Building a strong team

An organization's main strength lies in its ability to work together. This guide offers help for managers who want to build more effective teams.

"United we stand, divided we fall," says an old aphorism, and there's a lot of truth to it--particularly as it applies to the workplace.

An organization's true strength lies in its people working together as a team rather than individuals working separately. The most important work you accomplish as a manager may well be in building a strong team. Effective teams can achieve remarkable results.

Here are some suggestions that can help you build a strong IT team:

Focus on the people who report to you
At regular intervals, set aside time to talk with each person who reports to you. Show a genuine interest in the individual. Afterwards, jot down notes and keep a file to which you can refer. Let your team members know you have an open door policy--you're always ready to listen to whatever they have to say.

Praise each individual
Employees thrive if you provide reinforcement about their personal worth. You need to recognize and validate each individual's contributions. No only does this boost their self-esteem, it builds trust. Once you've established trust, team members are more apt to come to you with issues that you need to address--particularly situations that involve team morale.

Create accountability and provide incentives
A team has to be able to measure its work in the light of the company's long- and short-term goals. When team members feel that everyone shares a similar vision and a supportive environment, they are usually willing to work at high levels. When staff members reach their prescribed goals (or are obviously working diligently to do so), consider rewarding them with gifts or privileges such as leaving an hour early, free rounds of golf, movie tickets, ice cream, or pizza.

Make team members feel that they have a stake and a say in the organization
Let team members feel that their input is valuable and that they have a measure of autonomy. For instance, you might allow team members to set their own schedules (within the framework of corporate flex time policy). Solicit their feedback on work policies, practices, and even the physical environment. Seriously consider any constructive ideas they offer.

Hold some staff meetings off-site
Schedule some of your meetings at a nearby coffeehouse or local restaurant. This allows individuals to distance themselves from the usual distractions and pace of the workplace. New surroundings often stimulate creativity, progressive thinking, and a fresh approach to projects.

Support your staff's professional growth and development
Staff development is an important investment for every company. Make sure that you attend to the education and training needs of your team members. Include this important area in your regularly scheduled employee reviews.

Take a light-hearted approach
Though most people are very serious about the work they do, they usually thrive in an atmosphere that encourages fun as well as challenging projects. So, whenever possible, add to and recognize the humorous aspects of life.

Organize clubs and other activities
How about a book club? A cooking club? A pool team? A bowling team? All of these activities promote team spirit and foster closer relationships between employees.

Enjoy the Great Outdoors
Plan a one-day (or longer) outdoor activity for your IT team. (If you use a search engine and enter teambuilding, you'll find a number of companies that specialize in creating tailor-made activities that foster teamwork.) To accomplish specified objectives, participants need to pool their resources, work toward a common goal, establish trust, and rely on co-workers--often for physical safety and security. For example, one co-worker may be blindfolded and asked to trust that his co-workers will lead him down the right path to safety.

Maximize the effect of the outing by hiring a photographer or videographer to capture those teambuilding moments. Post some of the best photos on a company bulletin board, newsletter, or Web site and distribute at least one picture to each of the participants.

Volunteer together
Have your team volunteer its efforts for a worthy cause, like working at a local soup kitchen. If you have several days to spare, how about Habitat for Humanity? Without any cost to the company, you can facilitate a rewarding team experience that contributes something valuable to society and also builds a special bond among team members.