Recently, I joined over a hundred charity communications professionals at the Human Rights Action Centre to hear how we can stay resilient at work. The session was inspired by a new guide on wellbeing by CharityComms. With over 5,000 downloads, the guide is clearly striking a chord with members.
We heard about the critical importance of practising self-care in our work, and given that a big part of our working lives is working with others it made me think about the impact of teams on our wellbeing.
Here I’m going to make the case that the teams that we work in can have a profound impact on our health and wellbeing. I know that, personally, it is my colleagues who keep me resilient and energised during periods of hard graft, and who steady me when things simply aren’t going to plan.
So how do we as charity communicators create the right team environment for individuals to thrive?
Research on teams repeatedly highlights the same four key areas:
- Make time to agree clear, meaningful and stretching team goals
In their (highly recommended) book The Wisdom of Teams, Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith outline how organisations with high performance standards create more genuine teams. They have also shown that genuine teams have more fun and provide each other with more mutual support, when compared to groups of people who merely work together on joint activities. It also seems that a shared hunger to achieve something has a far more protective effect on a positive team dynamic than any amount of team-building exercises, leadership approaches or special incentives.
Practically, this means setting aside time to discuss and translate your organisation’s objectives into goals that are meaningful for your whole team. A good way to do this would be to use your team planning time and away days to create and revisit a shared vision for what you collectively want to achieve, ensuring that everyone in the team can contribute ideas for a genuinely inclusive approach.
- Nurture each other’s skills
Team members who are learning on the job and from working alongside each other can feed off the positive energy of a nurturing environment. External training is important to address any gaps in skills, but where budgets are tight informal internal sessions can be invaluable. Consider hosting lunchtime skills-exchange sessions, enabling your colleagues to share what they know on specific topics. It’s a highly cost-effective way to embed skills across the team, and it builds mutual respect.
Protect planning mechanisms that support a consistent team approach
Yes, we know, planning mechanisms. Urgh.
Allocating roles and workload, scheduling and planning activity, finding systematic ways of evaluating impact – getting these things right takes a lot of time. However, if you don’t get them right, they are the very things that can eat away at team morale and cohesiveness.
Online tools have proven very helpful to guide activity for some teams, but in general we find there is no substitute for face-to-face conversation, including through video conference calling for staff working remotely. One communications team we worked with hosted bake-off challenges, which brought everyone together to both eat cake and review activity every month. While for others, ideas like stand up ‘huddles’ – quick and regular ‘check ins’ on scheduling or key projects – also seem to have been particularly productive.
Adopt mutual accountability
Many organisations have a tendency to focus on individual over group accountability. If you consider your role description and performance review process, it’s likely that these will emphasize your singular contributions as a cog in a wheel.
It is more challenging to define your team’s accountability in group terms, but the most successful actions will depend on a collective effort and shared responsibilities. Align the objectives of individuals with those of the team. Then ensure everyone shares the glory for successes. A campaign approach to planning activity is a powerful mechanism for uniting teams, integrating activity and increasing your collective impact.
I have long felt that there is something really special about the team dynamic that can be created by communications, digital and marketing professionals working closely together to extend their impact. Our ‘communications health check’ might help your team make a quick but more objective assessment of the way you currently work, to identify both your team’s strengths and the areas for development.
We’ve been lucky to work in, and with, communications teams who when fired up around a shared goal and deadline, generate an atmosphere of genuine creativity and collaboration. They create a palpable buzz you simply don’t see in other parts of their organisation. And yes, it’s a truth we all know, when comms teams are firing on all cylinders, we’re the ones having the most fun.
Are you keen to do more to protect and enhance the dynamic of your team? Tell us what information and advice would be useful in 2020.
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