Given how challenging our work is in light of everything going on, it’s a prime opportunity to focus on those things that are within our control while appreciating the impacts we can make in our units. Team building is a great example of something you can do, not only to improve your ties and productivity with colleagues, but to foster resiliency when dealing with change—easy or challenging. Here are some team building suggestions I’ve seen work—I hope they’re also impactful for you.
Team building by inclusion: Whether an office or classroom setting, most research agrees that one of the most effective methods for achieving “buy in” from colleagues or students, is to legitimately include them in the process. Throughout the years, I’ve tried to remind myself of this with a simple mantra: input, include, and incorporate. This translates to seeing input from the team, including them in the process, and actually incorporating their insights into the product. Keep in mind there’s a difference between just asking for input and doing so with the intent to utilize it; humans are great at detecting the difference, so be authentic!
I’ve seen this strategy work on campus. In the EECS department, the nine members of the undergrad unit were highly effective, but also silo’d. It was uncommon for staff on the EE and CS “sides of the house” to interact, and thus, it felt like two friendly teams, instead of one team with different specialties. In an effort to provide more opportunity for advising practice to certain staff who didn’t have as much student contact, we decided to reach out to students who performed below the mean on our first midterm. We met as a team to discuss the procedure, determine best practices around the advising sessions, and divvy up responsibilities. Because the initiative wasn’t a directive, individuals provided suggestions, and we incorporated them as a unit.
Full disclosure, this was partially inspired by an Advancing Practice session on resiliency, and it allowed us to tie the session’s material to our actual work responsibilities while providing a chance to synthesize something as a team—and it worked. Even I was surprised by the fact that 100% of the students whom we contacted were able to improve their performance on midterm 2. It was such a success that the initiative was expanded, and we now reach out to hundreds of students each semester while continuing to see their performance improve.
In similar style, after that same Advancing Practice session, a peer suggested we read the recommended book on the growth mindset. We met as a team, provided input, and incorporated it into a multi-session meeting where we presented material to one another, and then tried to tie it to our advising practice; regardless of the student impact, these initiatives were great team building activities that contributed to a more cohesive undergraduate unit in the EECS department.
1) Solicit input from team members. This can be regarding a policy, procedure, or new initiative. The important thing is that they get to provide their insights in a group setting.
2) Include them in the process. Schedule a meeting to suss out the details, and make it clear that they aren’t just attending, but are actively participating in the process.
3) Incorporate their insights into the product. When individuals see the mark they made on the resulting product, they’re not just part of a team but also its impact; this is powerful because it facilitates the process by which constituents see outcomes as a reflection on them. This leads to more participation, inclusion, and ultimately, better productivity.