Article (September-2018)


Team cohesion with differences

Rajeev Shroff

Designation : -   Transformational Coach & Founder

Organization : -  Cupela, Hyderabad


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Teams are an amalgamation of various types of people. Everyone has a different outlook, yes, but how can we bring all these schools of thought together and channel the differences in a positive manner?
That's where the first mistake lies in this very question. Differences are not meant to come to one unanimous consensus. We do not have to view them as something that needs countering. Rather, we must view them as fresh new perspectives that act as building blocks for a bigger picture - one that is unique and brilliant. Consider putting together a traditionalist who is a stickler for rules, with a risk-taker who looks at rules as only something to be broken. This is not as fearsome a scenario as one would think. It is in fact a perfect balance of ideation, to ensure that ultimately the team is neither being to run-of-the-mill, nor so reckless that the entire venture is sabotaged.
However, it's not enough to appreciate the power of differences if we cannot get a diverse set of individuals to work together in harmony. So, how can you get your team to work cohesively despite their contrasting thought processes?
Listen to absorb, not to come up with an answer
Do you ever find yourself listening to someone speak, with the sole motive of having a response or retort ready? How often do we listen to those around us with an open mind? When we ignore our default attack mode, we absorb what is said for what it is, not with the end goal of show that we know better or are more competent than the other person. To achieve this, we must consciously quell those voices in our head that tell us to forcibly disagree with or one-up someone. Everyone has their strengths, and everyone must be allowed a voice. Many voices in tandem make an orchestra and not a lone voice ringing out over all the others. That just makes for noise. Try not to be the intellectual noise in your next team discussion.
Learn to GIVE constructive feedback and TAKE feedback constructively
An outsider's opinion can give us new insight into ourselves and we need to learn to embrace the positive that can come from this. Not only this, we also need to learn to give others feedback with their growth in mind. This does not mean finding fault, it means furthering the other person. It is also a good exercise to learn from introspection. Looking within ourselves on how to become better professionals and individuals is crucial. To reach out to team members and enable ourselves to think differently, we must carry this introspection to the level of discussion and ask for suggestions to address the problems we have found within us. Imagine the fulfilment you would feel if someone approached you with a genuine work problem and through your insight, they learnt something new. It's all a matter of give and take. Much like life.
Maintain transparency, encourage ownership
A huge part of caring about what we do knows why we are doing it in the first place. Once the rationale behind an initiative or project is communicated to the team, a sense of ownership is automatically instilled. People understand the rationale, agree with it, and perhaps even feel strongly about it. Ownership drives efforts beyond boundaries, because each and every person in the team is fully aware that the responsibility lies with them as much as with anyone else and so the consequences will affect them just as much. Ask yourself, would you put your heart and soul into something if you were unclear what the larger purpose was? Probably not. Motivation needs to come from within and without, and ownership is the key to self - motivated efforts.

It's all in the approach, so stay approachable
As a leader in any field, the key is to be open to consultation. When people know that there is someone to go to in times of need, someone who will not dismiss their concerns and ideas, it is reassuring. The more comfortable the team is to approach the leader, the easier it is for members of the team to approach each other. This in turn strengthens the bond, enabling people to share ideas without hesitation and to accept each other's ideas, ultimately leading to smoother functioning of the team effort. No leader wants insurmountable troubles escalating without their knowledge. The more amicable you are to the team, the more you will be in-the-know of daily happenstances.
The key is to bond, bond outside of work as well
This is perhaps not possible in every team or company, but wherever possible, it is a useful practice. When people see each other in a different light from their professional garb, they become more relatable. The first step to human bonding is finding a common thread that helps relate to another person. Ease possible friction between teammates by going on a casual lunch or dinner, where everyone has a chance to know and appreciate each other for much more than work. Observe the change the next day. Suddenly people are less wary of each other and more forthcoming with sharing ideas, opinions and constructive feedback.
Perhaps as an exercise, each of us should spend a work day in a colleague's shoes. We would better understand the positives of everyone's school of thought and work ethic.
And understanding is the first step to cohesive teamwork.