3 Steps to Ensure Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
The strength of your team is the most powerful indicator of whether your organization will achieve its mission.
I've worked with teams of varying sizes across different sectors, and I've learned that high functioning and successful teams are collaborative, innovative, and results driven.
Technology has given us better tools to support high function teams. As the modern workplace continues to evolve and more of us are working in virtual offices or from the road, technology is also becoming the glue that holds our teams and organizations together.
The Dark Side of Technology
Though technology can solve problems, I've also found that many of our teams are struggling to keep up with technology. Emails, texts, tweets, Facebook posts, and myriad new applications promising to solve pain points can overwhelm us. Sometimes we spend more time triaging technology than getting our work done.
Besides managing incoming communications, poor technology integration can derail an entire team. If you've ever found yourself in a meeting where your coworkers talk more about the challenges your technology system creates than about advancing your mission, you know what I'm talking about.
It is critical that we figure out how to tame our technology and leverage it to better support our teams, and ultimately, advance our missions.
But Before You Rush to Sign Up for That Cool New App...
Don't just pick a tool you think will help your team, announce that you're going to use it, and expect everything to go swimmingly.
This. Will. Not. Work.
Trust me. I've done it.
Early on in my tenure at Fair Wisconsin, I decided it would be helpful to have an organization-wide tool to help us keep track of and coordinate our work. I launched a search for the perfect app, selected one, and brought it back to the team. Folks were generally game to try out something new that could bring greater efficiency to our work.
It didn't take long before we had entire meetings just about the project management tool. We discussed ad nauseam ways to triage inconsistent usage practices. I had one-on-one meetings with staff who didn't keep their work up-to-date in the software at all. The tool didn't add to the organization's impact or our team's success and, it was a great relief when we got rid of it, even though we were back to square one, a little worse for wear.
Strategically Integrate Technology
Technology tools really can be helpful. Since that failed experiment, I've helped integrate technology solutions to support many teams, including in traditional on-site office environments and for national and international businesses and nonprofits ranging in size from a small group of volunteer board members to staff teams of 100+.
I've created a three step process to strategically integrate technology in a way that will help your team and prevent the tools you use from eclipsing the work. As illustrated by the chart below, the steps include: understanding your team culture, focusing on specific team needs, and implementing and adjusting tool usage intentionally.
Step One: Understand your team's culture, both current and aspirational.
When I start working with a nonprofit, for-profit, campaign, or group of training participants, we first dig into the team's culture. We do this by exploring the current and desired team culture and acknowledging challenges to the team's ability to work together.
You and your team need to clarify how you want to work together, what you need to flourish, and what is difficult for your team to do. Through this honest assessment, you create the foundation for your overall team dynamics. It is this understanding that informs the second and third steps of this process.
Step Two: Identify and focus on specific team needs.
Now that you understand your team's current and desired culture, you can determine what your team needs to succeed.
But we're still not quite ready to dig into specific tools yet.
We start this phase by reviewing your strategic plan or strategic priorities. Executing and monitoring progress on your plan dictates what, how, and when your team needs to communicate and frames your internal communications systems. The level of cross-organizational collaboration laid out in your plan and team culture also impacts your team's needs.
When you have a handle on your communication and collaboration needs you can finally get into selecting and implementing specific tools.
Step Three: Implement and adjust technology solutions intentionally.
Picking a tool and expecting a smooth and immediate adoption is unrealistic. Set your team up for success by identifying the small group tasked with choosing your technology solution. Including multiple people from the team who represent a variety of roles, technological savvy, departments, skills, etc. will ensure broad buy-in for the tool and increase adoption.
Once the tool is selected, carve out ample training time, both as a team to develop group usage agreements (e.g. how will you use it, are people expected to download the mobile app, how are notifications customized, etc.) and for individuals to get one-on-one coaching. Many tools will provide onboarding for teams at no cost, or provide online tutorials and webinars that the entire team can participate in or one person can use to develop a team-specific training.
It is critical that the work to implement a new technology tool does not end with the training. As you integrate the tool into the work, you may need to adjust usage expectations to meet a new reality or adopt application updates. I've also found it to be helpful to have at least 1-2 team members tasked with engaging with the tool on a regular basis to lead by example with the regular team. These team members' vigilance will help prevent reversion to past practices.
The tool may also change the team culture or surface new needs. These three steps are an ongoing cycle of how team communication and tool usage evolve with your team.
Have you and your team experienced challenges with your internal technology systems? If so, post away in the comments - I'd love to hear your story!