The pandemic changed the way we work — that much has become obvious. Hybrid work alone serves as a testament to this fact. However, the last few years have also changed how people think about the workplace as a whole. With this new mindset come stark differences between pre-pandemic and post-pandemic expectations for employers and leadership teams. Greater inclusivity is one of these recently centralized pillars for today’s employees, alongside a sense of purpose and a positive workplace experience. Luckily, the last one rests squarely in your control.
As a leader, it’s no secret that you are responsible for cultivating a positive work environment for your team. This atmosphere depends on how you and other leaders conduct yourselves at work. Healthy, cohesive, self-aware, and functional leadership generally leads to happier, healthier employees. And those happier, healthier employees potentially mean productivity gains of 13%. Companies with happy employees also outperform the competition by an average of 20% and are more likely to retain employees. Shouldn’t it be a no-brainer?
The hurdle is in the how. What is the best way to ensure that your leadership team is on track to build a happier, healthier, and more productive team? The best approaches will vary depending on your organization and industry, but the following strategies are great places to start:
1. Examine how the best teams work together.
Years of working together don’t automatically equate to a functioning team. Even with the right mix of skills and experience, teamwork can get lost in the daily shuffle. As a leader, the onus is on you to lay the groundwork for communication, collaboration, and innovation within your team — as well as an environment built on mutual respect, trust, and safety. Safety, in particular, appears to be of utmost importance, according to an internal Google study. It’s one of the five fundamental dynamics that sets a successful team apart from others, as employees feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable.
Take a more hands-on role in creating a strong, team-centered culture where everyone understands organizational priorities, works collectively toward reaching those goals, and recognizes how individuals contribute to success. Team members who understand each other work better together. However, don’t just give your employees a list of objectives. Stick to only a few, making sure to provide the “how” and “why.” Also, explain how you plan to measure team progress; providing metrics helps galvanize a team toward reaching a goal.
2. Respond to unhealthy behaviors instead of avoiding them.
Not everyone will be friends with their co-workers, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, employees can fall into undesirable habits or behaviors when teams don’t mesh peacefully. “As managers and leaders, we are responsible for leading, managing, and holding accountable every team member within our responsibility and care,” explains Kelly Knight, president and integrator at EOS Worldwide. And we have a responsibility to examine our own behaviors, too.
Knight offers a few suggestions on how leaders can assess themselves, chief among them being actively listening to employee feedback, being vulnerable enough to address weaknesses, and creating a system for accountability. Knight highlights that one of the most important ways to establish accountability is vision alignment, where your vision directly reflects your organization’s core values. “If there is something that needs to be worked on, everyone should be aligned to make it happen together,” Knight says. “This is a team effort, as the benefits of making improvements should resonate with all team members.”
3. Seek out opportunities to build strength.
To make the most your self-awareness and growth, actively pursue opportunities to practice what you’ve learned. Test the boundaries of your comfort zone, strengthening your resolve in the face of triggers that might have tempted you to revert to unhealthy reactions in the old days.
For example, let’s say you dread working with a particular team member due to their inability to get organized. Quash an old impulse to just work in isolation or take on all the key elements of the project. Instead, approach your teammate in advance and suggest ways to divvy up the work. Set deadlines together and check on each other’s progress. Ask for feedback on your suggestions and discuss potential obstacles to the plan, and then settle on the best path forward. By approaching this tough moment with an opportunity-focused mindset, you can turn a challenging situation into growth (and maybe a stronger relationship along the way).
Leadership can only become part of your personal brand if you recognize that leaders shape their employees’ experience, which shapes everyone’s perceptions of a company. Those perceptions have a direct impact on morale, engagement, and productivity. Regardless of the size or industry, your company must have a strong leadership team that keeps workers at the forefront of its mind. When leadership invests in the workplace, everybody wins.