No matter where you work these days, chances are your company is facing one or more various challenges: a shrinking customer base, increasing competition, lower profits, high turnover, etc. In today’s economy, no one is immune from setbacks and obstacles. So what makes one company able to rebound and recover in the midst of adversity while other companies throw in the towel and give up? It all depends on the company’s ability to work through the challenge as a team.
Despite the proliferation of team building advice available, the fact is that most people don’t work together to accomplish something good for the company. Even though many workers give lip service to the idea of teamwork, they really still want to be seen as the hero – as the Lone Ranger who tackles the problem, figures out a unique solution, and gets all the credit. Compounding the problem is the economic meltdown. Since many companies are cutting costs and laying people off, no one wants to be seen as useless or dispensable. As a result, they take every opportunity they get to stand out and appear more knowledgeable or more skilled than anyone else.
While such an approach may enable someone to stay on board for another pay cycle, it does little to solve the company’s challenges. In order for true problem solving to take place, everyone needs to put pride and ego aside and truly work together to come up with viable solutions. In order to do so without feeling threatened or vulnerable, instill the following guidelines in your organization.
- Get to know yourself.
If you don’t really understand who you are, what you stand for, and what you’re good at, you’ll never have the confidence and security to step outside yourself and see things from a new perspective. You’ll be forever stuck in the Lone Ranger mindset, because you’ll be afraid that allowing someone else to assist you on a project will expose any shortcomings you have. The fact is that those who are confident know who they are and where their strengths lie. As a result, they are able to let go and reach out to others for insight and help. Because they know themselves individually, they are better team players – playing to their strengths and getting assistance for the rest.
Therefore, give yourself the opportunity to get to know yourself. Do some periodic self-reflections to keep yourself grounded. Look at yourself from a work perspective as well as a family or personal one. Ask your friends, family, and co-workers what they perceive as your strengths and weaknesses so you can gain self-knowledge. Additionally, many people find such things as meditation and reflection useful for discovering their core interests and talents.
- Know your role at work.
You were hired for your current role for a reason. What is that role, and what was the reason you were chosen to do it? If your role has changed since you were hired, figure out how and why it evolved. Was it a deliberate re-focusing of your role, or did it “just happen”? Also look at how your identified strengths help you fulfill your role to the company.
Realize, too, that other people have their roles. There’s a natural hierarchy of the company or team, and you need to respect that. Think of the team or company as a system. A more efficient system will get better results; therefore, you need to let each part of the system do its role in order for the system to run smoothly. So if you’re not “the computer guy,” don’t pretend that you are. Defer to someone who is adept at that role so you don’t slow down progress or make things worse.
Deferring to others can be hard, especially when you need to defer to a junior staffer. After all, no one wants to give up their power. But you’ll have better results when you do. For example, in a healthcare-focused company, the boss may be more familiar with broader trends of the healthcare industry, but the junior staff may be more familiar with details of cardiology drugs, doctor reimbursement guidelines, etc. In this case, the junior staff provides information to supplement or guide the experts. That’s how working together and using everyone’s strengths can solve problems.
- Be open to brainstorming.
No matter what challenge your company is facing, bringing everyone together for a brainstorming session is sure to help. The key to an effective brainstorming session is to instill a sense of “blue sky thinking.” In other words, no idea is dumb, off limits, or too crazy to voice. Use a whiteboard to record all the suggestions and to map out how you’ll get from Point A to Point B. Start with the big ideas, pick a few that make sense, and then focus them down. As long as you keep the environment positive and light-hearted, people will be eager to participate and offer their ideas.
- Conduct group exercises to get people engaged.
During company meetings or group retreats, get everyone to participate in some sort of group activity/exercise. Make sure everyone takes on a role and participates. For example, you can put people together in groups of five or six and give them the task of building a paper airplane. They have to design it, measure the distance it travels, and give it a marketing pitch. The group then has to divide up the labor and come together at the end to perform a cohesive discussion of their product.
The goal of any exercise like this is to get people working together and tackling something new. Whatever the exercise is, it should be irrelevant to the current challenge your company is trying to solve. You want people shifting their perspective so they can see problems in a new light. Additionally, instruct people to take on roles they normally wouldn’t do. So in our paper airplane example, perhaps the accountant is responsible for the marketing campaign and the salesperson must take on a design and product development role. This enables people to understand the complexity of other roles and helps them see routine things in a new way.
- Maintain a sense of play at work.
During tough economic times, it can be difficult to stay positive at work. However, if you want to be a lean, mean, problem solving machine, that is exactly what you must do. Negativity and pessimism are self-fulfilling and will doom any plans to failure. Therefore, keep a joyful mindset and choose to look at situations in a positive way. If you have some negative nay-sayers who are bringing the group down, talk with them to see if you can help them change their attitude, as their outlook and behaviors affect the whole company. If they won’t or can’t change, then it’s time for management to decide if they’re the type of people who can contribute to the company’s overall success.
Use Your Team to Get Ahead
When people take the time to shift their perspective about themselves and those they work with, everyone can come together for effective problem solving. So stop giving lip service to the concept of team building. Take a proactive approach to getting everyone on the same page and engaged in solving the company’s toughest problems. When you do, no problem will be unsolvable, and you’ll have a dedicated and engaged workforce that takes the company to new levels of success.