When you think about a team, you may think of sports, businesses, organizations, and even political parties. When we think of teams, we think of a group of people who move together as one or who work together to accomplish a shared objective.

But how do we build a strong team? How do we ensure the people who join our team will move together as one, work together with one another to accomplish the shared objective? How can we avoid our team being derailed, imploding, or exploding due to common human experiences including but not limited to: miscommunications, alternate objectives, ego, lack of emotional intelligence, narcissism, jealousy, greed, distrust, and apathy.

A team at the individual level is made up of people who have strengths, weaknesses, and fears. Even people who share the same political ideologies, same religious beliefs, same sports or business objectives can fall victim to their team falling apart because of the issues listed above and disorganization of what is required to maintain cohesion.

In order to build a team, you need to understand the anatomy of a healthy team at its core. Healthy teams have leaders who make every effort to cultivate the soft skills that will make each individual a great contributor to their team. Additionally, the leader needs to be the right individual to set the example as well as the ability to course correct other individuals and the team as a whole. Once you have the marriage of these two core requirements, a team will become intact after working together with a common objective for more than six weeks.

What are soft skills? Soft skills include behaviors such as assertiveness, common-sense, communication, conflict resolution, empathy, friendliness, flexibility, problem-solving, responsibility, self-motivation, situational awareness, time-management, et al.

Absent these soft skills, teams will not perform at the highest levels. It will be even more difficult for the team to become and remain intact. Without having a basic set of skills, a team will languish with issues such as trust, accountability and productivity. Teams with the skills will operate in these spaces with much greater ease.

How to Build Soft Skills

Sometimes newly formed teams will fake it until they make it. But any good leader will recognize that while they may be able to fumble through important tasks without having first cultivated the individual skills, the team as a whole will waste more resources and ultimately linger in a nonproductive space for much longer due to misalignment.

Unlike hard skills which can be taught and measured for comprehension and implementation, soft skills are very personal traits and habits formed through interaction with others and in the workplace. Ideally, a hiring manager or leader would choose individuals with soft skills that complement the other individuals and work for the whole. However, identifying the ability of the individual to utilize their soft skills can be difficult. Additionally, an individual may have the soft skills of something like time management in one environment but not in another environment. Leaders should be prepared to help their individual team members to build their soft skills.

The first step is knowing which soft skills need to be improved for which individuals. You don’t know what you don’t know, so it’s crucial to find out what the strengths and weaknesses are. It’s important to pay attention to tensions, professional assessments, complaints, client and employee reviews, to know what needs to be addressed.

Leaders can build soft skills together for many people at one time through various offerings including Lunch & Learns, Webinars, Departmental Training, Book Clubs, and Instructional Videos.

By nurturing soft skills, organizations can increase work performance, build strong relationships, and work towards achieving their mission.

Individuals should also take responsibility for developing their communication skills, strengthening their interpersonal relationships, and demonstrating their professional enthusiasm to ensure their soft skills are well-rounded. A lack of personal accountability to continually sharpen these skills should be a red flag that the individual team member may no longer be a good fit for the morale, mission, vision, and productivity of the whole team.

Emotional Intelligence

What is at the core of most soft skills is emotional intelligence. Humans are social animals — we’re wired for connection. The more we can build positive relationships and develop cooperative connections, the more enriching our lives may be and the more productive and intact our teams will become.

People who have a high EQ are less likely to bully, experience higher job satisfaction, foster positive relationships inside and outside the workplace, and experience greater joy in life.

Having a leader who is emotionally intelligent is crucial. While having a team of emotionally intelligent people is ideal, EQ isn’t generally taught and the importance isn’t emphasized in most educational institutions and other workplaces. So the lift may be heavy depending on what skills your team comes equipped with and what they lack.

Some core areas of Emotional Intelligence include:

 – Self-awareness. You can’t have emotional intelligence without a strong sense of self-awareness. From a leadership standpoint, self awareness is crucial in order to lead with a sense of purpose, authenticity, openness, and trust. Self-awareness gives successes and failures meaning and context. And by giving us a better understanding of who we are, self-awareness lets us better understand what we need most from other people, to complement our own deficiencies.

– Self-regulation. When conflict arises, it is natural and human nature for tempers to flair. People may raise their voice and/or become defensive. An individual with emotional intelligence practices self-regulation to help diffuse the tension and lower the temperature in these situations. They may achieve this through deep breathing exercises, looking at challenges as learning opportunities instead of failures, and practicing radical acceptance of any emotion they are feeling so they can address it in a calm manner.

– Motivation. Consider exploring the individual “why” as well as the collective “why” the team exists. Take time out and celebrate wins. If there is a new objective, revisit the “why” and break down your to-do list into easy-to-accomplish tasks. If one is struggling, they may need to work with an accountability partner or coach, or be placed on a performance improvement plan with a measurable plan to achieve goals.

– Empathy. Empathy is all about putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. Individuals who are egoistic and struggle with narcissism will have a difficult time with this. Team members who struggle with apathy and fatigue or burnout may also have a difficult time with empathy when they interact with clients and/or other team members. Leaders sometimes are accused of lacking empathy when it comes to course correction with their team, for not being able to be fair and equitable, for having a punishment that wasn’t warranted based on the offense. It’s crucial leaders put themselves in the shoes of the their team members and find out why someone may be performing at a different level than before: is a process that tripping them up? is it another employee? are they dealing with a health issue? could they have something going on outside of work that is making it hard to concentrate? Learning to ask questions from a place of empathy can improve relationships between managers and their team.

– Social skills. Some people have never learned to “read a room” so by learning about other culture’s traditions, manners, and putting yourself in new situations, you can learn to improve social skills. Try to pay attention to your body language and maintain eye contact. Practicing active listening, and consider this quote from Gandhi: “Speak only if it improves upon silence.”

Seasons of Learning

One tactic helpful for many organizations is having monthly and quarterly themes to focus on one main soft skill or a series of similar learning opportunities can help keep opportunities for improvement in mind while operating. Additionally, ensuring new hires are on board with the soft skills as well as the hard skills required to obtain objectives is crucial during periods of transition. Analyzing the success of these educational offerings should not be difficult because leaders and team members alike should see the fruits of this labor with the key signatures of healthy teams.

Signatures of a Healthy Team

Healthy teams have shared vision, clarity of purpose, equitable alignment of tasks, measurable productivity, accountability, and results worth celebrating. Businesses will have lower turnover, happier employees, growth opportunities, and ability to quickly respond to a changing market.

The individual members will feel freer to provide feedback to improve the mission of the organization and generally people will report how they look forward to spending their time achieving goals because the team as a whole is moving forward toward their goal as well as the individual obtaining their individual personal and professional goals.

Team building is work. When done right, it shouldn’t feel like work and it is absolutely worthy of your time and effort.