Things to try for teams: Improving team relationships

Here are our top tips, tricks and practical examples of things others have done to improve team relationships...

Team relationship tips - team

1. Improve the quality of your team meetings

Look at how you meet as a team. Three things will help improve the quality of team relationships:

Make team meetings frequent

We can’t have relationships with people we don’t spend much time with – so invest a little time catching up with one another. For fully remote teams or for teams going through a crisis, we suggest touching base once a day. When things are going well, once a week is probably enough.

Make team meetings face-to-face

The positivity of our social interactions are shaped by eye contact and body mirroring. Help build empathy by bringing everyone together. If you have to meet virtually, use video conferencing and make sure the video is switched on :) We like the Gallery View in zoom.

Focus on the positive

Spend ten minutes of your team meeting revewing what went well last week and who helped you make such progress. By spending a little time noticing what we've achieved, we raise levels of energy to tackle any challenges in the week ahead.

2. Arrange a social event

Informal gatherings are a great way to build relationships. When we step out of our formal work roles, we are able to relate to each other as human beings, finding common interests and values. If you can arrange a summer or winter party, then great. Small occassions are also important - try a team lunch or a virtual coffee break.

3. Take a coffee break together

Research has found coffee breaks help employees to manage stress and emotional pressure by providing an avenue for people to share their perspectives, to vent their frustrations, and to support one another. These social opportunities help employees to make sense of their work and they improve their coping patterns.

The effectiveness of the coffee break may be explained by how easy we find it to offer and accept an invitation to have coffee. It doesn’t feel as desperate as formally asking a colleague or manager for help. In fact, a coffee with colleagues feels reassuringly ordinary: an activity that everyone can take part in, regardless of whether they are having a particularly good or bad week at work.

4. Talk and walk

When we take our conversations out of the meeting room and onto the street, we create a safer space to discuss how work is going. When we move from sitting opposite one another to walking side by side each other, we feel more like a team. This makes it easier for us to speak up, collaborate and find solutions to problems.

5. Take a social network approach to team building

Take ten minutes as a team to map out who talks to who within the team. Take a large piece of paper and each write your name somewhere on the paper in a different colour. Then think about who you communicate with most in the team, and draw a line to those colleagues. If you are a team that communicates a lot, you may like to think specifically about important lines of communication - such as how decisions are made. Take a step back and look at the team map.

What kind of network characterizes communication in your team? Does all communication go through a central person? Or is the team's communication characterized by lots of people interacting with lots of different people? How might you strengthen your network to improve the speed and accuracy of information flowing through the team?

6. Assess your team's communication style

Using Alex Pentland's research on the communication styles of successful teams, review how the key characteristics of high performance play out in your team:

  1. Everyone on the team talks and listens in roughly equal measure, keeping contributions short and sweet.
  2. Members face one another, and their conversations and gestures are energetic.
  3. Members connect directly with one another - and not just the team leader.
  4. Members carry on back-channel or side conversations within the team.
  5. Members periodically break, go exploring outside the team, and bring information back.

What can you stop and start doing to improve the way you communicate?

7. Take a social network approach to team building

Take ten minutes as a team to map out who talks to who within the team. Take a large piece of paper and each write your name somewhere on the paper in a different colour. Then think about who you communicate with most in the team, and draw a line to those colleagues. If you are a team that communicates a lot, you may like to think specifically about important lines of communication - such as how decisions are made.

Take a step back and look at the team map. What kind of network characterizes communication in your team? Does all communication go through a central person? Or is the team's communication characterized by lots of people interacting with lots of different people? How might you strengthen your network to improve the speed and accuracy of information flowing through the team?