Wednesday 16 October 2019

Gina London: 'Team works: motivating power is the real prize'

The communicator: Gina London
The communicator: Gina London

Gina London

I was off travelling again this past week. This time I flew to Copenhagen to help facilitate a people-manager event for a large multinational organisation.

The purpose was to bring together the leaders from various departments to collectively consider a new framework for talent and performance development.

Sounds like a good enough idea, doesn't it? And the meeting itself went very well. Everyone participated and competed to win the goofy prizes I awarded.

Yes, my prizes are always unapologetically silly. That's because I always make a point to buy them from the airport when I land in the city I'll be working in.

Sheep soft toys in Dublin, Carmen Miranda-like hats in Rio, solar-powered Maneki-neko cats in Tokyo and of course, you guessed it: Little Mermaid mugs for Denmark.

But it was an unexpected comment from a winning participant during the event that really drew my attention.

"It's really great to be here with everyone today. This is the first time I've been in the same room with all these people in more than a year," the participant said.

Others agreed. Silly prizes aside, the real reward for these people came from the opportunity to work together as a unit. From, dare I say it, 'teamwork'?

Ah, the buzzword of all overused corporate buzzwords.

A while back, Stanford University researchers examined what motivated workers. You probably won't be surprised to learn that what they found is that people work demonstrably harder, longer and more effectively if they believe they are working together with other people as a team.

Now, just to make sure we're all on the same page here, a 'team' in business-speak is simply two or more people working toward a common goal. We don't need coaches, or cheerleaders or mascots or sponsored jerseys.

What you do need to cultivate the right environment to establish and nurture teams is the following:

1 Rules

Too often employees are put in a team without a clear understanding of what the rules of engagement or even the primary objective of the project at hand is.

What's the division of labour? Who writes? Who researches? Whatever the expectations or the tasks are, understand who is taking responsibility for what and in what time frame. Before a rule can be broken, it first must be made.

2 Mutual respect and trust

Along with the rules, comes the respect. Can you make that one of your rules? Why not? Everyone should trust the others to complete their jobs on time and if there is not a designated leader, then strive to make collaborative decisions.

Respect each other's ideas and input. And predetermine and agree upon consequences if a team-member does not.

3 Communication

You just knew I'd sneak that one in here, didn't you?

Along with the free exchange of ideas and input, make sure you have clear mechanisms for tracking progress. How can you incentivise completing reports, if that's required?

If you scoffed at my silly souvenir prizes, don't forget that competitions are a great motivator. Creativity and fun play a big role in the success of any team communication.

4 Results

If we're following the rules, being respectful and communicating, our teamwork will produce results.

Well, yes, if you also set clear objectives and everyone equally understands what they are. Build in milestones and if your team is not on track, seek others' opinions to help course correct. Celebrate your minor successes along the way to your ultimate goal.

While you might not be very surprised at these four main elements for encouraging teamwork, you might be more surprised to learn an interesting key finding from the Stanford study.

Employees will work nearly 50pc more on a project than their counterparts if they are simply given sufficient 'symbolic cues of working together'. That means that sometimes, even if you're not physically working alongside another person or a group of people, you can still be motivated to feel like you are and then productivity improves.

As the study noted, employees undertake many projects on their own but with others in mind. In one group, described as the 'psychologically together' category, participants worked solo on a puzzle but were told they were working together with others who would be giving them notes with tips.

People in the 'psychologically separate' category were asked to individually work on the same puzzle, but with no mention of anyone else involved.

Participants in the 'together' category worked longer at the puzzle and reported a much higher level of interest in their task than those who were in the 'separate' group.

The results showed that simply feeling like you're a part of a team makes people more motivated.

We humans are social animals. Most of us want to be part of a group. Or at least be encouraged and inspired to feel like we are. And silly prizes don't hurt either.

Admit it, if you won a cute little soft toy sheep, you would love it. Wouldn't you?

  • With corporate clients on five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon

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