Leaders are often appraised based on their team’s productivity, though the morale and camaraderie of the team plays just as important a role in their long term success. A team can work hard and accomplish great things, but if they don’t like each other and look forward to coming to work, production will eventually drop and/or team members will leave the team.

So, what is the implication for leaders? A leader must focus on both the production and the positivity of the team because one without the other is not enough for long term success.

Think about a team you have been a part of that was extremely successful. A team you really LOVED being on. While on this team you were invigorated, motivated, productive, and excited to be a part of what the team was working on. Take a moment to reflect and relish in the feelings you had about being on that team. Now, think about your current team. Do you have the same reaction?

High functioning teams are rarer than we would like to think. They don’t usually just happen. The leader and team members work together to continually build and renew them.

If you’re a leader (or a team member with influence) here are seven tips to maximize team success and make work feel more like play.

Get to know each team member personally.

Do you know about your team member’s lives away from work? What is important to them? Who is significant in their lives? What do they do for fun? Taking time to share personal stories creates a sense of comfortableness and breaks down barriers so that trust can be developed. Also, don’t forget to let down some walls and be human with your staff.

Establish team norms of behavior.

There are often many unwritten rules of behavior in the workplace. Even someone new to the team will pick up on these quickly. Some of these unspoken rules add to the positivity, while others detract from it. The best teams work together to define specific norms on how they will interact. This takes away the guess work. It also creates consistency and structure which can eliminate miscommunication. One example of a team norm is: We go directly to the person we have an issue with to attempt to resolve it before escalating it to a higher up.

Communicate regularly about things that matter.

The key here is things that “matter.” Are team members sharing things that impact each other or might be useful to each other? Is everyone getting this information, or only a few? Is it timely? Be sure to create a communication structure that works for your team and ensures important information is being shared with the right people at the right time. This might include a weekly staff meeting, using an intranet/bulletin board, or scheduling one-on-one meetings. The important thing is that the team decides what they will communicate, how they will do it, and how often this will take place.

Define vision and goals.

When we are clear on what we want, we will attract it. This Law applies to your team as well. If you were to ask each team member individually, “What are the vision and goals of our team?” would they all say the same thing? Or would you hear a variety of answers. The team must all be very clear on their purpose and their goals. This is something that should be discussed and reviewed on a regular basis so that it stays in the forefront of everyone’s mind and helps in making decisions about the team’s direction.

Recognize your team is an evolving system.

Members of the team, goals, external situations, and relationships all will be continually developing and changing. One team building activity is not enough to grow a team. Team building is an ongoing process that extends for the entire life cycle of the team. Just like any important relationship, a team needs to be cultivated. The good news is that team building can be very fun and simple much of the time. It can often be built into existing meetings or daily activities.

Have fun with a purpose.

It is a rare day that I meet someone who has no interest in having fun. Even senior executives like to have fun at work. The key is to make sure it is not (at least not always) fun for fun’s sake. There should be a purpose to it. Look for creative ways to address real issues. If the team wants to break down silos, how can you do that in a way that is fun and productive? Perhaps you set up an activity using colorful charts and sticky notes to help people visualize what each unit is doing and then use colors and lines to visualize where there are opportunities for collaboration. Designing activities that engage and stimulate the senses can make a potentially dry issue more fun and interesting.

Clarity on roles.

Each team member must be clear on their role as well as the roles of their teammates. Without role clarity there is confusion, frustration and sometimes competition. It is common that leaders take for granted that all of the team members understand what their peers are involved with, but often they know very little about each other’s responsibilities. Spend time discussing roles and defining boundaries.

When is it wise to bring in a neutral facilitator to help with team building?

A leader and the team can do much on their own to build the team. There are times, however, when it is advantageous to have a skilled facilitator come in to work with a team such as:

  • The Leader would like to participate fully and does not want to appear to be manipulating or influencing the group’s decisions.
  • The Leader wants to be able to be fully engaged as a participant of the process and not burdened with facilitating the session.
  • The Leader does not have the time, skills and/or interest in designing team building.
  • The Leader wants to collaborate with a neutral team expert to support, coach and provide insights for him/her throughout the team building process.
  • The Leader would like to formally assess the team and get a candid view of the team’s strengths and weaknesses.
  • The Team needs some sort of training (ie: communication skills).