A strong, supportive team makes a huge impact on whether you enjoy your work and how your career advances. If you find yourself wishing you had better coworkers, here's what you can do -- even if you aren't in a position of power.
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You'll need to put in quite a bit of energy into helping your team become stronger, so if you're in a job or company that you really dislike this may not be worthwhile for you. You don't want to improve your team only to leave for something you enjoy more. Your energy is probably better spent trying to find other jobs or focusing on how you personally can make it through the workday without being miserable.
Think About What Qualities Your Coworkers Should Have
You need people who will be able to adjust to how your current colleagues work together. For example, you can have very supportive coworkers, but if someone is unable to figure anything out for themselves and constantly needs others to guide them, they will bring down the whole group. You want people who will make your team stronger just by joining, but who are also willing to pitch in to create a better work environment for everyone. If they can't grow along with everyone else, they will eventually hold the group back.
If you're not sure what qualities are key, here are a few places you can start:
- What traits do you admire most in your coworkers? What traits are they missing that you wish they had?
- What qualities have you gotten good feedback on? For example, during your review with your boss or while working with colleagues.
- What qualities are mentioned most often in job postings for your team?
- Does your company have any employee traits that are highly valued? You may be able to find them in the mission statement.
- What general abilities are needed? For example, being able to communicate with others in a direct way is important for most jobs. Anyone who can't do this may cause interpersonal tension that affects everyone.
Surround yourself with the strongest team possible by seeking out those who are different from you -- from the way they think to their background. Cultural fit can matter more than skills or qualifications.
Get Involved In Hiring Great People
If you have the opportunity to, get involved in the hiring process. You'll have more influence on who your coworkers are. Comb your network for people you enjoyed working with and refer them. This is one of the best ways to build a strong team since you already know the quality of coworker you're getting. Only refer people you know will perform well because their work may reflect on you, since you're the one who vouched for them. When combing your network, make sure the people you're referring will enjoy your workplace. Since you care about these people, think about their professional well being too.
If you don't know of anyone, attend networking events to recruit people. Better yet, go beyond traditional networking events by mentoring or joining a professional society. You'll get a better sense of whether you'd like to work with them and whether they'd like working at your company. Even if you deliver only one or two great candidates (and hopefully hires) a year, you'll have helped to form a solid set of coworkers.
Talk to your boss about being involved in the screening and interview process for open roles. If you're qualified, help craft job listings. Go beyond the job responsibilities and necessary skillset, and think about the qualities needed to elevate your team. Include qualities that you know are valued in your company and that make for strong coworkers -- like being open to feedback or ideas from others or willing to help out a colleague. Once candidates are brought in, spend the time to prepare interview questions for them that test both their knowledge and ability to perform the job and their potential contribution to the group dynamics.
The most important thing for you to remember through this whole process is making everyone feel included. If your referrals are hired, make an effort to introduce them to other people on your team (office cliques aren't good for anyone).
Make Sure Everyone Works Together Smoothly
Set the right tone by leading the efforts to welcome new coworkers. First, chat with your boss about what new employees go through when they're brought on. See if you can help improve the process. You may be able to create on-boarding documents that new hires can use to better understand the tools and processes your team uses. You can even write up a contact tree so the new person knows exactly who to contact for what -- your current coworkers might even find this useful. Once everyone is on the same page, you'll work better together as a team.
When creating a better workplace, even small gestures can go a long way. If you're willing to put in the effort, organise group events -- like a happy hour to welcome new hires -- to help everyone get to know each other better. I've often organised game nights with my colleagues, which give us something to interact over besides work. Since everyone is in a social mindset, we get the chance to have more personal or casual conversations. Do be careful though; you don't want to invade anyone's privacy, make any of these activities seem required, or have anyone feel left out.
If your workplace uses a chat program and you have a group chat room, throw in questions to spark conversations. Try asking what people are doing over the weekend, if people have book recommendations, or post interesting links that relate to your work.
Use your best judgement on how often to do this, you don't want to distract your coworkers. In my experience, once a week works well because it doesn't eat up too much of your (or your coworkers') time while giving people frequent chances to chat. When new people join, this chat room can also be a good place for them to briefly introduce themselves to everyone rather than flooding inboxes with an email thread or having to find the right moments to introduce themselves individually. A chat room can also break down the barrier of speaking up as the new person -- make sure to talk back though! Even just a quick "Welcome, [new person's name]!" stops the new person from being met with dead silence when they do speak up.
Keep Your Team Going Strong
Even with an amazing group of coworkers who trust each other, you still need to put in effort to keep things going in the right direction. Your best bet is to be a strong coworker yourself -- hopefully you'll set a good example for others while also continuing to develop professionally.
Since cultural fit is important to a successful team, make sure people still work for the dynamic of your group. You want every person to be a great coworker so that anyone can help others with what they need -- that's the whole point of building a strong team. Here are a some ways you can help your coworkers continue to be at the top of their game:
- Give honest, actionable feedback. If your company doesn't do reviews, you can always send feedback to your coworker through email or in person. Make sure they know that your intent is to help them develop professionally -- not criticise them on a personal level.
- Share resources and tools that people can use to learn. Most people want to improve themselves. Help them by letting them know about resources (like Lifehacker U) that they can use to increase their education and keep up with your industry's progress.
- Act as a bridge between parties that are having trouble communicating. Sometimes even the best communicators need help getting the information they need. If someone comes to you with concerns that another coworker has dropped the ball on a project, conscientiously find out what is going on. Find out what each person's side of the story is and offer up some solutions to get the project on track again.
Building trust among your coworkers goes a long way towards helping everyone work together well. Even if you're not in a management position, you can still have an effect on who you work with. By putting in the effort to help hire great people and help them get settled, you'll end up with coworkers you like and who you can learn from.