How to Build a Teamwork Culture in Your Organization

Do the Hard Stuff so That Teamwork Will Prevail in Your Workplace

Businessman and workers talking in grocery store
Erik Isakson/Blend Images/Getty Images

Fostering teamwork is creating a work culture that values collaboration. In a teamwork environment, people understand and believe that thinking, planning, decisions, and actions are better when done cooperatively. People recognize, and even assimilate, the belief that "none of us is as good as all of us." (High Five)

It’s hard to find workplaces that exemplify teamwork. In the US, our institutions such as schools, our family structures, and our pastimes emphasize winning, being the best, and coming out on top.

Workers are rarely raised in environments that emphasize true teamwork and collaboration.

Further, the way organizations structure their systems of reward and recognition, compensation, and promotions are the antithesis of teamwork. As long as employees are compensated and celebrated for their individual performance and contributions, you are failing to encourage teamwork.

Teamwork Can Become Your Organizational Norm

Want to find another way? In a mid-sized tech company, the sales department recognized that paying employees for their individual sales encouraged employees to focus only on their own clients. When the organization moved to a new commission system that divided a large portion of the commissions equally to each sales person, teamwork increased dramatically. Employees went out of their way to make sure that all customers received the full attention of any available sales agent.

Many organizations are working on valuing diverse people, ideas, backgrounds, and experiences.

But, organizations have miles to go before valuing teams and teamwork is the norm. But, teamwork is becoming more frequently found with the entry of millennial employees into the workforce.

Raised by the Baby Boomers and the Gen Xers, millennials grew up participating in teamwork settings. For example, during a job interview, a millennial applicant pounded her fist on the table.

She said that she did not want to consider the job unless she was guaranteed the opportunity to participate on a team.

Generation Z employees are serving as interns and brand new employees in organizations, so four generations are now working side-by-side. So, you have four different expectations of teamwork, but it's a great time in history to create the teamwork culture you desire. 

Especially with the influx of the workplace's newest employees, you can create a teamwork culture by doing just a few things right. Admittedly, they’re the hard things, but with commitment and appreciation for the value, you can create an overall sense of teamwork in your organization.

Create a Culture of Teamwork

To make teamwork happen, these powerful actions must occur.

  • Executive leaders communicate the clear expectation that teamwork and collaboration are expected. No one completely owns a work area or process all by himself. People who own work processes and positions are open and receptive to ideas and input from others on the team. They cross-train other employees so service to customers is reliable and consistent.
  • Executives model teamwork in their interaction with each other and the rest of the organization. They maintain teamwork even when things are going wrong and the temptation is to slip back into former team unfriendly behavior.
  • The organization members talk about and identify the value of a teamwork culture. If values are formally written and shared, teamwork is one of the key five or six values.
  • Teamwork is rewarded and recognized. The lone ranger, even if she is an excellent producer, is valued less than the person who achieves results with others in teamwork. Compensation, bonuses, and rewards depend on collaborative practices as much as individual contribution and achievement.
  • Important stories and folklore that people discuss within the company emphasize teamwork. (Remember the year the capsule team reduced the scrap by 20 percent? Remember when the sales team nailed the biggest sale in company history in only one meeting?) People who do well and are promoted within the company are team players.
  • The performance management system places emphasis and value on teamwork. Often 360-degree feedback is integrated within the system.The employees understand that teamwork is the expected interaction in the workplace.

    Tips for Team Building

    Do you immediately picture your group off at a resort playing games or hanging from ropes when you think of team building? Traditionally, many organizations approached team building this way. Then, they wondered why that wonderful sense of teamwork, experienced at the retreat or seminar, failed to have an impact on long-term beliefs and actions back at work.

    To enable you to get the most out of the time you and your employees spend in retreats, planning sessions, seminars and team building activities, they have to be viewed as a critical part of a larger teamwork effort. They cannot contribute the results you desire unless they are one component in an overall team building plan.

    You will not build teamwork by retreating as a group for a couple of days each year. Think of team building as something that you do every single day at work. These five recommendations will help you to build a teamwork culture.

    • Form teams to solve real work issues and to improve real work processes. Provide training in systematic methods and norming so the team expends its energy on the project, not on figuring out how to work together as a team to approach it. Traditionally, if you're not careful, teams can spend up to 80 percent of their time and energy on relationship building. This leaves only 20 percent of their available energy for solving the problem.
    • Hold department meetings to review projects and progress to obtain broad input, and to coordinate shared work processes. If team members are not getting along, examine the work processes they mutually own. The problem is not usually the personalities of the team members. It’s the fact that the team members often haven’t agreed on how they will deliver a product or a service or the steps required to get something done.
    • Build fun shared occasions into the organization’s agenda. Hold potluck lunches; take the team to a sporting event. Sponsor dinners at a local restaurant. Go hiking or to an amusement park. Hold a monthly company meeting. Sponsor sports teams and encourage cheering team fans.
    • Use ice breakers and teamwork exercises at meetings. One small production organization held a weekly staff meeting. Participants took turns bringing a fun ice breaker to the meeting. These activities were limited to ten minutes, but they helped participants laugh together and get to know each other—a small investment in a big-time sense of team.
    • Celebrate team successes publicly. Buy everyone the same t-shirt or hat. Put team member names in a drawing for company merchandise and gift certificates. Take the team out to lunch or order in pizza. Let the team members share their success story at your weekly company meeting. You are limited in the ways that you can celebrate teamwork only by your imagination.

    Take care of the hard issues discussed above and do the types of teamwork activities listed here. You’ll be amazed at the progress you will make in creating a teamwork culture, a culture that enables individuals to contribute more than they ever thought possible—working together.

    More About Teamwork