Great ResignationClimate ChangeLeadershipInflationUkraine Invasion

Why being spontaneous at work is a good thing

August 14, 2015, 7:00 PM UTC
Office Party
Photograph by Getty Images/Vetta

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How do you build a strong team? is written by Renae Scott, CMO of Togo’s Eateries.

Building a strong team is difficult because having a vision and using it are two different things. Most companies have a fancy mission statement posted on their website, but it’s directed at customers, not employees. In fact, Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace survey found that just 41%of American workers know what their company stands for and what makes its brand different from competitors.

Some leaders accept that employees will feel like ‘cogs in the machine’. That’s a nauseating thought and a recipe for weak teams. A strong team is one that works cohesively inside and outside its function, purifies itself of politics, and fosters trust. To build one, you can use these techniques to articulate, reinforce and act on a shared vision:

Define your vision(s)
Make a distinction between company values and individual team values. At Togo’s, our company is committed to serving big, fresh, and meaty sandwiches with a smile. However, on a team level, we are commited to directly solving conflicts, supporting each other publicly and privately, and acting in the best interest of the company. We need both visions because strong teams are built on relationships. I believe people are more motivated by their commitment to people than their commitment to a corporation.

See also: 4 qualities of great coworkers

Check-in regularly
Every Monday morning I lead my team through a quick standup huddle. Everyone answers three questions: (1) In the last week, what did you do personally that you enjoyed? (2) In the last week, what did you do professionally that you enjoyed? and (3) What do you need help with?

This exercise builds trust. Normally, leaders don’t identify problems until a quarterly or yearly performance review, when it’s too late to change the outcome. This process allows people to acknowledge struggles, without repercussion or a sense of failure, because they still have a chance to take action.

Make personal connections
My entire team works remotely, so we have to be conscientious about building personal connections. The key is to be spontaneous. I call my team members randomly to ask: “How are things going? What can I help with?” The ad hoc calls take people off the planned script they may bring to meetings. They share personal and professional details that I can use to support them more effectively. Personal connections prepare us for conflict, which is a necessary and inevitable part of business. Strong teams don’t suppress conflict — they address it head on.

See also: Why diversity needs to go beyond race and gender

Kill the politics
Some corporate environments teach people that they must look ‘good’ and make others look ‘bad’ to advance. If you want a strong team, eliminate this behavior. It’s a major red flag to me when a person disparages a colleague behind his or her back. If you see this, call it out. Make it clear to the offender that if he or she wants to talk about a colleague, that person has to be part of the conversation, too. The opposite of politicking is acknowledging and supporting colleagues. In meetings, I ask people to do ‘call outs’ recognizing colleagues who have done exceptional work. It forces everyone to ask themselves, “What do I respect, value and admire in my team members?”

Remember your blind spots
Strong teams rally around a strong purpose. This is a reoccurring pattern throughout human history. What usually unravels a strong team is a blind spot. For example, early in my career, I learned that my leadership style ignored the value of different personality types. I believed that everyone should be creative and decisive, and I was impatient with methodical, analytic thinkers. I finally had one of those ‘aha’ moments and realized that businesses need both personalities to thrive. Likewise, I realized that some people are bent on rising to the top of an organization, while others are content to stay at one level and master their craft. Again, both personas are equally valuable. Once you have a strong team, the biggest threat is you, the leader. If problems arise, look within for the cause.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: How do you build a strong team?

Talent alone won’t make your business successful by Sharon Price John, CEO of Build-A-Bear Workshop.

The right (and wrong) time to embrace teamwork in the office by Barbara Dyer, president and CEO of The Hitachi Foundation.

How horses taught this CEO to be a better leader by Gay Gaddis, CEO and founder of T3.

Why this CEO thinks making mistakes is admirable by Kristen Hamilton, CEO and co-founder at Koru.

How managers can stay connected to their team by Linda Addison, U.S. managing partner at Norton Rose Fulbright.

The difference between a great leader and a good one by Kerry Healey, president of Babson College.

The easiest way to reduce employee turnover by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn.

3 misconceptions about leading a successful team by Samantha Dwinell, vice president of talent management at Texas Instruments.

How to build a strong team without micromanaging by Sally Blount, Dean of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Here’s the secret to getting better employees by Julia Hartz, co-founder and president of Eventbrite.