this is process can take months, or even years.
At last, it’s time to share the vision with everyone who is part of bringing it to life. Be aware: only talk about what you want to achieve, not how you’re going to achieve it. It’s totally fine if you don’t have any clue how the organization is going to get there. You (and especially the employees) will figure this out later on.
Establish a regular rhythm with your team to get together. It should become a time to reflect and dream together. Make it a habit to develop team culture with a step-by-step, experimental approach.
Reflect on how collaboration is going, and what could be done better in the near future. Every individual senses opportunities to introduce improvement. So, why not leverage those opportunities? You can do this by asking simple questions like:
- “Who is responsible for which roles?”
- “Do those roles make sense?”
- “Which policies and processes do we follow?”
- “Do those policies and processes still make sense?“
Continuously improve performance by introducing new ways of doing things on a regular basis.
It’s important to make time to connect on a personal level, too. So allow time for some casual chit-chat. At Corporate Rebels we try to hold such moments (of about half a day) at least once a week.
Time to dream and reflect on a personal level is just as important. Take time to dream about your own future and to reflect on your own performance.
Regularly delivering and receiving feedback is a great practice. Make personal development a habit. Invite feedback from different angles. You can easily do this by scheduling at least one one-on-one a week with:
- A team mate,
- A team leader,
- Or a mentor.
Don’t expect to instantly create the ideal way of working on organizational, team, and individual levels. Just start with the three tips above, and keep making small improvements.
We regularly do so as well—whether it’s because of a new hire, or because we notice that activities have changed once again. In our rapidly evolving adventure, we continuously need to adjust our way of working
This is particularly important for us right now—as we are adding more Rebels.
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Netflix - one of the pioneers on our Bucket List - is known for doing things differently: not just revolutionizing the entertainment business, but also by experimenting with radical management principles. The most eye-catching are its famous culture deck, the unlimited vacation policy, and the 5-word expense policy "Act in Netflix's best interest". Even more powerful than these 'exotic' practices is how they give and receive feedback.
When I was asked to speak at a University of Michigan symposium on the subject of humility a few years ago, I honestly knew little or nothing about the subject. Beyond a general understanding of what the word meant, and that it was probably a good thing to have, I wouldn’t have had much to say about why it would matter. In the intervening months of inquiry, I’ve learned a lot.