Q: I'm trying to build more camaraderie among my team at work. We've got people of all ages and backgrounds and, while people seem well intentioned, the group isn't jelling as quickly as I'd like. What can I do to help us come together?
A: Create opportunities for people to connect, but don't force it — that can have unintended consequences.
The inner game
First of all, ask yourself if there is really a problem. Does the level of team spirit interfere with getting the work done well? If it does, you also need to determine whether some other factor, say, level of knowledge or a training need, could be causing any performance shortfall.
If work quality is acceptable, explore your motivation for wanting more camaraderie. Perhaps you were once part of the "best team ever," and you're trying to recreate that experience. While this is well meaning, it's probably not realistic. However, you may find that, while the team does well as is, there is an opportunity to unleash some creativity or have more sharing of knowledge if people were a bit closer. Or you may have received feedback that people feel isolated or are not happy at work. Under these circumstances, action would be advisable.
So, what to do? Part of that will be determined by the resources you have at hand, including funds for staff events. Team preferences also must be taken into account … more on that later.
Before even going down the team building activity path, look at opportunities to build connections through work project collaboration. People forge close relationships when they're problem solving and co-creating. It's up to you to find ways for this to happen. Put people with complementary skills together on a task, especially if they have not had cause to spend time together. There may be a bit of foot dragging because people like their comfort zones, but without making a big deal out of it, be persistent. Soon you'll find that unlikely people have developed inside jokes and are seeking each other out as thinking partners.
Now, this won't always work, so be tolerant of chemistry that is less than 100 percent — it's important to be realistic.
Once people are talking a bit more, look at some team-oriented ways to broaden the relationship. This is where preferences come in. A day at a rock climbing challenge may be great for some employees, but not all will be able or willing to participate. So ask your employees; come to an agreement with them about ways to spend some time socializing with co-workers. Be very sensitive to timing, too. People are protective of their personal time, so do not create an expectation for an evening or weekend event. Also, pay attention to major work deadlines. It's not going to be fun to be out for the afternoon if a major deadline is looming.
Keep an eye out for insiders and outsiders to ensure that no one is being left out, and also monitor progress based on your goal for the team.
The last word
Closer collaboration is the foundation of a more interconnected team.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at email@example.com.