As we approach the quarter pole of the 21st century, it has become apparent that the pace of technological change is not slowing down. Rather, we’ve come to expect disruptive, industry-altering innovation as the new norm.

The impact of this economy on business and employment is twofold: Not only are people in task-focused jobs being replaced by automation technology at an increasing rate, but companies are also restructuring to be leaner and more adaptable. Hierarchical structures — where people have well-defined, highly specific duties — are giving way to flatter ones. Cross-functional collaboration and teamwork are the new keys to success.

With artificial intelligence taking on repetitive task work, it falls on human teams to develop and execute a strategy that drives profit and increases client retention. Therefore, it’s more important than ever for organizations to ensure their teams are built for maximum effectiveness. Effective teams are the crux of your business. You can set strategies, create goals, and plan to the last detail, but without carefully selected, high-performing teams, you’re going to fall short. Mental toughness is an important factor in team-building and one you should be looking for as you guide your team to success. Good teamwork requires a tricky balance, but by adhering to the 10 best practices outlined below, leaders and team members can realize their shared objectives:

Establish Trust

The foundation of any lasting relationship, professional or personal, is trust. In a professional setting, team members have to know others will deliver on promises, support shared goals, pitch in during challenging times and maintain open communication.

58% of people say they trust strangers more than their own boss. If someone struggles to trust even their own boss, they likely don’t trust who they work with either. If you put your trust in team members, and they return that trust, the team bond is strengthened. Here are a few ways you can strengthen that bond:

  • Have patience – trust is built over time, so be tolerant and considerate of any mistakes.
  • Remain calm – this will inspire trust and loyalty because your employees know where they stand with you.
  • Be transparent, open, and flexible – this will help to get rid of any mistrustful perceptions.
  • Provide mutual feedback – the key is to have a plan in place and a process to follow.
  • Participate in ongoing team exercises – a few examples include the human knot, scavenger hunts and having employees maintain eye contact for 60 seconds.

Understand Yourself

Achieving self-awareness about your strengths, limitations, motivations and tendencies will help you contribute most effectively to the team by taking on the tasks for which you are best suited and by eliminating behaviors that hinder the attainment of shared goals.

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According to an American Management Association study, “a high self-awareness score was the strongest predictor of overall success.”

Self-awareness is also a key characteristic of mental toughness. In the competitive world of sales, mentally tough employees demonstrate grit and motivation to see a project through to completion at a high level. That’s a valuable addition when putting together successful teams. Teams are dynamic and constantly in flux, so consider which of your employees are self-aware enough to pick up the slack when they see it and delegate work when they’re overloaded.

Understand Others

Just as you have a personal work style, so does everyone on your team. Instead of expecting others to operate according to your style, seek awareness of their strengths and limitations. This will give you a better understanding of which employees exhibit mental toughness and how to place them within your teams to best compliment everyone’s strengths and support their weaknesses.

The best way to understand others is by doing the following:

  • Pick up on any emotional cues (verbal and non-verbal) – the tone of voice, body language and other non-verbal ways of communication.
  • Actively listen to what others have to say – this will help the person speaking to feel more at ease and able to communicate better.
  • Be aware that not everyone has the same point of view – show sensitivity and understand their perspective.
  • Provide assistance – depending on your understanding of the emotions and needs of the person.

By learning about each other’s intrinsic motivations and work styles, team members can understand why people do what they do and reduce unproductive conflict. Through enhanced mental toughness training and development, your team will know how to better bring in new clients as well as retain them. Even the best programs have a natural drop off if intrinsic human behavior isn’t addressed.

Define Roles

It takes different types of personalities to make a team run effectively. Some people are better communicators, some have brighter ideas and some are more efficient and organized. By defining responsibilities beyond specific tasks and thinking about team roles holistically, a team can maximize the talents of the individual members while forming a single entity with the power to achieve great things.

Team Roles Include:

  • Champion – someone who enjoys promoting ideas, rallying the group, and driving change.
  • Creator – someone who enjoys generating ideas, designing solutions, and tackling creative challenges.
  • Implementer – someone who is adept at taking charge of the daily work activities and administrative tasks.
  • Facilitator – someone who does well managing relationships, both within the team and externally; they are the glue that holds everything together.

Set Ground Rules

It’s your team, and the team is free to make its own rules of engagement. Rules may relate to how members communicate, how they establish and meet deadlines and how they handle obstacles. With ground rules in place, members know how to navigate challenges and how they will be held accountable in a non-hierarchical structure.
Important: Ground rules should be flexible and changeable based on team needs. Following rules simply because they exist is not an effective practice.

Setting ground rules within your team can help improve the quality of work life by:

  • Creating open communication.
  • Ensuring employees act professionally.
  • Making sure all employees are treated the same and with respect.

Conduct Negative Polling

Instead of asking people if they agree on a given approach, decision or meeting point, ask if anyone disagrees. You are giving them the opportunity to voice concerns rather than simply acquiescing in an effort to go along with popular opinion. You’ll notice which of your team members exhibit ego-strength, another aspect of mental toughness, which can be used as a model for how these conversations should go. Conflict is not necessarily something to be avoided. When a few teammates can work through their disagreements in a respectful, productive way without taking it personally, your entire becomes stronger and more effective.

Give and Accept Feedback

43% of highly engaged employees receive feedback once a week, compared to 18% of those with low engagement. If feedback is provided in a way that supports the individual’s growth and development, it can be a wonderful tool for identifying potential blind spots and increasing self-awareness through others’ perceptions. In a way, team members are coaching and developing each other, and obstacles to team success are being addressed in a respectful, constructive manner that focuses on professional growth rather than on personal criticism.

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Take Time for Reflection

It’s easy to become caught up in deadlines, checklists and moving things into the “done” pile, as there are always more challenges lining up to take the place of completed assignments. Unfortunately, bad habits can develop, and opportunities for systems and/or process improvement are often missed. Take the time, as a team, to reflect both on accomplishments and setbacks; for the former, to reinforce and improve upon what worked; for the latter, to focus on where there are opportunities for improvement.

A good time to do this is at the middle and end of every year. This allows the team to reflect on where they have been, where they are now, and where they are going. And don’t forget to also reflect on individual accomplishments. Reflecting together as a team on individual contributions will give team members appreciation for their hard work, along with the realization and recognition of how well they performed. You can also take this opportunity to discuss and foster the mental toughness traits you notice in your team, building up those skills across your team over time.

View Team Building as an Ongoing Activity

Team effectiveness is not something you think about offhandedly in between the other stuff. It should be your focus. Projects will come and go, but the team is the engine that drives the business result. And just like engines need maintenance to run efficiently, teams need to revisit best practices to make sure effectiveness remains optimized. It is the most important investment you can make for your team.

Building mental toughness within your team takes time, and not everyone will be mentally tough individually, but you can build particular skills within those team members who possess parts of a whole. By distributing the traits of mental toughness across your team in a way that supports itself, you can install a safety net so that there is always someone to catch things before they fall through the cracks.

Know When to Lead and When to Step Back

Leaders play an important role in team development, whether it’s setting the standard for accountability, facilitating communication or mediating conflict. They also know the work styles of different team members just as they know their own. However, it’s important that leaders’ strengths and limitations are on the table alongside everyone else’s and that they are open to improving their contributions and increasing self-awareness. In the end, team members will only be as committed to team development as the leader is.

A true leader on an effective team does not try to take over, make assumptions on behalf of other team members or micromanage their contributions. Doing so defeats the value of the flat, cross-functional structure. It also shuts down communication and limits interaction. The secret: if leaders follow the other nine best practices described above, this 10th one will fall into place naturally.

“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.”

Andrew Carnegie

Caliper’s organizational development consultants are experts at guiding and facilitating team building and team development workshops and programs. To understand more about mental toughness and how to apply to your team building, download the white paper, or get your assessment today.

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