There are many team building exercises to build trust between individual team members, but some of the best methods involve the group’s organization and structure.

Team building doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, building trust in teams is mostly a matter of time, with a few nudges in the right direction. 

Below, John Gizowski, La Grange, Illinois Project Manager, explains five ways to encourage collaboration, build team trust and ultimately develop your group to tackle problems creatively.

The 21st Century’s Complicated Teams 

For much of the 20th century, companies were organized into clearly defined roles and departments. For example, in advertising agencies, the copywriters usually worked in a separate department and workspace than the artists who drew the pictures for the same ads. 

Today, teams are more complicated. Companies evolved, and computers took over much of the busy-work that used to occupy many people’s working lives. As a result, instead of needing an art department with ten people, writers and artists in modern ad firms now work closely together in small groups. 

Experts say that “21st-century problems” require even more intense collaboration between people with many different specialties.

To keep your creative and innovative team working productively and efficiently, you may have to coordinate people with very different skills. And by following these five strategies, you can make your team members trust and understand each other, making their workflow smooth, saving you from micro-management.

1. Make the proper introductions 

Many problems found in modern teams come from people who don’t understand the skills of other team members. This problem is often evident in remote teams because people rarely meet face to face. But even in places where people work in the same building, if each only focuses on their work without interacting, they might never understand what other team members are capable of.

Your team members don’t need to be friends to work well together. Researchers have known for some time that familiarity between workers is important, but a 2018 study from researchers at the University of Connecticut found that the main factors are whether everyone understands what everyone else is capable of, not whether they hang out after work.

Set aside some time for the group, and have each team member spend some time explaining their skillsets and experience. When people know what other team members can handle (and what they can’t) it makes it much easier to depend on each other safely.

2. Tackle difficult challenges together 

When your team is faced with a difficult challenge, tackle it together and sync up in-person (if possible) to discuss the progress. Create a rotating series of collaborative meetings and problem-solving sessions where people with different expertise can share ideas and explain where their side of the project is moving.

Not only will brief collaborative sessions help identify problems before someone spends weeks on unusable work, collaborating on challenging problems helps build camaraderie and team spiritwith other team members. The strugglecreates a story of mutual achievement that your team can fondly look back on.

3. Make sure each team member understands their role in the bigger picture 

If your team members don’t understand how they fit into the larger team, it will be difficult for them to figure out how they should be contributing and where they should be looking for solutions. In organizations today, each person’s role is often flexible, but you still need to direct everyone with a clear vision that includes functions that match individual skill sets.

4. Eat together 

Humans naturally bond over food. Eating together is perhaps the earliest of human social activities, dating to long before modern spoken language. Eating together lets everyone relax a little bit, especially more introverted people.

If you have hard problems or conflicts to solve, and you really want to take advantage of eating together to build collaboration and trust, try setting up meals where your team members have to share serving dishes and plates. According to researchers, sharing communal food helps people learn to coordinate their actions with each other, and this makes collaborating and coordinating other problems easier. 

This type of bonding doesn’t have to occur at an outing. Simply putting out snacks or ordering a few pizzas when dealing with a significant problem will help people work together as they meander their way around the shared pile of food.

5. Lead by example. 

Finally, if you don’t collaborate well with your team, they won’t have much incentive to cooperate with each other. Make sure you leave time for suggestions and problems that team members bring to you. This doesn’t mean you have to give in to unreasonable demands; it just means that your leadership should be flexible enough to incorporate reasonable suggestions from skilled employees.

Combined with an understanding of everyone’s skills and experience, team bonding, and a clear vision, your leadership will help guide your team through collaboration for creative solutions and productive results. Once your team members trust and know each other, they will do much of the organizational legwork by themselves, letting you lead without getting in your team’s way.

About John Gizowski: From supervising engineers and other employees to getting projects across the finish line on time and under budget, John Gizowski of La Grange, IL, has a proven track record for getting the job done. He has been a part of 7 patented product launches taking projects from concepts all the way through production. He also has authored, negotiated, and implemented R&D plans for two university research programs as well as spearheading a new product development process that resulted in a 53% reduction in time.