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In today's workplace, team building exercises are an important but often overlooked ingredient in the recipe for success. Most collaborative projects in the office start off with a deadline and a team under pressure to work as quickly as possible.

The boss simply wants to see results and doesn't provide time to make sure team members are even on the same page. It shouldn't be surprising when communication issues, lagging productivity, and conflict ensue.

Now, with a growing number of people working from home, or independently in the gig economy, teamwork is a highly coveted skill. In fact, having experience working in a team is a requirement for most job positions. But when employers don't make an effort to foster good teamwork skills, people are left without opportunities for growth.  

Why is Teamwork Important?

Effective team collaboration is crucial because it enables employees to reach their goals faster and avoid unnecessary stress. Science has also proven its benefits. A study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology showed that even just the perception of working with others boosted intrinsic motivation in employees.

Microsoft found that collaborative work accounts for about 80% of today's workforce's time. If employees don't know how to collaborate efficiently and effectively, collaboration could potentially waste a lot of time and money.

Another study found that businesses promoting collaboration were five-times more likely to perform well over those that did not cultivate team building. So, how do you create a culture of healthy collaboration? It helps to actively organize cross functional team bonding activities and incentives designed to help everyone across departments work toward collective goals.

How to Develop Cross Functional Collaboration Skills

From large corporations to small businesses, creating an environment that encourages teamwork should be as important as research and development, customer response management, marketing, and design. But it doesn't have to be complicated.

A few simple yet fun team building activities for work are holding a "digital happy hour" to celebrate achieving a common goal, taking a project launch meeting off-site for lunch, or gathering to welcome a new employee.

In addition to building a group of close-knit employees, it's also vital to help employees learn how to work together. This can include establishing transparent processes for project workflows and open communication hubs, especially when more than one department is involved, to avoid the common pitfalls that occur with teamwork. 

Overcoming the #1 Challenge in Teams: Miscommunication

Team building experts Mary and David Sherwin found that one of the most common reasons teams struggle is that they have a fundamental communication disconnect.

The Sherwins are authors of several books about workplace management, productivity, and teamwork. They also lead on-site workshops and corporate team building activities to help businesses create powerful, collaborative workers.

Collaborative work accounts for about 80% of a workforce’s time.

In all their research and time spent with clients, they found that collaboration problems always stemmed from communication challenges. It's not that team members don't communicate; the problem is that they don't understand each other.

Workplaces are now more diverse than ever. People of all different ages and backgrounds work side by side, and they have fundamentally different understandings of the world. They also have different connotations associated with vocabulary used in the workplace.

For example, what it means to be professional will likely vary from one team player to the next. Some might think of being professional as dressing a certain way. Others view it as being adept in public speaking.

It’s not that team members don’t communicate; it's that they don’t understand each other.

Another example is how confusion begins to creep in when employees are told they'll be given "support." Without ever defining what the word "support" means, everyone will have a slightly different idea of how they want to be supported.

Every day, miscommunications like these pile up to create bad team environments that cause unnecessary stress at work. But a simple team building exercise developed by the Sherwins can help employees avoid these scenarios from day one, by helping those with different backgrounds and personalities get on the same page. 

Turn It Into a Game

The Sherwins created a team building activity called Teamwords to tackle communication challenges head on. It uses a deck of 44 cards, where each card has a word on it that can be used to describe one quality of a desirable team.

While gathered together, each team member selects the top three qualities they think comprise a positive team. For example, they might choose "open," "creative," and "communicative." The team members then work together to select the most important words and establish meaningful definitions that they can all understand.

Businesses promoting collaboration were 5 times more likely to perform well.

They might define being "communicative" as keeping everyone up-to-date on progress, and asking for help if needed. Or perhaps, they'll decide that being communicative means being willing to share new ideas.

The Sherwins say that if supervisors give their employees time at the beginning of any project to establish the group's priorities and expectations using Teamwords, they'll save plenty of time and energy that would have been wasted on miscommunications.

With so much of modern businesses' functions riding on successful collaboration, building sound teams should be one of every company's core competencies, and Teamwords is an excellent way to get started.

Director's Note

"With the COVID-19 pandemic, there are so many teams pivoting and quickly forming - probably more than any other time in history!

Despite the fact that we can't currently do group activities in-person, a remote discussion around team values and behaviors can still help teams hit the ground running.

Here's a link to a free version of Teamwords designed specifically for remote teams."

-Taylor Hamilton

For more interesting news about the people and ideas that are changing our world, subscribe to Freethink.

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