Creating Strong Teams That Help Our Employees Stay

What makes us want to leave our companies? What are the main factors that we analyze when the idea of changing jobs or positions comes to our mind?
It is a common phrase that employees do not leave companies, but their managers. We probably all agree to that, right?
However, wouldn’t you agree that there is something else as important as having a great manager? Something that has a direct impact on our decision to stay or leave the company?
Yes, this is about the team we are currently part of and our experience within that team. The way we talk to one another and work with one another have a tremendous impact on our work satisfaction and general sense of well-being at work.
Marcus Buckingham explains that “team experience has large and lasting impact on how you do your work and it will influence both how effectively your team works and for how long, and how many of your teammates will choose to stay”.

So what can we do about creating a better team experience for our people and help them stay in our companies?
I have been lucky to be part of an incredible journey on enhancing team performance at Danske Bank through our concept of High Performing Teams.
The main purpose of this program is to help teams and leaders create a purposeful work culture and achieve better collective results through coaching and an in-depth 360 assessment of each team’s unique strengths and improvement areas.
We started by building on extensive internal analysis and external research and as a result we defined the eight principles of high performance pictured below. Based on these principles, we then designed a data-driven Team Insights assessment tool, which helps to facilitate an open and honest dialogue with the team around their collective priorities, main pain points and growth opportunities.

Let me briefly explain what each principle represents and what questions you can use to assess your team.
First, we strongly believe that we can only build effective teams where capable individuals are ready to perform their jobs. That is why the first three elements relate to the individual performance:
• Strong cognitive ability and skills (Do team members have enough skills to perform their jobs efficiently?)
• Individual responsibility (Are team members accountable and thrive to do their job well?)
• Personal drive (Do team members have a desire to make a difference and find a meaning at work?)
The remaining five elements relate to the team performance and the way team members collaborate and achieve collective results:
• Healthy team culture (Do team members have each other’s back and are they able to speak openly and honestly and support each other when the going gets rough?)
• Cohesive team (Do you keep a solid high-performing core of the team stable and do you prefer distribution of teams over distribution of team members?)
• Proactive rhythm (Do team members have a sustainable workload and do they make realistic commitments to deliveries?)
• Clear team priorities (Do team members have a crystal clear understanding about their roles and responsibilities? Do they know what the business mission is and how do they impact the success of it?)
• Local decision authority (Does your team have a short path to higher level decision authority, to resolve ambiguities and arbitration?)

Very often during the session with a team, I hear the following question “so are we a high performing team?” I usually respond that we do not conclude anything only based on data, but instead we use our Team Insights assessment tool to have an open and constructive dialogue on how teams can improve. So after reviewing the results together team members can reflect on what does it mean exactly for them when the trust score is 51%. Is it good? Is it bad? These are not the questions we are trying to reflect on, but instead “what does this score mean to you as a team?” “What works right now for your team? What can you do more of or less of to increase psychological safety and trust in your team?” Every team knows what lies behind these scores and we are there to help them to put it on the table.
As a leader of a team you probably could be interested in how do we measure the impact of this program?
The positive change in teams is happening in so many ways; it has an impact on our leadership, as managers become more conscious and aware of their team needs and struggles. As a result, it inevitably influences our company culture and employee experience.
Let me share with you couple of examples of what and how we measure.
One way of seeing the progress is to look at your engagement surveys. We looked at the “team cooperation” score and saw that it has increased significantly for the teams that spend time on their growth and development.
Another way is to ask the participants. We do that by sending them one question (3 months after the session date): Did participation have a positive impact on engagement, behaviours and team dynamics? The result we usually get is that 63% of the participants answer “Yes”.
What we are seeing is that participants appreciate time spent with their team and many of them reveal in their evaluation that: “this is the first time we have spent 3 hours on something that is not related to our daily tasks”, “we created safe space to discuss our issues”, “I felt I’m not alone with my frustration feelings”.
These are just couple of ideas of how we measure something that might seem as intangible as strong teamwork benefits in our company. However, numerous researches reveal that effective teams have the potential to increase employee satisfaction and productivity, while decreasing turnover and absenteeism, ultimately assisting the company in reaching higher profit margins.

Although the proximity, professionalism and human part of our manager might be one of the important factors for us to consider changing our job, another important element to our well-being and feeling of connectedness at work is experience we have within our team.
We have seen that team experience impacts our company culture, cross-team collaboration and general sense of belonging to our work community (and it became even more challenging with remote work).
We cannot overlook the power of great teams. It is just too expensive for the company: it results in poor employee experience, low motivation and negatively impacts company financial results and image in the society.
I believe that creating an effective team is something that every leader should have on their agenda and prioritize meaningfully.
One way to start is to ask ourselves this question: “What do I consciously choose to say No/Yes to for my team to thrive?”

Author’s note: if you would like to further deepen your knowledge on the topic of effective teams below are some of my books recommendations:

  1. Teams that work by Scott Tannenbaum and Eduardo Salas
  2. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
  3. Nine Lies About Work by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall

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