A cliché-free guide to improving team dynamics
If you have read my writing long enough, you would know that I am not a fan of the clichés that pass for employee engagement activities in our workplaces. I firmly believe that Beer Fridays and events like “rangoli competition” and “traditional day” are just easy ways to check employee engagement and team building off the to-do list. But often, the easy, acceptable means are just that – easy and acceptable. How much they actually affect interpersonal relationships and team dynamics remains to be seen.
True change and impact comes not from quarterly and annual activities, but from behavioural changes. It takes consistent effort, not flashes in the pan.
Non-violent communication is at the heart of better team dynamics
Want better team dynamics? Make non-violent communication (NVC) the only standard to live by. But what is it exactly? According to the Center For Non Violent Communication, it is a communication style based on the historical principles of nonviolence. NVC at the workplace means being able to separate the person from the task at hand. It means reframing how we express ourselves in a way that does not threaten or put the other person on the defensive. It is the art of being assertive and demanding excellence, accuracy, and discipline without making the other person feel small or incompetent. NVC takes specifics like gender, class, background, personal traits, and individual performance out of the equation and focuses singularly on the task at hand.
For example, even a simple question asking a colleague if he/she can meet the deadline can be framed better, “What help do you need to meet the deadline?” NVC is the art of putting flexibility at the core of your demand. Simply put, it is all about saying, “will you be able to…” instead of “do this”.
Teams are made up of diverse individuals with varying degrees of IQ as well as EQ. Personal and professional insecurities thrive in the hyper-competitive environments our workplaces often present. While competition is great to raise the quality bar, it can also manifest itself in negative forms, like judgment and confrontation. NVC removes the negativity, putting the focus back singularly on getting the job done. Its objectivity takes away any tension that may root from personal insinuations.
Most importantly, NVC is about bringing conversations and issues to the forefront and dealing with them like mature, evolved, objective adults. It is not about brushing things under the carpet.
Constant communication is the holy grail of functional teams
It is important to lay down another essential ground rule for feedback. Encourage your employees to talk to each other and give direct feedback if it impacts work, but non-violently of course. Letting negativity and interpersonal issues fester is the workplace equivalent of Pandora’s box. Once it starts and is not addressed quickly and objectively, relationships only get worse, cliques are formed, and before you know it, what could have been a simple feedback session is now a full-blown gossip fest.
As a team leader, it is also essential that you don’t take sides, not just because you want to be unbiased but also because you may not even have the complete picture.
Fun doesn’t come with a schedule
You can’t expect your flesh-and-blood employees to bond only during scheduled events and “fun hours”. It is important that teammates spend time with each other over tea breaks and lunches during work hours. It is easier and much more consistent. This is where bonds are formed, not across bays and in meeting rooms, and definitely not in the middle of a rangoli competition. I have seen these breaks and banter threaten some leaders, but that is a behavioural aspect they must learn to deal with.
It goes without saying that frequent breaks can’t affect deadlines and quality of work. But if it doesn’t, encourage these breaks and the banter that comes with them – it brings people closer. Besides, friends are known to better have each other’s backs, fill in for each other if need be, and collaborate better – crucial signs of positive, healthy interpersonal relationships in your team.
Of course, corporate norms like annual offsites and quarterly lunches and potlucks are not going away any time soon. But as team managers as well as individuals, it is important to remember that positive team dynamics take more consistent effort. Be mindful of them in every interaction and make them a shared goal if you truly want a high performing, close-knit team.