We know that cohesive, aligned teams are essential to the continued growth of your business; but one of the inevitable leadership challenges you will face as your company grows is how to maintain that dynamic as the number and size of teams in the company grow as well. What started as a tight-knit handful of employees building a startup will blossom into organized teams who ideally collaborate and respect each other.
What's "ideal" is rarely reality, however, and too often teams turn into cliques or even adversaries who begin working against each other, creating both culture and growth issues.
Dysfunctional teams are difficult to repair, so you're best off taking measures to avoid getting to that point in the first place. Here are a few ideas to foster healthy internal team relationships.
Set Aside a Departmental Lunch Budget
A casual lunch with a light agenda is a great way to encourage communication between departments in a more informal environment, one where people drop the pretense of their roles and can connect as individuals.
If you have one department that stands out as a frequent target of complaints (let me guess, it's sales?), have that department invite one other department at a time to lunch. The only question on the agenda is: "How can we do better for you?". The gesture alone is meaningful, but the exploration into issues at hand may also turn up some surprising ideas to build a healthier working dynamic.
Program Lunch and Learns
Speaking of lunches - consider programming "lunch and learns" to help teams better understand the function and challenges of other departments, which in turn helps to create empathy. Cater lunch to encourage attendance (or require it), and have one department present an overview of their work or how they support a specific initiative within the company.
Company-wide volunteering initiatives are valuable on many levels, one of which is team building. Sorting cans at a food bank or lending a hand in the local community garden allows people who don't typically interact at a personal level to create stronger connections on a one-to-one level, which strengthens interpersonal bonds. Gaining a better understanding of an individual's personality will often help others appropriately interpret that person's behaviors without falsely assuming malicious intent.
Speaking of interpersonal relationships, fostering a culture of respect is imperative to building and maintaining healthy teams. Respect doesn't mean there will never be conflict; in fact, an organization built on respect will be quick to call out someone who acts outside of that value. It is the responsibility of the entire organization to refuse personal attacks and constructively communicate through misunderstandings, frustrations, and the like - no matter how uncomfortable that conversation may be.
Recognize the Good
A bit of recognition will do wonders for employee morale while simultaneously underscoring the types of behavior the company values. Cross-departmental recognition (versus top-down) can be the strongest of all, as it tends to feel more authentic. Many people will feel awkward about randomly giving praise, so work it into a recurring meeting as an agenda item. Carving out the time to recognize outstanding teamwork helps to instill that mindset in the culture. This dedicated time in your meeting may be quiet in the beginning, but as your team gets the hang of it, you'll have round after round of employees praising each other.
Strong teams are the foundation for a company's continued growth, but teams that don't work well together can tear down that growth in no time flat. Proactively bring initiatives that support team building into your big-picture planning to create a healthy, collaborative culture built to grow together.