This article has been originally posted in Forbes here.
Teambuilding is seen as such an important element of professional success that it has become almost a corporate cliché. From hiring advice to management strategies and from bonding exercises to relationship-building techniques, there is a seemingly endless array of opinions and advice about how to build stronger teams.
Given the inherently solitary nature of a lot of tech work, technology companies have a particularly formidable challenge in keeping team members engaged, empowered, excited and connected. What follows is an overview of successful strategies and best practices for building and motivating tech teams that did not come from a self-help book or a generic team-building how-to article but from decades of trial and error running technology companies.
Challenge And Contextualize
Keep your team members engaged by making sure they are challenged. However important they may be, repetitive and routine tasks can lead to boredom and lack of motivation. The last thing you want is someone checking boxes and checking out. Make sure there are elements of each employee’s daily responsibilities that push them and expand their horizons.
Additionally, try to be as transparent as possible about how each task and each project aligns with department/client/company goals and objectives. Context isn’t just critical; it’s motivational and empowering. Understanding where your piece fits in the larger puzzle helps reinforce the fact that you are all on the same team and pulling in the same direction.
Set Aside Time For Exploration
Set aside designated time (whether daily or weekly) for members of your team to conduct research or do innovative independent work on a topic that excites or inspires them. Our company’s AI solution Sophie was created that way: It evolved through what was initially a side project that ultimately evolved into something bigger.
If your tech team is already engaged in reading professional articles and playing with cutting-edge tech tools, that’s a good thing. If they aren’t, set aside some time for them to do so—ideally, at least 20% of their time. Be prepared with topics or areas of research for anyone who needs a suggestion or is unsure where to direct their independent pursuits.
Practice Hands-On Leadership And Accountability
This “independent study” is categorically not “goof off and do nothing” time. One way to make sure that is the case is to schedule formal opportunities for employees to share their work and exchange what they have learned with fellow team members. This is an easy way to foster accountability and knowledge sharing across the team and get everyone excited about new ideas. If team members are pursuing topics they are genuinely curious and inspired by, they are usually excited to share with their peers.
Another way for leaders to instill a culture of connectivity and accountability is to set a good example: Good leaders are hands-on, and they also hold themselves accountable and demonstrate that accountability on a regular basis. Ironically, as a leader, taking personal responsibility for not just successes but failures is the surest way to demonstrate to your team that you are all in it together.
Knowledge sharing is absolutely essential because it’s a foundational element of effective and connected teams. Make it a policy to share everything, always. That knowledge sharing needs to flow both vertically, from the top down, as well as laterally, from peer to peer and across departments. This ingrained professional generosity is one of the best ways to establish and reinforce a greater sense of camaraderie and teamwork both within and across teams.
Be honest: Encourage blunt feedback as well as collaborative engagement. Tie professional growth and advancement to collective achievement rather than individual accomplishment, and structure your company accordingly—with partnerships and group projects serving as integral building blocks of your operational architecture.
Avoid Common Missteps
Avoid common leadership mistakes, including things like withholding information and stovepipe company structures that make it difficult or impossible to knowledge share and engage with team members across the company.
Make sure you put the right people in the right positions for success, being especially careful to avoid another common mistake in the tech world: promoting someone with great tech knowledge or skills but poor management skills into a leadership position. Find other ways to reward tech achievement and promote conscientiously, being cognizant of strengths and weaknesses at all times.
Start Small And Build Up
Embrace proven best practices to encourage training and growth while simultaneously pushing team members to step outside of their comfort zones. I believe in hands-on learning, so start small and give team members a chance to succeed (or fail) when the stakes aren’t too great.
Give meaningful feedback, find opportunities for growth and learning, and build on small successes. Don’t push them. Instead, give them opportunities to push themselves—and reward that initiative with new opportunities. The result will be employees who continue to expand their horizons and challenge themselves—the building blocks of confident and connected tech teams.