Close Teams Perform Better - Here's How to Build Them


“I’m not here to make friends.”

I’ve heard that from more than a handful of leaders. It’s a simple message. It means the work is the most important thing. Everything else, including being close to your coworkers, is a waste of time.

Except everything we know about high performing teams says that isn’t how it works. Recent research by MIT shows they can predict the success of a business plan by measuring the quality of team interactions. The best work, the kind of work that changes things, is done by a team with healthy amounts of communication, trust, and even friendship. Work friends are not just good for business, they also makes us happier.

As a leader, figuring out how to bring people together might be the most important thing you do.

So how do we do design close teams without boring ice-breakers or silly trust falls?

Here are 3 ways to build rock-solid relationships on your team:

Face Time

Most of our fears about remote working have not come true. The flexibility to telecommute benefits employees, improves productivity and even increases engagement up to a point (more on this in a future post). The caveat though is this: The research shows that face time is a critical dimension for high performing teams. So while we may be accomplishing more at home and enjoying the ability to do laundry on our lunch, our overall team performance could be suffering.

Video chat is a suitable replacement, but it’s still not as good as the real thing. So what are leaders to do with teams that are increasingly remote?

Simply, think twice about cutting that travel budget. Prioritize in-person gatherings. Find a way to get teams together and use video chat when you can’t. Banning remote work like Yahoo once did isn’t the answer either. A balanced approach, one with a mix of remote and office time, might just be the sweet spot for performance and engagement.

Make Something Together

Ever notice at a networking mixer that people tend to hang out with others they already know? That’s because talking with strangers is uncomfortable, even if you showed up with intent of doing just that. Putting everyone in a room and expecting them to become best friends is like dumping milk and sugar in a bowl and expecting ice cream. For a group that has little familiarity, they need a structured activity with a common goal. The nature of being forced to collaborate over work will bring about conversation and surface team dynamics quickly. The key is to make sure the activity is relatable and designed to get people involved.

Try this recommendation from Dan Pink: A Chopped style cooking competition where the team must prepare a meal in 30 mins. The short timeline and shared goal requires assigning roles based on skills, divvying up tasks, speaking up and compromising. Basically all the behaviors that teams need to be good at.

There are plenty of commercial cooking spaces offering this type of event. Plus you get cocktails after.

Tend the Garden

Once your team is interacting, it’s important to manage the dialogue. This is done by ensuring an even flow of communication and bonding between members. When one person dominates a conversation, ask them to involve others. When someone shares an idea, accept it and ask others to add on. It’s this balance of sharing and listening that is critical to the overall function of a team.

Building friendships at work takes time. One gathering or team build exercise isn't going to do it. But if you repeat these steps as often as possible and make an effort to connect teams, they'll form close bonds and accomplish big things.