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Best Companies Live: How and why managers create strong team spirit

When team members work together effectively, they can achieve more than they could ever do on their own. Strong team spirit is essential for employee engagement and building towards a world-class workplace. It is integral all organisations make their employees feel like they're part of something bigger than themselves. But how do managers create strong team spirit?

In this panel discussion, we explored the key factors that contribute to strong team spirit, and how managers can create an environment where team members feel valued, motivated, and engaged. Our panellists shared their insights on how to build a strong team; and how to create a culture of collaboration and cooperation.

Our data shows that to achieve this, a company must engage with their employees against the factors of My Manager and My Team. When people feel supported and energised by their manager and team, they are more likely to be engaged and productive. They are also more likely to stay with the company for the long term.

Our Best Companies Live events are an opportunity for valued members of our community to come together and discuss how they are making the world a better workplace. Our event for Q3 was hosted by Dan Walker and the third panel discussion of the day was How managers create strong team spirit.

To watch our full insight session, please watch the video.

Our Red Chair panellists: Sally Garratt – CEO of Petty Pool Trust, Vic DaCunha – CEO of Curo, Jordanna Reynolds – Head of HR at Myerson LLP, and Ed Riseman – Co-Founder and General Manager of Big Group shared their insights on how to create a team culture within an organisation, how to measure the impact of a manager’s approach to their teams, and how to build a culture where people and work flourish.

To measure how our Best Companies community felt about this topic, we posed statements from our b-Heard employee engagement survey to our Red Chair panellists, Alumni guests, and studio and virtual audiences in the form of a vote. For our My Manager factor, we posed: Managers in my organisation would rather avoid conflict than deal with issues., My manager treats everyone fairly., and My manager shares important knowledge and information with me. For the My Team factor, we posed: My team is fun to work with., Power struggles within my team have a negative impact., and People in my team go out of their way to help me.

Discussion 1: The cultural responsibilities of the manager

For our first part of the session, the Red Chair panel guests discussed how their organisations have addressed the changing landscape for managers in the modern workplace. According to our MC³ model, world-class managers motivate, consider, converse with, and care about their employees. In a time when managers often have teams of fully remote staff, effective people management can be challenging. Bringing people together, whether physically, virtually, or emotionally is necessary for employee engagement and team spirit. Additionally, work won’t always go well, being able to effectively communicate concerns or areas of improvement for staff is vital for a positive culture and strong team spirit – people appreciate constructive feedback more when they know their manager wants them to succeed.

Develop future managers

Historically, getting a promotion would mean you would likely move into a management position, but that doesn’t mean you were prepared or equipped for what it means to manage people. Development of managers is essential for organisations to ensure strong team spirit and high levels of engagement. In world-class organisations, there must be bespoke and compassionate training available for anyone entering these positions. Vic DaCunha – CEO of Curo discussed the organisation’s SHINE programme and how it provides equal management opportunities in the business.

“I’ve always found peer-to-peer learning really powerful. Bringing in a subject master into the organisation to share their knowledge stimulates conversation. We created the SHINE programme off the back of this concept, and it’s been a useful tool for continuous colleague development. The big nuance now is understanding this has to run alongside fanning the flames of someone’s interest in their own personal development. And, putting an equal onus on them to find the space, time, and capacity to become a better leader and colleague.”  

Expanding on this was Sally Garratt – CEO of Petty Pool Trust, who discussed the company’s Emerging Leaders programme. “How do we give that time [for development] to the emerging leaders in the organisation? For me, these people are not just a tier in the next set of managers. We have to identify the people who naturally have that flair for being a leader, we try and harness that and help people with their own personal journey.”

Ed Riseman – Co-Founder and General Manager of Big Group was asked what the key attributes were that make great people managers. “One - you have to like people, which helps. There are people that don’t. They want to do a specialist role and don’t want that kind of responsibility. Two – empathy, which is probably more important now than it was a few years ago. A lot of the hardness in business has been softened and people do understand that we have lives outside of work. Third - being able to bring people together and speak with them respectfully and honestly.”

Management begins by leading from example. Nurturing a culture where management skills are identified and developed will encourage the next wave of leaders in your organisation to step up to the plate. Once they’re in their positions, it’s vital they display a wide range of qualities if they are to become world class.

Tackle issues within a team honestly

People make mistakes, they always have, and they always will. We’re driven by emotions, and sometimes we can be distracted, bored, or stressed. Managers who can effectively voice their concerns when mistakes do happen whilst maintaining support and value for their employee will drive engagement up much more than those who criticise, show a lack of understanding, or simply avoid the issue altogether. Sally Garratt explained how Petty Pool approaches this issue. “Having difficult conversations with people is much better when you’re walking, rather than face-to-face in a corporate setting. Take people for a walk, grab a coffee, and have a nice, honest conversation.”

Putting people at ease when broaching these challenges will help both parties, it allows for more clarity of thought, more stimulation from the exercise and the outdoor space, and also not feeling trapped will reassure the individual that they’re being treated this way because their manager cares.

Treat everyone equally and have open lines of communication

The potential for a manager to play favourites in a workplace is a slippery slope – whether consciously or unconsciously. Creating a culture whereby the whole team are on a level playing-field, feel they can speak openly with their manager, and has access to the same resources, opportunities for growth, and support will be on their way to creating strong team spirit.

Regarding the conversing element of management, Jonathan Austin, Founder and CEO of Best Companies said, "Communication is key, but to do it well is not so easy. If you have an organisation that's not really listening to its people from a senior level, and equally from a management level, you're going to have low levels of engagement”. These two concepts go hand in hand, there may be a hierarchal system at most organisations, but the culture of a business is its most important foundation – an engaged employee that feels listened to will work harder, speak more openly, and want to remain in their role much more than an unengaged one.

This isn’t to say that there’s a catch-all method to communication, everybody is different, whether you’re a CEO, line manager, or a new-starter. We all approach and react to things in our own way. Jordanna Reynolds - Head of HR at Myerson LLP explained, “It’s about understanding your people… We use the thimble, teacup, bucket analogy. Some people can take loads of feedback and they’ll hold it well. Whereas others, you can give them the smallest bit of constructive feedback and they’ll really take it to heart. So, we must use care when relaying messages to our people.”

Management is about nurturing your people so they can thrive, yes, it is great when everybody gets along, and this drives engagement up even more. If there is a clash between a manager and one of their employees, it’s about approaching them in the right way, and ensuring there is no favouritism and that they care.  

My Manager: Jonathan’s word

At the end of the My Manager discussion, Jonathan Austin provided his insight into the factor.

“If you don’t like people, don’t be a people manager, be a subject expert… with the concept of radical candour, you need to care personally but challenge directly and have those open conversations. If you care personally but don’t challenge, that’s ruinous empathy and nothing gets fixed. If you don’t care about people but challenge them directly, that’s obnoxious aggression. It all comes back to empathy but still being willing to have difficult conversations. That’s the real difference.”

Discussion 2: How teams nurture a positive culture

This is the other significant factor for creating strong team spirit. My Team is directly impacted by the My Manager factor, so, it is essential for employee engagement that whatever environment the manager has tried to nurture for their team has been embraced by every member. This panel discussion was the second part of the insight session and our panel guests talked about why and how their organisations have introduced practices for this factor.

Have a culture of fun

People who enjoy their work do it better. Creating a culture of fun can be anything from company away days to a pool table in the canteen. But ensuring this fun is translated into the company culture and identity will really drive up employee engagement. Collaborating through friendship is important as having that emotional connection adds more incentive to people’s work.

On this, Sally Garratt explained how Petty Pool Trust use its expansive woodland to its advantage. “Friendships are incredibly important. Over the last two years, we’ve hosted family days, barbecues, even music festivals and those kinds of events. A lot of our estate is woodland area, so people bring their dogs to work, there’s animal therapy… We have a project to support young people who have autism using birds of prey. If an owl came in here now, you’d all be quiet. Teaching our young people that when you’re working with different animals or different emotions that you have to regulate is really important. It’s been a really successful programme; our location helps us in a lot of ways.”

Expanding on this, Ed Riseman was asked about how cultural ambassadors can have a strong impact on an organisation. “Give people the power to make decisions for themselves. Instead of making events that are convenient to the business, give the power to the people. Give the agency to the cultural ambassadors and say ‘yes’.” This approach will energise a team as they will acknowledge their opinion is valued and will have tangible results when making strong team spirit.

Encourage a team ethic where everybody understands they’re working towards a common goal

Having a common goal in an organisation can be a highly specific end-of-year target or something more innovative and abstract. Common goals are achieved through a number of ways, but you must start with a culture of team spirit and collaboration.

Jordanna Reynolds talked about how they instil a togetherness and team ethic at Myerson “The things we try to do as a firm as much as possible is just trying to bring people together – it’s a really collaborative environment that we work in. Everybody [at Myerson] really loves working together. Our ‘coffee and catch-up’ is something we did initially around Mental Health Awareness week. We used a local catering company who came on-site, we got everybody a coffee and a treat and encouraged them to go for a walk and catch-up together. People do open up more in those informal environments.”

Similar to what Sally Garratt spoke about, people want to help causes for people they have an emotional connection with. Team spirit can be fostered in a number of ways, but introducing ideas like this from Jordanna sparks that feeling of unity and drives engagement up throughout a team.

Build a culture of support

We all like to know someone has our back. Similar to many topics discussed during the session, having a culture of support means creating an emotional connection within your team and ensuring that if anyone is struggling with workload, a particular project, or external influences, their team will be there to offer their guidance, time, or a shoulder to lean on. Vic DaCunha discussed why they have put added focus on a culture of support at Curo.

“The pandemic seriously dented our culture, being apart broke relationships; during that time, we had 30% turnover. So, when it was over and we got everybody together again, there was no experience of camaraderie or team spirit. We realised that in order to help each other, there has to be a relationship. Support isn’t a transaction, there has to be the want there. We imagined Curo in a post-pandemic world as one that was much closer together. What we do is an emotional service, so this means we should be collaborating every day… Collaborating, togetherness, and a sense of true connection with our colleagues is more important than ever.”

Team spirit is emotion, and emotion is our biggest driver of decision-making. Colleagues that nurture an environment where they energise, entertain, and support each other will be more productive, more fulfilled, and more engaged with their work.

My Team: Jonathan’s word

At the end of the My Team discussion, Jonathan Austin returned to the stage to give us this insight.

“It’s really important when we come up with a plan as a leadership team that you really listen to your team and fully get behind them so you can deliver the plan. If there are any [power struggles] being played out, the people below will see that and start to pick sides… that’s when you get fractures in the organisation.”

What next?

As our panellists discussed, ensuring that managers are able to create strong team spirit is vital to employee engagement. It demonstrates to staff that not only does their manager care about each member’s satisfaction and performance, but that colleagues are all working together towards a common goal – which energises and stimulates people do give their best.

My Manager and My Team are just two of the factors that drive employee engagement, and it is important to recognise that focusing on just two factors alone is not enough to create a World Class workplace.

To find out more about how you can equip your leaders with the insights to become World Class, visit our b-Heard employee engagement survey page and start your engagement journey.

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