In today's fast-paced business world, the focus is often on marketplace disruption, a scramble to introduce the newest innovation that grabs market share. But to carry out such a coup, your team must work at its absolute best. And one of the most important factors in fostering an innovative and productive team is employee engagement.

It turns out one of the biggest drivers of employee engagement is team spirit. ADP Research Institute surveyed more than 19,000 workers worldwide and found that feeling like part of a team is a huge factor in employee engagement. In fact, workers who reported being part of a team were 2.3 times more likely to describe themselves as "fully engaged."

Of course, that's not the only factor behind engagement. Fair pay, accountability, flexibility, communication and a culture of learning and growth are also important. Why, then, does team participation remain so critical? 

It's because team leaders cultivate trust: ADP reported that employees who trust their team leader are 12 times more likely to be engaged. I've written about the qualities that make a great leader and the leadership traits you want to avoid. I've seen great leaders and bad leaders. As a leader, one of your most important roles is building great teams through trust, enhancing creativity, encouraging collaboration and facilitating personal fulfillment.

Even if you aren't knowingly destroying your team's ability to work together, there are some simple things you can do to approach team-building more effectively.

1. Give collaboration every chance to thrive

Effective collaboration should be the centerpiece of teamwork; ensure you're doing all you can to encourage it. You can break that into two areas: conceptual and emotional factors. Both are critical to forging teams that meet -- or exceed -- your expectations.

When it comes to the conceptual, begin with setting the right context for a project. Team members should understand the goal and how their unique skills and mindset are needed to achieve it; outlining workflows and role responsibilities is helpful here. Teams should work on quickly establishing a common language, one that allows members to efficiently communicate. It must be consistent, jargon-free (when possible) and defined for other stakeholders.

Emotional factors constitute the lifeblood of enthusiasm and tenacity in teams. The key to success in Google's high-performing teams, psychological safety is the collective freedom to take risks, which leads to innovation. Create judgment-free spaces for brainstorming and knowledge sharing, making it clear that open-mindedness is key to being on the team. When teammates feel they can share, they'll feel more engaged and connected to the project.

2. Make appreciation actionable

Did your team achieve a huge milestone? Does anyone else know about it? Never assume that workers feel appreciated and engaged just because they met their goals -- or even because you acknowledged it within the group. In fact, a study by O.C. Tanner Company revealed that nearly 80% of employees who left their job said it was due to a lack of appreciation. 

"The visibility and appreciation that comes with this process can help employees focus on the good work they and their teammates are doing," says Pam Morgan, associate partner and executive producer at Kindle Communications. You want to justly reward those who've made useful contributions to the company while highlighting for others what kinds of achievements are desirable.

Consider the impact of giving heartfelt appreciation that emphasizes how the achievement or contribution influenced you. Your team isn't the sum of its achievements; we all want to feel important. I make an effort to share how a teammate's skills, intentions or contributions make me feel. I'll express how I feel inspired by, or feel grateful for, someone on my team who did something worth praising. 

3. Gain from peer-based learning

One of the best approaches to team-building is peer learning. It's a fast track to creating smarter and more collaborative teams. It's also a great use of human resources -- the expertise already present in your company can be multiplied, allowing those with specific knowledge and skills to improve their peers' capabilities.

Research from online learning platform Degreed indicates that when employees want to learn new skills, 55% begin by approaching a coworker. Peer learning works well because it taps into how we naturally want to learn -- from a trusted colleague or friend. The setting makes it acceptable to make mistakes and be gently guided back on track. It's also an excellent way for peer teachers to learn leadership skills in a lower-stakes environment. These skills could enable them to someday assume new responsibilities.

Final Word

Surprisingly, a bit of team spirit can make all the difference. By setting the stage well, praising team accomplishments and fostering peer learning, you can enhance your team's engagement to bring out the best in everyone.

Published on: Jul 10, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.