In the first part of this blog series, I explained the main elements of team unity, as well the factors that can make it stronger and more resilient. Here in Part 2, I will be focusing on solutions and resolutions–what can you do as a team to improve unity given the situation occurring now. Specifically, I will be dealing with situations unique to work-from-home and remote work teams.
These teams are dealing with massive changes to work culture that may be affecting team unity. The truth is that it’s just a lot harder to actualize team unity online, when everyone is in their own pod. However, it’s not impossible. It may require thinking out of the box and adapting to new techniques.
Challenges Facing Team Unity
Every team and individual is different when it comes to remote work. Teams with more experience working from home will obviously be better suited to creating a cohesive team structure However, for the most part a switch to remote work leads to abrupt changes which in turn tend to degrade team unity.
Why is that? For obvious reasons, remote work means less face time, less interaction, and less communication. This works as a centrifugal force, pulling team members apart from each other and leaving them feeling isolated.
How can remote teams work to pull everyone back together? Let’s look at the elements and factors of team unity that we discussed previously, so that we have them fresh in our minds. Here they are one more time in list form:
- Team Identity
- Confidence in Abilities and Effectiveness
- Emotional Intelligence
Key point: focus on factors, not elements
Looking at the elements in relation to factors, one thing is clear: The fundamental elements don’t change. Trust will always be trust. So will team identity, confidence, and emotional intelligence. When big changes occur, sometimes it’s natural for people to think that everything needs to change. But that’s not always true. In the case of team unity, it’s not necessary (or productive, in my opinion), to completely redefine what it is. All that you need is to figure out a new way to get there.
In the case of remote work, it’s not so much a matter of trust itself but rather how that trust is communicated. Standards may have to change when it comes to remote work (we will get to that later) but it’s more important that standards and values are clarified and conveyed despite all the other challenges that your team may face.
This is where the five determinative factors come in. By focusing on these factors as mutable and open to adoption, we can more efficiently construct a framework for looking at what can be changed and how it can be changed going forward when it comes to team unity.
I mentioned this a little in the first part of this blog post, but these determinative factors affect each one of the four main elements in different and interconnected ways. For example, “Time Spent Together” increases team trust, allows the space for team identity to foster, gives teams the chance to develop confidence in themselves as a team, and improves teams’ emotional intelligence. So by targeting these five factors, teams can build on the foundations of team unity that are found in the presence of the underlying elements.
Solutions: Changing attitudes and the way we think
Work from home and remote work don’t fundamentally change the nature of work. Work is work. How we treat coworkers, colleagues, employees, employers–those relationships also don’t fundamentally change, either. It’s important to keep this perspective, and to recognize that remote work requires attitudinal adjustments and adaptations.
Confronting the challenges to team unity ultimately requires engaging the tools you have in front of you. You have technology (the means) and you have the foundation Now you just have to change your way of bringing them together to create more unity.
I will go through the five determinant factors again, but this time I will explain how, simply by adjusting the way we think about them, they can be used as tools for enhancing team unity and cohesion
1. Clarify your (new) standards and reemphasize your values
In the age of remote work, some standards may have to change. The blurring distinctions between work and home life may mean that the old office schedule doesn’t quite hold up as it once did. That’s ok. Flexibility is important. However, maintaining standards is equally important in order to keep everyone motivated and trusting of each other. Reach out to coworkers and create standards for remote work together as a team. This will help build trust and increase team identity. It will also keep communication channels open.
Values are less fluid, and rightly so. Your team shouldn’t have to sacrifice values to remain current or productive. Still, it may be important to reemphasize those values as a team, when communicating between yourselves and to your clients and customers. Remind each other what you are working towards and why–this will help build confidence and stabilize identity going forward.
2. Be aware of the size and structure of your team and create a network
The idea of “networks” is by now pretty well-known: social networks, media networks, information networks, etc. A network is a good way to think about team structure during remote work. Each team member is a different node that connects around a team leader or project leader. It’s less hierarchical by nature, allowing for wider spread and diffusion of information. And it emphasizes interconnectedness, not necessarily closeness. Think of Facebook–you don’t have to be physically in the same area as someone to be in the same “friend network”.
Without the physical and social structure of an office or shared workspace, a network can provide the right framework for teams that are working from home. They are connected to each other, sharing work, information, and experience related to common projects. It is important to be aware of team size, but it does not necessarily limit your network. What’s important is how to make it so that information and communication is spread effectively among your team members. Thinking about remote teams in this way will help to build trust and promote emotional intelligence amongst team members.
3. Spend more time together using every available means, no matter what
In the previous section I talked about replacing proximity with interconnectedness. Here I’ll expand on that by saying simply that any and every opportunity to connect and spend time together should be taken. This is hard, since most of us are accustomed to working in an office, where time spent together is taken for granted. That mentality needs to change.
Remote work on this scale is still mostly up in the air. There’s a lot of experimentation that can and needs to take place in terms of determining what the best way to spend time with people remotely is. However, one thing is for certain: the more time you spend together, the more you will feel unified as a team. So with that in mind, I suggest spending as much time together as you can, using all the available technology at your fingertips. Then do even more. Teams need even more time together now to socialize, to relax, and to get to know each other better than they did before. The more you do to turn that type of time into a regular habit, the more benefits will accrue to your team in the future.
Team building activities are especially critical, and organizing team building activities on a regular basis, even for just a few minutes, can help your remote team stay unified and ready for anything. There are many good online team building programs out there, too, including our very own Tabitantei.
Here are a few suggestions/activities that can be used to inspire you to spend more time together and build more team unity:
- Making yourself available to help and support
- Team building activities
- Virtual drinking parties
- Virtual exercising
- Remote dinner parties (maybe cook something together)
- Incorporating new members through socialization
- Reaching out to members who seem isolated
4. Remind yourselves of shared experiences, use shared goals to push yourselves forward
A shift to remote work (or even semi-remote work) can be a drastic change that comes with a lot of psychological effects that we may not even realize. Of course this may be multiplied by other stresses and anxieties that are going on around us too. It’s important to take this into account as a team, acknowledging how you are feeling and reacting to changing circumstances.
You can also use shared experiences and goals as effective “anchors” for your team. Just because everything is different doesn’t mean that the past doesn’t matter. Your team accomplished a lot together before remote work, so remembering that can help remind your team of how successful they can be and guide them into success as a team under new circumstances. Nostalgia can be good sometimes, and collective memory is an effective tool for forging identity.
Shared goals are also great tools for inspiring your team and helping them coalesce better together despite being remote workers. Especially working at home, days can seem to blend together and a certain monotony persists. New goals can help pull teams out of this monotony by allowing them to focus on something. New products or projects, new ideas, new strategies–sharing these goals together will also help unify your team and revitalize their energy as they move forward into new tasks and responsibilities. Make sure that your team divides responsibilities well so no one feels left out of the loop (especially new members),
Also be sure to give team members the chance to work on new skills. It’s been a common experience (even among those who aren’t working remotely but are stuck at home), that learning new skills can help make people feel happier despite stress. On a team, being given new responsibilities can make members feel more integrated and appreciated while making them more effective and helpful to the rest of the team. It’s a win-win.
5. Use the challenges and threats facing your team to grow
Every team is facing challenges right now. And yet, there is so much opportunity for growth–to change the way you are doing things and become a more effective team in the process. Change can be scary and different, but at its core it forces people to change their routines and open up their eyes to new potentialities that they maybe would have never seen otherwise. If your team, together, adopts this attitude, then there is not stopping it. Because that is essentially, what all teams are trying to do–become the best that they can be. That ultimate goal doesn’t change just because teams aren’t together in the office. It’s that internal impulse, the passion to succeed together, that drives teams forever forward.
By working together to meet these challenges, your team will become more aligned and therefore unified. To do that, your team does need to accept the challenge though, and take the responsibility of meeting that challenge as one.
Unity is an essential part of a team’s ability to perform, succeed, and remain resilient. This last point is perhaps most important these days. As any team that has shifted to remote can tell you, teams that are resilient can adapt to the challenges facing them and remain strong.
In this blog post I’ve included some suggestions for activities, but mostly I’ve discussed a way of thinking about team unity. Oftentimes concepts like team unity are thought of in the abstract without looking at the actual components that can be felt concretely. We can tell that something is off but we can’t put our finger on what it is. This blog post is an attempt at decomposing what team unity actually means, analyzing its component parts, and then offering a way of using that analysis to deal with problems relating to shifting to remote work. I strongly believe that the challenges facing remote teams are opportunities for expanding team growth and potential, and that by leaning into the moment, so to speak, we will emerge stronger and more confident at the other end.
We at Invite Japan are here and ready to help your team become more unified. Our online team building program, Tabitantei, is designed to meet the needs of remote teams to help them grow together. But we also have many other team building programs available. We will also be writing more blog posts about teams and team building, so check back here regularly for more information and advice.