We spend more time with our colleagues than with our families, yet team bonding, training and brainstorming are so often forgotten and overlooked. Think about the last time the company you work for ran a training or team building session: was it effective? Were the lessons long lasting? Was it relevant to your ongoing operations and needs? Probably not. The training most likely felt token, the bonding perhaps felt forced, and the team building may have even been too little, too late.
Furthermore, many companies and members of the executive team focus on meeting deadlines, achieving results and becoming more efficient, but having a cohesive team of people who know how to communicate can be the key to driving a company to the next level. It can also lead to:
- Fewer conflicts: when a group of people are comfortable communicating and know how to articulate their problems in a non-aggressive way, conflicts can be dealt with before things get out of hand.
- More collaboration: when members of a team feel they can share ideas and have input without being judged, creativity can flow and collaboration is possible.
- Longer hours: when your employees feel safe, satisfied and rewarded at work, they’re more likely to put in longer hours without resentment.
- A more positive environment: happier, more fulfilled employees contribute to a much more positive workplace.
- High job satisfaction levels: when company culture is right, job satisfaction levels increase.
So how can you get the most out of your team?
Part 1: Rewards, Team Building and a Comfortable Workspace
In order to get the most out of your employees, you need to not only tell, but show them how appreciated, valued and heard they are. Undoubtedly, congratulating a member of staff on a job well done can go a long way, but if your actions send a different message, your good work will be for nothing. Similarly, continually encouraging teamwork, cohesion and a united front is great, but these words need to be put into action. Some easy ways to start include:
- Scheduling weekly or fortnightly team drinks.
This works best on a Friday or towards the end of the week, and can include brief all-staff announcements. Stop work early, put out some drinks and snacks and let members of different teams get to know each other.
- Committing to frequent, ongoing team building sessions.
There are countless companies that run programs, sessions and exercises to enable teams to communicate and work together better. They range from overnight trips, to intensive rountables and light-hearted games, and can be a very good option if you’re trying to boost morale. If you don’t have the budget to hire an external service provider, why not take the job in-house by scheduling your own activities? These could include:
- Games - during Friday drinks or in-between more intense sessions.
- Strategic and big-picture brainstorming sessions - a great way to include people from a range of teams in the company’s mission and overarching goals.
- Trivia sessions about work related and other topics.
- Flexible hours.
Giving your staff flexible hours, within reason, gives you an opportunity to reward them for their hard work, and incentivise them to work as efficiently as possible. It will also breed a certain type of loyalty, one forged through mutual respect, understanding, empathy and appreciation.
- Reward your team.
It’s widely acknowledged that in order for a team to work efficiently, meet targets and exceed expectations, they need to be acknowledged and rewarded for their efforts. Acknowledgement may come in the form of public praise or even a simple thank-you, which can go a long way in making an employee feel appreciated and encouraged to continue their good work. Rewards, however, are perhaps the most effective motivator, and may include:
- A promotion: acknowledging your employees’ efforts by giving them more responsibility and job perks.
- A public thank-you or acknowledgment.
- A bonus: a financial reward is a great motivator for almost anyone.
Setting up a breakout space
As more is learnt about start-up culture and the perks of working in Silicon Valley, the notion that leisure time at work kills productivity is long gone. Giving employees the chance to clear their heads, rest, recuperate, form bonds with their co-workers and have fun can actually increase productivity, and encourages staff to stay in the office for longer hours.
If you have the means and space, setting up a basic break-out space is a fantastic way to:
- Give your staff a well-earned break.
- Enable your staff to clear their heads, experience a change of scenery and avoid potential conflict.
- Reward your staff for their hard work, by giving them a fun space in which to take a break.
- Encourage team building, bonding and enable relationships to grow.
- Draw in new talent with a modern, fun and interesting workplace.
- Keep your staff on-site, thereby making long hours easier and more rewarding.
Once you’ve got day-to-day business under control, it might be time to start thinking about rewarding your team, as well as taking an opportunity to hone your communication skills together. Getting out of the office is a great way to recharge and refresh, too!
- A camping trip
This is not one for the faint-hearted! Maybe the idea of being trapped in the bush with your colleagues for several nights makes you want to throw up, but getting out of your comfort zone, challenging yourself and learning with your colleagues is an experience like no other. You can combine it with team building activities, relaxation and strategy, and come away with a newfound respect and understanding for each other.
- A scavenger hunt
Scavenger hunts are such a fun way to get everybody moving, talking and working towards a goal, and can be done on the cheap yourself or through a professional company. If you have the time, try to make the activities relevant to your company, and offer rewards for the teams who perform the best.
- A team lunch
As simple as lunch may seem, quite often we forget the power of breaking bread with someone, particularly if it’s at a nice restaurant with good food. It gives you and your team a chance to relax and let down your guard, and may be one of the first opportunities you have to elicit some real and candid feedback and suggestions from your employees.
- A dance class
Nothing separates the good sports from the sore losers like dancing. It makes us feel vulnerable, awkward and silly, but can be so much fun if done with the right people. You’ll learn a new skill, spend time with your co-workers and have plenty of laughs along the way.
- A cooking class
Firing up the oven, throwing on an apron and creating a masterpiece is another fantastic option for a team with little time but plenty of energy. You’ll be working towards a goal whilst getting to know your team a little better, and have a lovely lunch at the end of it.
- A thrill seeking activity
This one should definitely be optional, but if your employees and co-workers are up for the challenge, nothing forges bonds quite like the thrill of a risky activity, such as bungee jumping, skydiving or eating at that dodgy looking restaurant down the road.
- Volunteer work
Volunteer work is a rewarding way to give back to the community, and offers the members of your organisation a chance to put petty in-fighting into perspective. It also serves as a reminder of how fortunate we are, and that it is possible to make a positive impact on the world.
Part 2: Dealing with Conflict and Making Tough Decisions
Conflict in the office: it’s a highly unpleasant but unavoidable part of leadership, management and work life. It can manifest through long-term passive aggression, disrespect, rudeness, undermining and in the worst cases, physical aggression. Conflicts can arise through a range of things going wrong, and might be a result of:
- Miscommunication - co-workers not expressing themselves clearly and meaning getting lost along the way.
- Power dynamics - those in positions of authority abusing their power, or their subordinates resenting their own lower status.
- Resentment - team members resenting the rewards others receive within the team, including promotions, special treatment and perceived or real unfair advantages.
- Jealousy - someone within the team wishes they had the position, opportunities or advantages of someone else.
- Poor management - a manager, executive team and/or CEO that don’t lead well, create a culture of bullying and regularly pass out blame.
- Bad intentions - members of the team intentionally sabotaging and negatively influencing the work of those around them.
There are various strategies available for dealing with conflict, but the ideal situation is to create, nurture and develop a team in a positive way, before any of these negative habits form. If the negativity is coming from the top of the organisation, it adds to the difficulty in finding a solution, however there are ways to combat such issues including:
- Organising a sit-down with co-workers in the midst of conflict.
- Communicating your vision of the team clearly and regularly.
- Conducting regular training sessions and working closely with problem employees directly, or through external training and management.
- Leading by example and not falling prey to the same issues developing within your team.
- Firing problem staff who have no intention of changing their behaviour, for the good of the company and your team.
We’ve only summarised some key points here, and of course dealing with conflict is much more time consuming and specific to circumstances, but by keeping those tips in mind, you’ll be able to keep issues within your team at bay, before they escalate into something you can no longer control.
On a more positive note, if you’re able to have some input over the recruitment process, you may be able to avoid major issues at work, all together! This all starts with:
Experience, qualifications and skills are all factors that you might, and should, consider when hiring a new recruit. There are other considerations, however, that are often missed, overlooked and undervalued, which can mean the difference between hiring someone great, or hiring someone who’ll cause problems and leave soon after they start. These considerations can be summed up by one concept:
So what is meant by the term, cultural fit?
In order to understand what cultural fit is, you need to understand corporate culture. In a previous article, we defined corporate culture in the following way:
Corporate culture is made up of behaviour, ideas, actions and beliefs that determine how employees feel and act, how the the company’s employees work together and how the staff is treated, regarded and respected.
It includes systems, employees, relationships, company structure, business relationships and a range of other factors.
In an article titled, Cultural Fit Assessment When Interviewing Candidates,The Balance Careers states:
Cultural fit is best understood when you consider it within the context of your organization’s culture and how your organization’s culture was formed. A potential employee may express and exhibit the characteristics, language, and values that exist within the current organizational culture - or not.
With that in mind, when making decisions around hiring and firing staff, consider:
- The cultural fit between the employee and the job
- The cultural fit between the employee and their team
- The cultural fit between the employee and their superiors
- The cultural fit between the employee and the company
Once you start the interview process, you encounter the first opportunity to get a sense of whether or not your potential employee will make a good cultural fit for the company. It’s therefore vital to pay attention to how they act from the moment they enter the building, including the way they speak to the receptionist and their general manner throughout the entire recruitment process. Once you’ve asked all of the job specific questions, start delving deeper by asking some questions that reflect how they’ll fit into your company’s culture, such as:
- How do you define ‘corporate culture’ and what does it mean to you?
- What are your core values?
- Describe your ideal work environment.
- What kind of management style do you like to use?
- What is the best way to give feedback?
- Describe yourself in three words.
- What did you like/dislike the most about your previous work environment?
- What is the best way to communicate with co-workers?
The Reference Check
A reference check should not only give you an opportunity to ensure a potential hire has the experience they say they’ve had, but to give you a sense of whether or not they have the right personality for your company, your team and the position in question. Consider asking the following questions:
- How did X contribute to your company’s culture?
- Was X a positive force to have in the office?
- How did X get along with the rest of the team?
- Were there any major conflicts involving X?
- Would you hire X again?
The Business of Firing
Ending a working relationship is usually a stressful, difficult and painful process, particularly if the person you’re letting go isn’t expecting it, or worse still, isn’t the type of person to take it in their stride. It can be messy and uncomfortable for everyone involved, including the greater team of people who will be impacted by a change in personnel. There are ways to make the situation as civil and respectful as possible. Here are are eight top tips:
- Be open, honest and straightforward. Your candor will mean there won’t be room for misinterpretation, and you can get right to the point. Don’t backtrack if your employee gets upset, either, simply show some empathy and give them a moment to get their composure.
- Schedule in a meeting - absolutely no email or group chats should be part of the conversation.
- Create a plan for the transition. Losing a member of the team can wreak havoc on regular operations, and put added pressure on the remaining members of the team who have to pick up the slack and help work with a replacement. Replacing staff can also take time, which adds to the stress of the situation and fear of the unknown.
- Check your employee’s contract - make sure you’re acting legally and fairly, and that you know what the company is required to offer the employee in terms of severance.
- Check the projects they’re working on. Make sure you know what needs to be finalised and where their progress stands, particularly if you anticipate them leaving abruptly or on bad terms.
- Give the employee a chance to speak. Once you’ve expressed your message, pay your employee the curteousy of allowing them a chance to ask questions, give feedback and make any final comments.
- Consider alternatives. Sometimes removing an employee is the only option, but before you make any major decisions, consider whether some more time and effort might enable the employee to improve within the company.
- Notify the rest of the team. Once you have spoken to the employee, let the rest of the team know as soon as possible. Don’t let rumours take over or give a potentially disgruntled employee poison the message. Also take this opportunity to reassure the team that they need not panic, worry or change their processes, and explain how the transition will impact them.
A few tips on what you can say and what you really, really, shouldn’t:
“I’m sorry you’re upset, it was not my intention.”
‘We appreciate and value the contribution you have made to this company.’
“We wish you all the best.”
“I’m sure you saw this coming, right?”
“I know exactly how you feel.”
“You should’ve tried harder.”
Part 3: Setting up the Space
Snacks for the Team
If it's within company budget, providing snacks for your employees is another fantastic way to encourage them to stay at the office, make them feel well taken care of and provide them with an energy boost when required. Our favourite office snacks are:
So healthy, so filling and a popular choice for most people, bananas are a great on-the-go snack option. They're also cheap and can be purchase as part of a fruit box or at almost any local store.
Nuts are full of healthy fat and taste great, providing a boost of energy when needed most. Raw nuts are the healthiest option but if you want to indulge, try the salted or sweetened varieties.
Berries aren't the cheapest option, but make a great alternative to high sugar treats. They're full of healthy goodies, are easy to snack on and can be enjoyed as part of a larger meal (granola, porridge etc.) or on their own.
Snack bars, muesli bars and granola bars aren't just reserved for school children. They're crunchy, sweet and packed with wholesome ingredients, which makes them a perfect treat for the busy employee.
Energy balls and protein balls have become a popular bite-sized treat in recent years, providing a quick injection of dried fruit, nuts, coconut and other ingredients. Make your own or buy them almost anywhere.
Carrot and celery
Though it may take a little more energy, having pre-cut vegetables is one of the healthiest snack options you could provide, particularly for those who eat more out of habit at work.
What goes better with celery than peanut butter?! Providing a creamy and tasty addition to a healthy meal, it's also handy for those who enjoy toast and tea.
Simple, savoury and satisfying, crackers work well for morning tea, afternoon tea or as an accompanying plate for after-work drinks.
And where would crackers be without the ever-faithful hummus?! It's healthy, creamy and something almost anyone, regardless of any dietary restrictions, can enjoy.
A necessary option for anyone with a sweet tooth, dark chocolate is an indulgent post-lunch dessert. Eaten in moderation, it's also good for you!
Tea and coffee
There aren't many people who don't enjoy a cup of tea or coffee at some point during the day, so whether it's through tea bags and instant coffee or a flashy coffee machine, it's a must have.
Games, Furniture and Other Luxuries
A table tennis table is a fantastic option is you have a larger office with a breakout space. It creates friendly competition and camaraderie, brings people together and gives your hard-working colleagues a chance to blow off some steam. Also great if you want to get your team working together and into the competitive spirit.
STIGA Mini Indoor Table Tennis Table
A small table tennis table for big competitions.
A foldable, rollable game changer.
You and Me Table Tennis Table
Price: Quotes available
Contemporary, slick and dangerous.
You may not have played air hockey since your childhood arcade days, where the music was much louder and the food was much sweeter. It's super fun, easy to play and a great way to get everyone communicating and having fun. How about:
Carromco BLACK SPEED XT Hockey Table
Simple, easy to use and cheap.
7 Foot Dual Function Table: Billiard Air Hockey
The ultimate in games, with a combination of pool and air hockey.
Puzzles are a great option for the quiet office, or for a group of people who already have enough competition in the office and need a more cohesive exercise during break time. Leaving out a puzzle in a breakout or kitchen space creates a lovely sense of teamwork, as people can spend short periods of time contributing to its progress. Once it’s finished, you can even hang it up in the office!
Degano - Dragontown 1000 Piece Heye Puzzle
Green dragons and plenty of colour - what more could you want!
1000 Piece Murder Mystery Puzzles
From foul play to obsession, this one will keep the whole team on edge.
Blue Opal - John Bradley Trams in Gaslight Puzzle 1000pc
A beautiful Australian landscape for your beautiful Australian office.
Although initiating a week long game of Monopoly probably won’t help your team land that big account, having some games around the office can help build problem solving skills and activate different part of the brain. Some of our favourites are:
The Dice Chinese Puzzle Box
29 moves to solve it, but it definitely won't take 29 minutes to do so.
Rubik's Speed Cube
An evolution of the traditional cube; perfect to spice up the reception area.
I know what you’re thinking: how could any work get done in an office that has a television? A television in a breakout space can be a positive addition to the office for a number of reasons:
- It encourages employees to stay in the office during short breaks.
- It gives your team a chance to completely zone out and relax.
- It allows you to play music videos, creating a nice atmosphere with background noise in the breakout areas.
- It can be used to share company statistics, images and presentations during staff briefings.
Why not consider:
Hisense 32inch (80cm) HD LED LCD TV
Clean, practical and cheap.
TEAC A1 32inch HD LED TV with Built-In DVD Player
DVD player inbuilt and easy to use.
Office Furniture to Spice up the Breakout Space
Lounges and Lounge Chairs
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2. How to Reward Your Stellar Team
Harvard Business Review
3. Benefits of Teambuilding
The Team Building Directory
4. The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating
The Department of Health
5. Reference checking template for hiring new employees
Fair Work Australia
6. A Survey of NP-Complete Puzzles, International Computer Games Association Journal
7. The Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others
8. Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity
9. Positive Effects of Conflict: Insights from Social Cognition
Baron, R. A.
10. The Other Kind of Smart, Simple Ways to Boost Your Emotional Intelligence for Greater Personal Effectiveness and Success