How can technology encourage teamwork?

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The foundations of great collaborative work are cemented by a shared purpose, clear goals and cohesive team behaviour, but what if these could be enhanced by incorporating digital technology?

The American Dream is a lie. It's not about you, your hard work, your tenacity and your smarts. Humanity's greatest achievements remind us that individuals contribute but teams are what make history - it's teamwork that makes the (American) Dream work.

Some of the biggest challenges facing our world require teams to solve them. Take the Nobel Prize for example - even though it’s generally seen as an award for individual achievement, the amount of people who’ve shared the prize has increased dramatically over the last 100 years in almost every category. This trend suggests a strong connection between collaboration and problem-solving.

Team development interventions have the largest effect on financial performance.

Where work happens

Collaboration is essential to making tomorrow’s biggest discoveries. Not only will better teams improve business performance, but they will also benefit society as a whole.

Research shows that if team members can work better together they will be more productive, more engaged, happier at work and stay longer in their roles. In fact, a meta-analysis of 131 studies found that that team development interventions have the largest effect on financial performance.

Crucial conversations

Research shows clearly that there are some conversations that help make a team become more productive. We think about hard or technical skills all the time, but the ‘softer’ side of teamwork is often just considered a ‘nice to have.’

Research suggests that we should be taking the opposite approach. Patterns of communication between people account for more than 50% of performance variance, which is more than individual intelligence, personality, skill and the substance of discussions combined.

Instead of jumping straight into the ‘doing,’ teams should be taking a step back to establish the foundations of great teamwork before getting started. Forming a motivating purpose, clear goals and agreeing on acceptable team behaviours will help teams meet their goals faster and with less friction.

And sometimes just having the conversation about team working can prove more productive than the outcome. For instance, we get continual feedback that clients see a huge amount of value from simply “sitting down as a team and bringing issues out into the open”.

Teams that use our digital coach, CoachBot, to prompt offline discussion between teams and guide them through short sessions so they can work through their issues. In a similar fashion to a human coach, a more scalable digital coach will ensure teams leave the session having made progress and, more importantly, that the session invited discussion between everyone in the team.

Getting started

As I mentioned above there are three foundations of great teamwork: purpose; goals; behaviours. Whether a new or a well-established team, they should all take time to form these foundations.

Ask seven members of the same team what their team purpose is and you’re likely to get seven different answers. If a team hasn’t established a motivating purpose, what’s the force driving them to do a good job and how do they know they’re all working towards the same outcome?

Lots of teams already have goals that have been set by the organisation, but these goals aren’t always motivating. A better way to set team goals is by using the company goals for guidance but allow team members to set their own goals in a language that resonates with their values and drivers.

The same goes for behaviour. An effective approach is to get teams to define their own standards of behaviour. Lord Chris Holmes did exactly this when he was captain of the UK Paralympic team in Barcelona: “I was the youngest person in the team and the captain. It’s the only way I could get their buy-in to a set of behaviours”.

Allow team members to set their own goals in a language that resonates with their values and drivers.

Clive Woodward did the same with his world cup squad: “No one was ever late because they didn’t want to break their own rules.” This principle is also a huge step in improving the trust and interpersonal dynamics in the team.

Alongside a nudge to review your purpose or goals or discuss team behaviours, team reflection is essential for better outcomes. According to Michael West, Head of Thought Leadership at The King’s Fund, a 20% improvement in real team working in the NHS could result in 5000 fewer avoidable deaths.

He explains that reflexivity is a key element of effective team working. “Teams are more effective and innovative to the extent that they routinely take time out to reflect upon their objectives, strategies, processes and environments and make changes accordingly.”

Using digital coaching to remind teams to reflect regularly and giving them a place to record their reflections means that team meetings or coaching sessions become more efficient and valuable to the team.

Instead of just recapping the previous session they can either pick up where they left off or start working on new issues that have arisen. Everyone can come along to a session with more background on the team’s progress.

Technology to encourage teamwork

We all know that, as a nation, we’re hooked on technology. Most social media platforms and many of the Apps we use day to day are designed to keep us coming back.

The average Brit checks their phone 10,000 times a year - we’re interacting with our phones more than our friends or partners. How can we harness this energy to improve teamwork?

The first thing is that the aim shouldn’t be to encourage people to spend more time isolated in technology. Digital prompts, notifications and artificial intelligence can (and should) help us to strengthen our offline relationships and facilitate better conversations and relationships between people.

We should not be trying to help people understand technology, but rather help technology understand people.

It’s important not to expect AI to solve your team’s problems. We should not be trying to help people understand technology, but rather help technology understand people. Because together, people are an unstoppable force for positive change.

Teamwork conversations need to happen on an ongoing basis. This is where digital products can really help. Even when working with a human coach it’s easy to slip back into bad habits or forget to apply what you’ve learned in between sessions. Digital products can provide timely reminders and check in with the team on a regular basis.

In a team setting, chatbots can gather data from team members faster than a human. They can collate the data and use the responses to prompt intelligent questions for the team to answer.

Acting as a mediator, the chatbot should cut through the complexity and provide guidance on where the team should focus their discussion and development efforts. The actual conversation, however, should take place far away from the screen truly empowering the relationship between people.

Results

Imagine that, as a manager, you had a digital assistant encouraging the team to have the right conversations at the right time and with useful information to support rich and positive discussion. Engage the team and there’s more time to work towards getting better business and productivity results.

As teams engage with this approach we’d expect to see results in three phases. Initially, we’d just hear that teams are having better conversations.

As a result of these better conversations teams start to make more robust decisions, innovate more and become more collectively accountable to deliver results. Finally, as ‘teams of teams’ engage, we see an increase in the level of organisation learning. Collaboration doesn’t just happen within teams but critically across teams.

Taking time to establish better team alignment can help you foster a better working environment. A team where everyone has bought into the direction you’re heading in as a collective - and a group with higher trust who work better together – are more productive, more engaged, happier at work and stay longer in their roles.

About Tom Marsden

Tom Marsden, CEO Saberr

Tom Marsden is CEO of Saberr a London based software company that helps teams work well together. Prior to joining Saberr in 2014, Tom was on the Board and ran the consulting business at Alexander Mann Solutions. He led teams that specialised in technology and process, business intelligence, employer branding, selection and assessment and workforce planning. Before joining AMS, he worked at McKinsey & Company where he managed projects linking strategy to organisational effectiveness. Tom’s early career in the 1990s was spent funding leveraged buyouts in the European market. Tom has a MBA from SDA Bocconi.

About Saberr

Saberr creates software to improve teamwork. Combining cutting edge technology with the best of human expertise we help design and coach teams to perform at their best.

CoachBot is the world's first digital team coach, providing flexible and scalable digital coaching for teams. Combining AI and organisational psychology CoachBot covers every aspect of teamwork and is revolutionising the way businesses approach team coaching.

Saberr Base is a culture profile for your team or organisation. It measures personal and team values to foster trust between team members, strengthen relationships, improve hiring decisions and improve on boarding.

We want to help teams reach their goals, increase trust, collaborate better and enjoy coming to work.

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