Team productivity and efficiency are no joke. With so many of us working from home and/or moving to a hybrid model, we’re all looking for new strategies to keep the team buzzing together. This is what I do. Here at Salesforce, I coordinate with over 20 teams in four time zones to work toward a common goal. After years of study and practice, these are just a few of my favorite strategies for a steady workflow and team unity.
Choose, hire, and lead a team that’s ready to collaborate
With the right people and the right environment for their growth and development, you can expect a lot from your team. Use these tips to surround yourself with hard-working, fast-thinking individuals working toward a common goal:
Diversify your team
First, surround yourself with a diverse team. Diversity and inclusion have tremendous advantages in the workplace. A broader mix of colleagues with different backgrounds brings diversity of thought into the room. Some studies have even shown that companies with more diversity around the conference table are more productive and show a richer bottom line.
Lead with gratitude, and share yours regularly
An attitude of gratitude goes a long way at the (virtual, or otherwise) office. I am often impressed by the efforts and ideas of the people I work with, and I don’t just keep that admiration to myself. Recognize your team members’ accomplishments either personally or publicly, and find out how each person likes to be recognized. Do they like gifts? An email to their manager? A more public shout out on a big team call? Customize their recognition to them.
This practice gets the wheel of appreciation turning on your team and beyond. Set a weekly calendar reminder for yourself to show gratitude to a teammate.
Be authentic and vulnerable
I always thought that being a leader meant being as perfect as possible. I got a huge wakeup call from my team earlier this year with feedback that my authenticity and vulnerability were really low. I realized that they were asking for me to be more human – to share my struggles and my failures. They wanted me to walk them through the hard steps I had to go through for a win, and they wanted to get to know me by sharing more of my personal life.
Perfectionism is scary, and it makes it hard for people to work with you. I opened up and it created a more safe environment for the team to feel more comfortable speaking up. And the more they spoke up, the more they shared new ideas, and the more innovative and productive they became. I love this quote from Forbes and I refer to it often:
The perfectionistic, never see ’em sweat, A-gamers cause disconnection in others. Being able to balance your competency with your vulnerability makes you human, and creates a safe place for others. It also encourages strategic risk-taking and innovation, which are critical to excellence.
To encourage your team to bring their whole selves to work, you have to create a space to speak to that whole person. Short reminders to breathe, get mindful, and focus are a great way to break up the work day and encourage perspective, calm, and creativity. In addition to encouraging wellness days and time off as needed, kick off a meeting with a couple of minutes of meditation. Start things off with a quick team “temperature check” – red, yellow, or green – to gauge how they’re thinking, the struggles they may have, and their current stress levels.
Leaders should encourage their team to be their best selves. I’ve tried this exercise and it was very successful: Have each person write down personal wellness goals that are important to them. One of mine was to make a date night every Wednesday night; I also planned to make time for some stress-relieving exercise a few times a week. Encourage team members to write down what’s important to them to maintain their wellness. Make time for regular check-ins to help them keep those goals a priority and keep them on track. This is a great way to build accountability and team support while encouraging some really healthy habits.
Set a North Star, and help your team reach it
Your team needs a short list of three-to-four clear goals – the proverbial elevator pitch – that you strive for together. Repeat these goals constantly and make certain your whole team is as familiar with them as you are. Once everyone has the big picture, here’s how you can focus on each individual to help them reach their goals, i.e. their “North Star.”
Clarify each person’s role
Everyone on the team should be clear about each person’s role and the unique skills they have to support it. When they are clear on their roles, they overlap less and they’re more productive. Learn what special skills each team member has and have them coach each other for continued growth and learning.
One of my favorite quotes is, “It’s not prioritization until it hurts.” You need to constantly look at what you’re doing and what you could cut to make room for something more impactful. With this philosophy, your team isn’t wasting their energy and losing productivity.
Communicate with context
My colleague Jessica Kremer, director of communications campaigns and insights, always reminded me of this: people need the full story to be set up for success. Adding those extra few sentences in an email to explain, say, a project’s background and goals, can make all the difference in success and idea generation. Particularly now that we’re all working remotely and office kitchen culture is no longer part of our daily lives, we need to pivot the way we communicate to be more thorough and more impactful. Luckily we have lots of tools to help us along the way, including email, meetings, chat, etc.
Make the daily workflow more efficient
The more your team has insight into leadership direction and decisions, the more aligned and productive they’ll be. In addition, if they have the right tools and resources at the ready, they’ll spend less time performing mundane tasks and more time on bigger-picture projects.
Establish a single source of truth
Juggling multiple fast-moving projects spread over multiple people is the norm. So ask yourself: Does your team know where to go to find accurate, updated information on every project or initiative? It’s imperative to create (and maintain) a shared doc, website, spreadsheet, or something else with broad access and the right data. Help your team align to your North Star.
In addition, create playbooks for every role and every process. Detail and record what works (and what doesn’t) so that new members can hit the ground running. You can also share them with other teams so they can easily partner with you or absorb your best practices.
Instill a culture of coaching
Give your team feedback regularly, and coach them by asking questions and not giving them the answers. When people reach conclusions by themselves, they learn. And when people are learning, they’re engaged and productive.
I’ve also had great success with peer coaching, as it’s a safe way for people to try on new skills and stretch projects. If someone has a skill that’s valuable to others – for example, they’re a wiz on an analytics platform – have them be the point person for the team and coach others with questions and team development. People learn a lot from watching or getting feedback from their peers, not just their managers. Have your team spread the success between them.
Make use of the right technology
Jessica Kremer had another great point: Up-to-date technology can help your team keep their skills relevant and impactful, and get their work done more efficiently. Give them every opportunity to streamline their work and their communication and make things less manual and time consuming. Use technology to the best of your ability to set your team up for success.
Build trust by networking
The more people you know and build trust with across the company, the easier it will be to partner with them on projects and get things done efficiently. Make sure your team is setting aside time and opportunity for networking outside of your group.
How is this done? Here something that has worked for me over the years: Network virtually by inviting someone to a coffee chat and then sending them a coffee gift card beforehand. Join a mentorship program as a mentee or mentor. Start shared chat channels for common interests like cute pet pics or sharing vacation photos. What’s important is to add names and faces that are familiar, friendly, and knowledgeable.
For maximum productivity, keep the team motivated and inspired
Get to know your teammates as authentic human beings. On our team, we do a weekly sync where each person shares a few recent photos from their lives outside of work. It helps drive a strong personal connection across the team which helps keep them motivated, inspired, and thus, more productive.
Establish your team’s identity and vision
Create a written, shared vision with your team to build alignment and commitment. Together, define what you want to be known for, how you want to treat each other, what big moments you want to celebrate, and how you want other teams to perceive you. A team kickoff like this puts you all in agreement with shared values and ensures your vision includes something that motivates each team member.
Find stretch projects to help team members grow
Teams are more motivated and productive when they’re learning new skills and growing in their roles. Understand what types of projects energize your team members and which ones drain their batteries. Then, find them a stretch project that aligns to keep them growing, learning, and energized.
Celebrate team wins – and failures
In addition to knowing when to praise your team, you should be sure to keep your accolades specific. Not just, “nice job!”, but celebrate their specific accomplishments. Did they forge a new relationship that made all the difference? Learn a new system or tool? Beat a deadline? Praise them well, and you will soon see the rippling results of that praise. Frequent positive feedback is associated with increased creativity among employees.
Don’t forget to recognize and celebrate your team’s failures and applaud their willingness to take a calculated risk. Failure is an opportunity to learn, grow, evolve, and become more productive long-term. Create an environment where it’s okay to take a big risk and fail. Focus on lessons learned and what to try next time. The rest of the team will learn from seeing something that didn’t work (and how that person came back from the setback).