By providing recognition and leading with empathy, managers can help bolster team spirit (Getty Images/SDI Productions)
The past year has seen great change in work culture due to COVID-19. With more people physically separated from their teams and connecting over screens, having an effective leader to positively motivate a group has proved invaluable.
“The team is only as effective as its weakest members,” says CPA Jennifer Eberman, IFRS development leader, global audit and assurance learning at Deloitte, and recent recipient of the organization’s “Dream Team” award for superior leadership. “As a leader, it’s absolutely vital that you ensure that all of your team members are really operating at their optimal potential.”
Here are five tips for building and maintaining an effective team.
1. INVEST IN YOUR PEOPLE
Entrusting your workforce with autonomy and responsibility is an effective way to show people they matter, which creates a stronger sense of purpose.
“Your people are your only asset,” says FCPA Diane Kazarian, PwC Canada’s managing partner for the Greater Toronto Area and member of the extended leadership team. “Team building and leadership are about people.”
One way to empower employees is through skill building. Prior to the pandemic, PwC was already engaging staff through its Your Tomorrow program, which focuses on digital education. “So whether you stay with PWC or go somewhere else, you are going to be a better professional because you are more upskilled,” says Kazarian.
But it’s not all about work. Kazarian recently led a virtual yoga class for her team to build camaraderie. “I’m doing that because I want to help engage with people a little bit differently,” she says.
Eberman also does virtual fitness classes with her global team and says it’s been an effective way to connect on a more personal level—not just during the workout, but afterward, too.
2. OFFER EMPATHY AND UNDERSTANDING
Heading a global team, Eberman has experience accommodating different time zones and geographical issues, among other personal matters such as childcare and personal scheduling conflicts. But, she says, the pandemic has highlighted these individual disparities.
“What’s been really vital as a team is recognizing people first,” she says. “And recognizing what people are going through.” Leading with empathy, she says, can take various forms, such as offering time off, shifting priorities and extending deadlines.
“I truly hope that these are things we continue to value in our leaders—showing empathy, being flexible,” she says. “This is what will bring out the best in our team members and will lead to success across teams.”
3. ESTABLISH PERSONAL CONNECTION
Team camaraderie is often created around celebrations, in-person meetings, even sharing coffee breaks in the office kitchen. Working virtually has removed this personal layer, so leaders have to work harder to create this effect, says Michael French, regional vice-president at Robert Half Canada.
To establish successful connections, it’s important to have one-on-one meetings with employees, French says. It’s also essential to highlight milestones, such as birthdays, work anniversaries or other novel personal news—the discussion shouldn’t be focused purely on work.
“It comes down to communication,” he says, adding this type of bonding helps workers feel more appreciated.
Eberman agrees, adding that sometimes she’ll do a quick five-minute video touch base merely to see a team member and get a feel for how they’re doing. “Just really making sure we do that to get that personal connection,” she says.
4. PROVIDE RECOGNITION
One year into the pandemic, many employees are finding it challenging to be their best self. Recognition from leadership when an important project is completed or a gruelling deadline is met can go a long way in encouraging them to bring their A-game.
“Many people talk about the paycheque, but the recognition is easy,” says French. “It’s the emails acknowledging a great success, acknowledging this person did this work and taking the time so that people who did step up and deliver the work are seen.”
Appreciation can be shown by offering small gift cards (such as a $5 coffee card) or by giving praise in a meeting to show employees they are valued, he says. Celebrating achievements together also helps reinforce the bond between colleagues, which can result in a higher performing team.
5. FOSTER COLLABORATION
A team is led by a single person, but the end goal is achieved by working together.
“It’s having the team accountable to each other, as opposed to everyone being accountable to one person,” says Kazarian. “So it is joint accountability.”
Kazarian says that weaving this collaborative approach into how meetings are run—such as by encouraging and recognizing input from all team members and treating people fairly—will create trust among colleagues.
To work collaboratively, you also need to show flexibility in the way tasks are accomplished. And according to Eberman, the pandemic made this need even more apparent.
“We really had to prioritize things and determine what’s vital versus what is a nice to have,” she says. While never compromising on quality, this awareness has helped her, and her team, recognize new ways of working together to accomplish their goals. “I think that has really helped keep us on track,” she adds.
Want to learn more about teambuilding? Find out about ethical leadership during digital change. And in this podcast series, see how CPAs can foster positivity across an organization.