In companies from Silicon Valley to South Australia, the power of a unified workforce and supportive team culture is widely known. When managers focus on fostering teamwork – encouraging collaboration, open communication and innovation – staff are more likely to be engaged in their work and committed to their team. As teams continue to become increasingly diverse, dispersed, digital and dynamic; it’s more important than ever that companies and leaders invest in teamwork initiatives.
How to foster teamwork in the workplace: 4 lessons from leading companies
The largest and most innovative companies of the last decade didn’t become that way by accident. Deliberate efforts to promote effective teamwork and empower their staff have been instrumental to their growth and reputations. Here are four ways we can learn from their success.
1. Configure offices to encourage collaboration
Fostering teamwork can sometimes begin with the very environment itself. In 1999, Steve Jobs was the CEO of Pixar. Long before open concept offices were commonplace, Jobs transformed the office space which consisted of cubicle farms divided into different disciplines. Animators were in one building, computer scientists in a second, administration staff in a third. Realising the potential of an open floor plan, Jobs brought in a designer to change the layout. The designer created a huge central atrium with gathering spaces, theatres and break rooms so that people from each discipline would mingle and form collaborative groups. It worked. Pixar’s Chief Creative Officer credited the space for the rise in creativity and collaboration in the company. Pixar would go on to release 26 animated feature films earning 23 Oscars and more than $14 billion at the box office, as of 2019. Opening up silos and allowing staff to share ideas across disciplines is a hallmark of startups, and it certainly seems to help the innovation and agility of a company by encouraging teamwork. Bear in mind, though, that if you’re working in an industry that requires long periods of solo concentration, an open office might be impeding your staff’s ability to produce. In this case, consider incorporating some private spaces alongside shared spaces too.
2. Reward displays of teamwork and camaraderie
At PepsiCo, 40% of an employee’s annual bonus is based not on their own KPIs, but on how well they’ve helped other promising employees improve their own careers. It’s a great example of a company using personal rewards to encourage teamwork. To foster this level of support in your own workplace, encourage knowledge-sharing among team members, build in shared processes and responsibilities, and offer rewards for collaborative problem solving. Variety in incentives is important, and not every reward needs to be financial. Singling out an employee for praise in front of their peers can be an equally effective form of recognition. People like to know that they’ve been noticed and appreciated, and a sincere note of thanks or a public statement of appreciation can go a long way.
3. Flatten the team hierarchy
At startup publishing company Medium, one of the key tenets has been to distribute decision-making power and discourage consensus seeking. Their approach meant that even the newest intern could feel comfortable taking an idea to the CEO and as a result ideas flowed freely throughout the company. Your company may have a more formal hierarchy, but consider flattening that out within your own team. As a manager, keep an open door, emphasise collaboration and make sure everyone feels as if they’re in it together. As well as fostering innovation, you’ll promote engagement within your team, ensuring that everyone has the motivation to do their best.
4. Use technology to unite dispersed teams
British Airways began using workplace social network Yammer to unite the workforce, encourage staff engagement and sharing of ideas. Use of the network proved particularly successful for the airline, who previously hadn’t had a process in place for employee knowledge sharing. Yammer facilitated spontaneous conversations, sparking innovative ideas that helped the company improve customer service and operate more efficiently. For companies with offices across continents or frequently travelling teams, leaders must pay particular attention to company culture and teamwork. Platforms like Yammer, Workplace by Facebook and Chatter by Salesforce facilitate open discussion and innovation when a team, group of teams or entire company can’t be in the same place. When Covid-19 emerged in 2020, most companies had to quickly pivot to, or increase its reliance on, technologies to keep teams communicating and collaborating remotely. How many of those companies have since reviewed their technology use with the aim of being intentional and strategic about making sure teamwork is as strong as possible? Going beyond using technology to supplement the old ways of working, how could you use it in your organisation to foster even greater teamwork? Companies that foster good teamwork go furtherA strong team is always more than the sum of its parts, and companies that understand this lesson can go further, grow faster and innovate more than companies that don’t. How does your company facilitate collaboration and innovation through great teamwork? Related: Why Teamwork is Important in the Workplace This article was written by Tanya Ashworth-Keppel on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources were used to compile this article: Entrepreneur, Office Snapshots, First Round Review, Fortune, Forbes, Microsoft.
*The Australian Institute of Business (AIB) is Australia’s largest provider of MBAs. Source Ready, B. (2023) Domestic Enrolments Surged During COVID After International Students Locked Out, MBA News. Available at: MBA News.