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Breaking Down Teamwork Barriers

Patrick Nelson, November 28, 2016


Breaking Down Teamwork Barriers

I love turnaround stories about teams that break down barriers to reach their full potential.

Case in point: 25 years ago a Major League Baseball team from a small market shocked the world by winning the World Series. That team, the Minnesota Twins, went from being the worst team in their division to the best team in the world in just one season. One of the catalysts for that change was the acquisition of a pitcher named Jack Morris. Prior to Morris’s arrival, Minnesota was full of young, talented ball players, but they did not play as a team. Morris was a leader on and off the field who helped break down the individualistic behaviors that existed on the team by encouraging veterans to mentor younger players, sharing his vision for success, and leading by example.

His example reminds us that you don’t have to be the boss to transform a group of people into a team. You just have to have the will and commitment to make a difference.

There are many barriers to teamwork in the workplace. It takes a good leader to identify them and work to break them down. One of the most common is physical barriers, such as operating in different locations or being far removed from your team in a cube maze. I have seen first-hand how this barrier can alienate team members and cause misunderstandings that result in lost time and productivity.

Artificial barriers are also prevalent. These are created due to the culture of the company, such as a culture of operating in silos. In this type of group, people work for the same company, yet they feel like it is us-versus-them with their fellow employees. It might be department against department, corporate versus field, or overhead versus operations. These barriers lead to insecurity, a competition for resources, risk aversion, and resentment, which greatly reduces your team’s chance of shared success.

Here are some ways that you can break down barriers to facilitate stronger teamwork:

  • Break space. Hold a collaborative meeting off-site. Not only does it provide a fresh view, but it can also help spur creativity.
  • Encourage collaboration. Place people from different departments together to work on projects.
  • Provide food. Breaking bread together is a great way for people to get to know each other.
  • Promote face-to-face communication. Use Skype or other video conferencing software for meetings.
  • Share your vision. Start each meeting by reminding your colleagues the direction you’re headed.
  • Set team-based goals with incentives. Make sure roles and responsibilities are clearly defined.
  • Have an informal meeting with all team members every week. No agenda. Use this time only to answer any questions they might have.
  • Have fun. Let loose and have everyone wear a shirt of their favorite sports team or orchestrate a potluck.
  • Do a service project together. Find out what people are passionate about outside of work and do a group service project around that.

As leaders, it is our inherent responsibility to break down barriers and promote teamwork. Just as barriers were broken down when the Minnesota Twins went from worst to first, you, too, can break down barriers and lead your team to shared success.

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