The Thanksgiving leftovers have dwindled, Christmas carols are playing in stores, and holiday parties are in full swing. ‘Tis the season too for leaders to be making their lists and checking them twice – that is, their lists of goals for the new year.
With 2024 fast approaching, it is certainly time to start planning – determining resource needs and team composition, setting annual budgets, and refreshing strategies.
While you’re at it, it would be wise also to consider how you can improve teamwork and enhance team performance in the coming year. Building teams that are strong and high-functioning teams ensure your organization achieves its goals and your employees are enthusiastically engaged in the process.
In 2024, focus on four C’s to make it happen.
For teams, communication can be the biggest obstacle to productivity or the secret to success. Deliberate, clear, effective communication from leaders and between team members builds trust and fosters psychologically safe work environments where everyone feels comfortable contributing ideas and voicing concerns. But communication patterns that work for some won’t work for others, so it’s important to intentionally tailor team communication.
First, consider the style. It can be tempting to think teams work best when everyone practices similar communication styles, but communication styles are as varied as personalities and none are good or bad. There are, however, approaches that can be more effective in a particular situation. Maybe a deadline just got moved up – a direct, assertive style can help convey a needed sense of urgency. When personal feedback is being shared, most recipients appreciate a more sensitive and tactful style. Effective leaders and communicators consider their audience and adapt their style to ensure the message is understood and well-received.
Second, consider the message. Obviously, there are the tactical, day-to-day discussions about tasks to be tackled or a project’s status. But it is equally important that leaders think about clearly communicating the team’s broader mission and expectations for success. Reiterating team goals and the strategy to achieve them helps provide clarity and align employees behind a common purpose.
Conflict is often seen as a thorn in the side of teamwork. And yes, conflict can be uncomfortable, but it doesn’t have to be problematic.
Healthy conflict — involving open communication and a willingness to explore various viewpoints — can lead to innovation, improved decision-making, and a stronger, more cohesive team connection.
On the other hand, unhealthy conflict — often manifested as personal attacks, blame, and grudges — can fracture teams, hinder productivity, and damage morale.
Promoting a team’s purpose, providing clarity around responsibilities, and creating a psychologically safe work environment can help reduce unhealthy conflict and lead to constructive, healthy debate within teams. So the next time a conflict arises, remember the potential it holds when managed properly. And rather than avoiding it, embrace it as an opportunity to brainstorm ideas, to poke holes in preconceived assumptions, and to grow as a team.
If your organization is like a lot of others, the new year will not only usher in a new list of goals, but possibly also a fair amount of anxiety around annual performance evaluations. Traditional evaluations are typically one-way feedback from a leader to an employee. Rarely, though, are employees allowed adequate time to process the feedback or share their own insights.
Maybe the new year needs a new approach. Consider shifting from simply providing feedback to feedforward coaching. That means managers aren’t just telling employees what they see, but rather coaching employees to see and assess their individual performance from a new perspective.
Feedforward coaching involves candid conversation and invites open-ended questions between a supervisor and employee. In turn, it leads to both parties examining their recent behaviors and assessing which have been productive as well as those that may have detracted from productivity or constructive teamwork.
For feedforward conversations to produce positive results, leaders must create an environment of psychological safety where employees feel comfortable admitting mistakes, taking creative risks, sharing ideas, and expressing concerns without fear of reprimand. As trust is reinforced through productive feedforward conversations, team members’ insights become richer and there is greater clarity around opportunities for growth and personal development.
It is hard to imagine that 2024 will mark four years since the start of the pandemic, especially when so many of us continue to feel its effects in our daily lives. Nowhere is its impact more evident than in our workplace environments.
With many still working remotely or on hybrid schedules, there are fewer people in the office and in-person colleagues work different days of the week. Consequently, dropping into a coworker’s office doesn’t come as naturally and water cooler conversation is far less frequent.
This new normal makes team connection more challenging and evermore important. Research shows lower levels of connection at work to be linked to higher turnover, lagging performance, and greater stress and burnout.
A shared purpose can help teams thrive despite an absence of physical proximity. A carefully constructed purpose statement can be a team's North Star, illuminating its path and guiding its steps. It defines the reason a team exists and its contribution to organizational growth. And it can provide teams a strong sense of connection by unifying and aligning members behind a common goal.
Here’s to a Prosperous New Year (Clink!)
A new year can be exciting – full of promise and potential. Strengthening teamwork by building a healthier, more cohesive work environment can help ensure teams fulfill their purpose and achieve their goals in 2024.
For more tips to get started, check out Birkman’s High-Performing Teams Program. Birkman offers leaders the tools necessary to improve teamwork by enhancing communication, constructively managing conflict, introducing feedforward coaching, and building connection through a shared purpose.