As one year ends and another begins, it’s important to look back and reflect. As a team building company, we believe that teams especially can benefit from this practice. After all, true growth and change can only ever happen after reflecting on what you’ve learned.
In order to practice what we preach, our last two blog posts of the year will be about reflecting on what we learned and accomplished in 2021.
In this post, we’ll be looking back on the themes and topics that we covered here, in our blog. 2021 was the year that we really amped up our blog, and started posting much more regularly. This allowed us to delve deeper into a lot of topics that are affecting teams right now, such as remote work, hybridity, and how to motivate teams that are working from home.
We also looked more closely at complex topics like psychological safety and resilience, which are relatively new team building ideas that we found to be salient for this moment in time.
So join us as we review some of the important themes that we covered in 2021. It might help you get prepared for the year to come…
1. Team Unity
In the early months of 2021, our focus was on team unity. At the time, the pandemic had been going on for almost a full year without an end in sight. The initial enthusiasm on teams brought on by the shift to remote work was beginning to fade. And I could perceive that team unity was beginning to fade, as people drifted more and more into their own cocoons.
The goal of these blogs was to make teams more aware of team unity, especially in a remote work environment. Team unity isn’t a given, and shouldn’t be overlooked. Rather, focusing team unity was a way that teams could counteract some of the atomizing effects of remote work and pandemic-induced languishing.
In the blogs, we looked at what makes a team unified. The four main elements of team unity we identified were:
We also looked at the determinant factors that can deepen and strengthen team unity:
•Clarity of standards and values
•Group size and structure
•Time spent together
•Shared successes and goals
•Threat and competition
Thus, by focusing on the determinant factor (through team building for example), teams can strengthen team unity even during periods of stress or while working remotely.
2. Psychological Safety
The next major idea that we focused on was psychological safety, which is a topic that we began to look into even before the pandemic started. Psychological safety as a concept was driven by a study conducted by Google on what makes a good team. It posits that strong and productive teams are ones that make team members feel safe enough to openly share their opinions, including criticism, and express their feelings.
One important insight of psychological safety is that conflict shouldn’t be avoided. Good conflict on teams can lead to productive outcomes and new ideas. Rather, what’s important is that this conflict is managed and harnessed. Which is possible only when the underlying work environment is psychologically safe.
In our blog posts, we argued that psychological safety was critical for remote teams. In order to “evolve” and to adapt to the new normals created by the pandemic, teams needed to make their teams more willing to exchange ideas and thoughts about how their work is going, and be more open about their needs.
As teams return to the office or shift to hybrid, psychological safety remains more relevant than ever.
Over the summer, with the tampered-down Tokyo Olympics celebrations in full swing, we shifted gears a little bit to talk about SDGs (the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals). This was also in conjunction with a new team building program geared at schools and universities, which uses SDGs as a jumping-off point.
In a number of different blog posts, our international staff talked about SDGs in their home countries. This was sort of like a team building exercise for us, since we got to learn more about each other and our thought processes . Each one of us wrote about the topic in a different style and perspective, so it created a sense of sharing ideas and cultures .
But it was also important to demonstrate that even in the midst of a situation where we were all forced to be on our own and hunker down with ourselves, we could come together and think more globally.
Ayaka summed it up best when she wrote: “And if you think about it, making progress on SDGs and fighting the global pandemic are not that radically separate. Both require thinking about the world as a whole and adopting a longer-term vision than maybe we are used to.” I think that’s a good lesson for us all to bring with us into 2022.
4. Motivation and Burnout
I think It’s pretty obvious why motivation would be a big topic in 2021. We’re all feeling a bit string out more or less, with everything going on. So these blog posts on motivation were meant to give not only teams, but also individuals the tools to motivate themselves when they work remotely.
The main takeaways were that motivation will be different for everyone, and that there are natural ups and downs when it comes to motivation. But overall, it’s important to experiment during new situations and learn different methods of motivating ourselves, especially when we work from home.
It’s also important to recognize the difference between intrinsic motivation, which comes from within, and extrinsic motivation, which comes from external sources. Teams as a whole can help motivate each other during tough times through extrinsic motivators like rewards, shared successes, and emotional outreach.
Lastly, we talked about how burnout is different from simply a lack of motivation, but that they are connected. Lack of motivation can often be a symptom of burnout, which is a prolonged state of apathy or lethargy towards work and relationships. Ultimately though, what separates motivation and burnout is that burnout is overwhelmingly due to issues with structure and community–which means that it is a problem that can only be solved together.
Resilience became a key theme for this year, in part because it was being discussed everywhere–from politics to climate change to economics to public health. It seemed like the whole world was focused on resilience, and for good reason. With numerous issues coming to the fore, including supply chain issues and a global pandemic, many people were thinking about how the past insistence on growth above all was leading to some nasty consequences.
Resilience has some profound lessons for teams as well. Resilience is all about adapting to crises, and being able to get up and move forward if we get knocked over by a challenge. But in order to do that, teams need to strengthen their teams beforehand. They need to build a strong foundation of mutual trust and the ability to stay flexible. All of which requires practice and the ability to spot weak points.
This connects to a point we’ve been making for a long time, which is that teams need regular team building activities to challenge them and make them more resilient.
6. Hybrid Teams
Our last major theme from this year was hybrid teams, which means teams that work partly at home and partly in the office. It’s actually a very broad term that can encompass a lot of different working styles. On some hybrid teams, everyone works from home some days and in the office other days. In other teams, team members get to choose where they want to work. Some hybrid teams are more rigid, while others are more open.
I think hybridity is fascinating, and it signals a major shift in the nature and function of work, especially when it comes to the importance of the office. In our blogs, we talked about how the office generated “soft work”, which is the work outside of the actual job you were hired for (the “hard work”). Interacting with coworkers, brainstorming, politicking, schmoozing clients–all that is soft work.
The question that remains to be seen is what actually makes people productive? Is it being able to focus only on the hard work (which studies show remote work has done). Or is it more complicated than that? Maybe we need soft work to spur our creativity and think of new ideas.
There’s also the interesting question of separateness and team unity, and how that will affect teams in the future. Remote teams feel closer to the team members they work closely with on projects, and more distant from everyone else (something called the “silo effect”).
No matter what happens with teams and team building in the future, we’ll be here to discuss all the emerging trends, new concepts, and useful advice. We’ll also continue to share information about all our team building services, which can help position your team to be able to face the challenges of the future.
Thank you for reading our blog this year!