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Team Building in Troubled Times

By Dave Willmer

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When business conditions are tough, you need your employees to unite to develop strategies that give your firm a competitive edge. Yet if people are anxious about their job security, they are more likely to adopt an independent, preservation mind-set. It can take extra time and effort to overcome this roadblock with your staff and build effective work teams. Following are some strategies that can help:

Think creatively

Don’t be afraid to try team-building tactics that go beyond typical choices such as hiring a motivational speaker or planning a department picnic. Instead, think of fun activities that will bring employees together but that also tie into specific business requirements or weaknesses within the group.

For instance, if you have noticed a decline in morale or motivation, you might organize a day where your employees help a local charity with its IT needs. This can renew your staff’s enthusiasm for their work as they collectively apply their talents to a worthwhile cause. If your department needs to boost creativity and problem-solving, you might have employees break into small groups and work on imaginative lists, such as “50 new uses for a computer monitor.” Individuals who collaborate to develop innovative ideas and recharge their creativity are likely to bring a fresh perspective to future assignments.

While the purpose of entertaining activities may be clear to you, it may not be to your staff, so be sure to explain the relevance to their work. Otherwise, your team-building exercises may be viewed as a waste of time.

Create effective teams

As you develop project teams to address IT initiatives, make sure you’re giving careful consideration to participants. Everyone has been involved in group activities where one or two people did all of the work because the others weren’t motivated or lacked the right skills for the task at hand. The end result in these situations is that top performers feel overburdened and resent that it wasn’t a team effort at all.

For a group to work well together, everyone needs to understand their unique roles and be given specific goals. For instance, “Stacey will evaluate of all the accounting department’s applications by Sept. 15 to better gauge what is in use and where there are opportunities for consolidation. Brian will meet with accounting staff the following week to discuss the findings and determine the minimum number of applications required for the department to operate effectively.”

Establishing clear expectations will ensure a fair workload distribution, which is critical at a time when employees may be juggling multiple priorities and even covering multiple positions within a department.

Build camaraderie

With so much to accomplish and so little time to do it all, it may seem like the last thing you want to do is to encourage your employees to socialize. However, this may be just what your department needs to promote a positive, team-oriented atmosphere. People who know each other well are more likely to have effective working relationships because they understand the motivations and responsibilities of their coworkers.

Allowing some friendly conversation before formal discussions is a simple way to help achieve this goal. While you don’t want to start meetings late or allow them to get off-track, provide some time beforehand to chat. Also encourage participation in company events such as birthday celebrations and holiday parties and set the example yourself by attending.

Team-building during troubled times requires effective leadership from the top. In your role, you need to encourage employees to recognize the value others bring to the organization and help people build stronger, collaborative relationships. The steps you take to make improvements will not just lead to increased productivity but can also create a positive work environment that furthers staff retention.

Dave Willmer is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multiplatform systems integration to network security and technical support. The company has more than 100 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at www.rht.com.