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Synergy 101: How to improve collaboration among your team members

6285993 - group of young business people talking on business meeting at office.According to IGI Global, the definition of collaborative synergy is: “an interactive process that engages two or more participants who work together to achieve outcomes they could not accomplish independently, in an open, integrated process (operational, procedural and cultural) that fosters knowledge collaboration, influenced by a transformational leadership that encourages participants to expand connections beyond typical boundaries and achieve required… outcomes.”

In a nutshell, synergy is the most ideal form of collaboration among members of the same team. To achieve synergy among your employees, it’s important to foster that “open, integrated process” by giving them opportunities to develop their knowledge and skills required to succeed both on their own and on the team. Here are some ways you can create a more synergistic workplace environment:

What Types of Collaborators Are They?

First and foremost, it’s important to determine what type of collaborator each member of your team is, because not all collaborative styles are the same, and you can tailor your management strategies to meet each employee’s unique needs. Central Desktop developed a typology of 9 different collaborative styles, ranging from more introverted Stealth Ninjas, Siloists and Dinosaurs to the more outspoken and extroverted Ringleaders, Socialites, Taskmasters and Skeptics, to name a few.

Central Desktop offers a quiz that you and your employees can take to figure out what each of your collaborative styles are. Once you understand how each person on your team approaches collaborative situations, you’ll be much better equipped to help them succeed in your organization.

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Equalize Contribution Opportunities

On a typical workday, you don’t have a lot of free time to sit around and throw out ideas in an endless meeting. The problem with team meetings limited to an hour or so is that not everyone will get the opportunity to contribute ideas, especially those who are more quiet, introverted, or need time to mentally process their ideas before verbally offering them up for the group’s consideration.

In order to level the playing field for team members who might be more hesitant to immediately throw out ideas or offer criticism, you should expand your feedback channels so ideas, criticism and other discussion-related matters aren’t limited to a single meeting every day (or even once per week). To accomplish this, you must reaffirm to your employees that you’re always open to new suggestions and that they should either email you about anything they come up with after the designated meeting time or they should contribute their suggestions to a dedicated comment box (which can be a digital space where you accept feedback or a physical box where they can leave handwritten suggestions – it’s up to you).

Open Yourself to Criticism

One of the primary reasons collaboration suffers in some workplaces is that people are overly sensitive to criticism, which either leads to people silencing their thoughts in fear of backlash or amplifying conflict among coworkers. To overcome this obstacle, it’s your job as a leader to serve as a role model for receiving criticism.

You can start by explaining the difference between constructive and destructive criticism, then directly tell your employees that you’re always willing to listen to criticism (even if it involves you). For best results, follow through on this promise by directly addressing how you’ll resolve your employees’ complaints, or explain why you can’t or won’t do anything about it – clear communication is vital.

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5 ways to encourage your employees to be healthier

34573010 - a businesswoman solves lightly every weight workGood health is associated with a variety of positive outcomes for employees, such as: higher levels of job satisfaction, better mental health, lower rates of absenteeism, and greater productivity in the workplace. If you want a healthier, more productive team, then here are 5 fun ways to incentivize your employees to get healthier, both in the workplace and in their own personal lives:

Get Active in the Office

There are many documented health risks of sitting too long, including: neck and spine problems, higher risk for certain types of cancers, greater likelihood of developing cardiovascular problems, muscle degeneration, and poor circulation in the legs, to name a few. If you’re in the typical office with an 8-hour workday, then it’s extremely important to foster an environment of movement and physical activity throughout the day.

Some simple changes you can try (while accounting for employees with disabilities’ unique needs): standing desks, desk treadmills, swapping out desk chairs for balance balls, encouraging others to take the stairs instead of the elevator, offering discounted gym memberships, and so much more.

Take Your Meetings On-the-Go

As a manager, it’s your job to lead by example. And what better way to do this than by conducting meetings on-the-go? Unless you absolutely need to be sitting to take notes, you could walk around your building or on the sidewalks outside of your building while discussing projects and deadlines with your employees. If you’re relatively fit and won’t sound too winded over the phone, you could even conduct meetings with clients from a Bluetooth headset while walking.

If you’re concerned about keeping track of information, you could simply record meetings with your phone to review when you return to your desk later on. Don’t let the comfort of an office prevent you and your employees from seeking out new opportunities to get active — especially when access to a computer isn’t a necessity.

Hikes Over Happy Hour

Many colleagues go out for drinks after a long day at work, but sharing a round isn’t the only way to socialize outside of the office. Instead, you could lead willing participants on a local hike after work or on weekends. If hiking isn’t an easy option, you could opt for post-workday bike rides as a group, weekly in-house yoga sessions, or simply go for a long walk after everyone clocks out. You’ll all save money and feel better by choosing activities over alcohol!

Host a Fitness Contest

If your company doesn’t already offer fitness and/or weight loss contests, then talk to your HR department or boss about creating a company-wide competition. Since employee health costs are skyrocketing and sicker employees are less productive and absent more frequently, you have a strong incentive to foster healthier habits among your team. However, it’s important to give your employees autonomy over their health decisions, which is why optional fitness contests are increasingly popular.

You may have just one overall winner or multiple winners and runners-up in different categories (e.g., BMI reduction, best calorie-tracking and exercise records, overall health improvement from their initial baseline assessments, etc.). Prizes can include anything from gift certificates for healthy restaurants, free gym memberships, meal kit subscriptions, and company-branded swag.

Create Company Racing Teams

Why not kill two birds with one stone and combine team bonding with health-oriented activities? Creating a racing team for a charity run or group biking event is a great way to encourage team members to socialize with each other and get healthier as they train for upcoming events. It’s also great for community PR if you sponsor an event and/or create team t-shirts for everyone who participates!

Are you showing enough appreciation for your employees?

50851190_MFeedback is commonplace in most offices, but all too often, we focus so much on what others can improve on rather than taking time to praise them for what they’re already doing well. If there’s a chance you might be guilty of not showing enough appreciation toward your employees and over-emphasizing their “needs improvement” traits in performance reviews, then you might want to consider the research-proven benefits of openly appreciating the people who work for you on a regular basis:

Motivational foundation for success

Several research studies cited in a Forbes article found that appreciation from one’s boss can make a world of difference when it comes to on-the-job productivity and job satisfaction. In fact, a study from TimeJobs.com found that a “lack of recognition” most negatively impacts employees’ productivity. Another study reported by Harvard Medical School found that employees demonstrated a greater willingness to work harder when their employers expressed appreciation for them, compared to employees who received little to no positive feedback.

The lesson here is simple: if you want your employees to give their best efforts and avoid looking for other job opportunities, show them how much you appreciate them!

Brighten your workplace culture

As a workplace leader, one of your most important roles is creating an environment of innovation, collaboration and trust among members of your team. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by serving as a role model for the rest of your employees and making regular gestures of gratitude. If you lead by example, then your employees will likely follow suit and routinely share their positive thoughts about others’ work, which will create a more inclusive and fulfilling workplace for everyone to be in.

How to show genuine appreciation towards employees

It all starts with a simple “thank you.” This sounds obvious, but it’s easy to get so caught up in our to-do lists that we forget to make regular efforts to thank others for their help. You may consider including thank yous in your emails, dedicating a few minutes at the end of team meetings to thank your colleagues individually for the work they’re doing, or start up a weekly/monthly spotlight in which you show off an employee’s accomplishments and publicly encourage others to praise and thank them for their hard work.

Every little act of appreciation can make a huge difference in how an employee feels about their job and the company, so take this as an opportunity to foster a more positive, growth-oriented environment in your office.

3 successful strategies for mitigating workplace conflicts among your employees

11506902_SConflicts in the workplace happen on a near-daily basis for many companies, but many offices lack a clear protocol for managing and resolving these conflicts beyond “deal with it and get back to work.” Workplace conflicts can lead to far-reaching negative consequences, such as decreased employee productivity and morale, as well as higher rates of turnover in particularly conflict-ridden office spaces.

Rather than taking on the mentality that “they’re adults, they can deal with it on their own,” here are 3 of the best strategies for workplace leaders to implement in their offices:

Resolve Conflicts Privately

First and foremost, you want to avoid letting the quarreling parties make a scene as much as possible. When shouting matches, passive aggressive comments, and even physical reactions occur in a relatively public setting, this escalates the conflict into an office-wide ordeal that can distract many uninvolved employees from performing their jobs effectively.

As an alternative, you can either ask the upset employees to take some time to cool off by themselves (as far away from each other as possible, hopefully) or you can ask them to handle their disagreement in a more private setting. This may make you feel like a schoolteacher managing outbursts and fights among students, but even adults are all-too-susceptible to unprofessional behavior when emotions are running high, so separating them is an unfortunate necessity.

Assume a Mediator Role

As a workplace leader, it’s not your job to take one side over another when two or more employees are fighting amongst themselves. Even if it’s an argument between one of your best employees and one of the newer members of the team, you can’t afford to show even the slightest sign of favoritism if you want to resolve the conflict as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Instead, embrace your role as a mediator and actively listen to what both sides have to say (and don’t let them interrupt each other, either). If emotions are still controlling the conversation, then it’s your job to either postpone the discussion or divert their attention to a less emotionally-charged topic until they’re able to calm down enough to approach the conflict in a rational, professional manner. By remaining neutral, you’ll be more likely to resolve the conflict for both sides, rather than creating a win-lose scenario that damages employee morale and could lead the “losing” party to quit their job in the future if you always side against them.

Train Employees to Check Their Perceptions

Finally, you might be wondering how you can avoid conflicts altogether in the future. There are many possible strategies for accomplishing this, but perception-checking is one of the most effective ways to reduce arguments in the office. There are 3 main steps to perception-checking: first, description of an action/behavior from your own perspective; second, interpretation (asking about possible reasons for the action/behavior instead of making assumptions); and third, clarification (asking the other person why they did X thing).

Training your employees to check their perceptions is an incredibly useful way to avoid workplace conflicts because they’ll be better-equipped to approach unfavorable situations with caution instead of immediately assuming the worst intentions of their colleagues.

3 common management mistakes that destroy employee morale

60029252_MEmployee morale can have a huge impact on the success of a company. However, many workplace leaders assume they’re doing an excellent job as long as nobody complains. The absence of articulated concerns does not mean your team doesn’t have any issues with your management style, and as their boss, it’s your job to ensure you maintain an open channel for honest and constructive communication all the time.

If you’re wondering what negative impacts you might be having on your employees’ morale, consider these 3 common management mistakes and develop strategies for overcoming them:

Discouraging Constructive Criticism

A lot of workplace leaders struggle with accepting unfavorable – but constructive – feedback from their subordinates. After all, you’ve likely been in this industry longer and/or worked for this company much longer than they have – why should you listen to someone with less experience and workplace wisdom compared to you?

Answer: because they may have valuable insight that you’d miss out on if they don’t speak up. If you want to truly develop an innovative workplace culture, then you need to follow through when you promise your employees that they can offer input when they have ideas or suggestions. All too often, bosses verbally encourage this, while their reactions to criticism suggest they’re not so open to feedback like they say they are. Make sure your words align with your actions and be willing to accept constructive criticism from those working closely with you.

Micromanaging Every Move They Make

It’s hard to feel motivated to perform your job when you know more than half of your tasks will be intensely scrutinized and criticized by your boss later on. Micromanaging bosses tend to correlate with higher employee turnover rates because most people don’t want someone constantly checking up on them and making sure they’re doing their jobs correctly.

Micromanaging your employees can make them feel like you think they’re incompetent (even if this isn’t what you truly think), and most adults don’t want to feel like they’re children with overbearing parents watching their every move in the workplace. Many employees value at least an average level of independence to complete their assignments (within reason, of course), so do yourself and your employees a favor by learning to let go and trust them until/unless they prove themselves incapable of completing assignments on time and/or correctly.

Prioritizing Efficiency Above All Else

If your only value is efficiency, then hopefully your employees are all machines and robots because human beings aren’t built for maximum efficiency, all the time. Sometimes, life just gets in the way, whether that’s a mental illness, physical sickness, issues with family at home, death of a loved one, financial struggles, or all of the above.

To avoid damaging your employees’ morale, it’s important to remember: they’re only human! As obvious as this might sound, managers oftentimes forget that every person has their limits, and working long hours every workday can seriously take a toll on employees’ productivity and well-being. Rather than striving for efficiency above all else, take time and effort to display more compassion and understanding towards your employees. Just like you, they’re not perfect – but they’ll be much more willing to give you their best efforts if they feel like you genuinely care about how they’re doing.

5 common issues with leading a remote team and how to overcome them

32259023 - stressed businessman talking on many phones at onceIf you manage telecommuting employees, your role as a team leader is vastly different from a manager working with others in a physical workspace. The usual goals of meeting deadlines, exceeding clients’ expectations, and maintaining cohesiveness among the team are still the same but how you manage these tasks is incredibly different.

To avoid some of the most common problems experienced by leaders who manage remote teams, it’s important to be aware of these issues and prepare to confront them before they arise or at least before they pass the point of no return:

Unclear and Infrequent Communication

Are some of your employees or freelancers working in different timezones? Different countries? If so, clear communication is paramount to avoiding missed deadlines and confusion for team members just starting their workday while their colleagues are off to bed.

To prevent communication issues from cropping up, establish a clear protocol for phone, video conference, email and chat communications. Open yourself up to feedback from your employees in case something just isn’t working and consider setting up an easily modifiable meetings calendar, if you haven’t already.

Disorganized Operations

Beyond communication problems, issues related to disorganization seem particularly common among remotely managed teams because you can’t always ask someone a question right away. Sometimes, you’ll have to wait several hours for a response or deal with other concerns like poor online connectivity from a crucial member of the team.

To avoid going off the rails when it comes to productive organizational strategies, it’s important to schedule regular check-ins with your team (perhaps 1-2 times per week or monthly). This will ensure the team is never forgetting a task, rushing through assignments, or slipping up on important QA procedures.

Demanding 24/7 Connectivity

To prevent communication problems and stay as organized as possible, some managers go to the other extreme of the spectrum by demanding their teams stay connected to their phones and/or emails on a near-24/7 basis. This simply isn’t feasible or fair, even if this strategy could resolve problems related to delayed responses from team members working from different time zones.

Alternatively, you should create deadlines based on days instead of specific times and ask your teams to check their email inboxes when they start their workday and just before they finish up at the end of the day to make sure there aren’t any fires to extinguish before they go offline for the evening.

Micromanaging Everyone and Refusing to Delegate

Perhaps you don’t demand constant connectivity from your remote employees, but you still struggle with micromanaging everything they do because you’re not physically there to make sure they’re doing their jobs 100% to your standards. Micromanaging may seem like a great way to hustle employees to boost their productivity rates, but this usually backfires by driving down their satisfaction with their jobs, which leads to higher turnover rates.

Avoid micromanaging your remote team members by increasing the number of tasks you’re willing to delegate to them and waiting for results to come in before checking in on them. If the end results are inadequate, then have a discussion with that employee to figure out ways they can improve their performance instead of preemptively assuming they’ll fail to meet your standards and criticizing them every step of the way.

Employee Disengagement and Dissatisfaction

It’s hard to feel close and connected to your colleagues when you don’t see their faces or hear their voices on a regular basis. To overcome issues related to interpersonal ambivalence among your remote team, create opportunities for them to bond from afar. This might include fun end-of-week emails with inspirational quotes, recaps of notable achievements from the past week, and words of encouragement. You could also start recognizing your most outstanding employees/freelancers on a weekly/monthly basis and include a personal bio in your email so others can get to know more about their coworkers.

Do you have an employee who is always late?

Handsome businessman checking his wrist-watch isolated on white backgroundDo you have an employee who never seems to show up to work, meetings or other company events on time? Regardless of the frequency and severity of the tardiness, chronic lateness should be managed effectively to avoid upsetting other members of the team who make an effort to consistently arrive early or on time.

Start by discussing the issue with the employee privately. If this behavior has been going on for a while, then there might be something in your employee’s personal life that you aren’t aware of. Even if it turns out the employee just struggles with waking up early, at least you’ll have a better understanding and didn’t publicly shame them in front of their colleagues for their lack of punctuality.

Work with the employee to develop an equitable solution — such as staying later in the day at the office to compensate for arriving later. Ultimately, you may have to be firm with meetings and company events and require the employee to show up on time just like everyone else. Leadership is a lot about being equitable. Employees want to feel as it you are treating them equitably and fairly and not letting one or two employees have special treatment.

Three ways to improve your leadership communication skills

57531690_MBeing a workplace leader doesn’t guarantee that you’re an excellent communicator, but if you’re a great communicator, then you’re likely a solid leader. Communication is one of the most important skills any leader must possess, but all too often, we spend little time developing and enhancing this vital soft skill because it doesn’t offer immediate, tangible value.

However, communication plays a role in nearly every aspect of your job —from negotiating with clients to delegating tasks to your team, there’s probably not a single day that goes by in which you’re not actively communicating with other people. Even if you never took a class on communicating however, there are a few ways you can still brush up on your communication skills in a leadership role:

Listen to Others

One of the most important aspects of leadership-oriented communication doesn’t involve speaking at all: it’s listening to others’ ideas and feedback, even if you disagree with them. The best leaders are good at active listening, which means genuinely engaging with what another person is saying, demonstrating interest and concern for them, posing thoughtful questions, and waiting for them to finish before injecting your input into the discussion.

It’s the ability to engage with employees (without interrupting them) that separates the average leaders from the truly great leaders. Just because you’re in a position of superiority doesn’t always mean your ideas are the best, so take the time to listen to your employees to see what new ideas and strategies they might come up with.

Be Specific and Clear

There’s nothing worse for an employee struggling to complete a task than to have too little guidance from their manager. If they don’t know exactly what objective they’re striving towards and how to fulfill that objective, then chances are they’ll be pretty inefficient in the process and might even produce flawed results. To avoid this, it’s your job as a workplace leader to clearly specify your expectations and respond promptly whenever your employee seeks additional guidance. “Just do it” might work for Nike, but it isn’t a good leadership motto.

Avoid Indefinite Uncertainty

Similar to the issue of lacking clarity, shrugging off your employees’ questions or concerns can lead to serious problems down the line. Phrases like “it doesn’t matter,” “I’m not sure,” “that’s not my job,” and even “maybe” should be eliminated from your leadership vocabulary so you can emphasize consistently clear communication above all else.

Instead of saying “I’m not sure,” briefly explain how you’ll try to resolve the issue. Instead of saying, “it doesn’t matter,” explain what the most important goals of a project or task are and leave the rest up to your employee’s discretion, so long as those key objectives are fulfilled.

Three approaches to mitigating conflicts in the workplace

51090664 - boss shouting at female employee sitting at desk in officeConflict is an inevitable part of life, but what should you do when conflict occurs between two or more of your employees? There are many different strategies you might consider, but here are three approaches that research tells us are among the most effective way to resolve conflicts that may arise in the workplace:

Helping Everybody Cool Off

As a leader in the workplace, your role in conflicts between coworkers is similar to that of a referee. You don’t take one person or group’s side when you first notice a conflict arising; instead, your job is to step in and direct your employees to go cool off on their own instead of taking the argument to a whole new level of frustration and anger.

When you notice sparks of conflict among your team, take action before it festers into an all-out shouting match. While it’s important to eventually address all parties’ concerns on the matter, the first step should always be returning your employees’ to a rational, cool state of mind before engaging with each other on the issue of contention.

Mediating Squabbles Face-to-Face

Once your employees have cooled down and are ready to discuss the issue in a reasonable tone, then your role transitions from referee to mediator. Even though we’re all adults, many of us are still terrible with addressing and dealing with interpersonal or work-related conflicts in objective ways.

This is where you come in: bringing the conflicting parties together for a rational discussion (no raised voices, passive-aggressiveness or personal attacks allowed under your watch!). Face-to-face communication is the best avenue for resolving conflicts in the workplace because misunderstandings and greater frustration are more likely to occur over electronic means of communication.

Implementing New Conflict Resolution Measures

Once you resolve the issue, your final step is preventing similar issues from coming up in the future. Workplace conflicts are damaging for employee morale, so it’s crucial that you develop new strategies for conflict resolution based on your current experiences. This might involve scheduling more frequent check-in meetings with your employees, setting higher standards for professional conduct in your office, privately addressing an ongoing issue with one or multiple employees, contacting your HR department, etc.

Conflict shouldn’t be viewed as 100% negative because productive outcomes are achievable with conflicting ideas, opinions and personalities. However, conflict that borders on irrationality and negatively impacts your workplace climate should be addressed immediately and effectively to prevent more serious interpersonal problems from developing under your leadership.

3 ways to develop positive communication in the workplace

29170065_MHow would you rate your workplace climate? Warm and engaging or icy and cutthroat? If you’re concerned about the state of your office and your employees’ satisfaction with their jobs, then implementing more positive communication strategies could be your ticket to creating a much more comfortable and dedicated team of employees. Here are 3 ways you can accomplish this:

Recognize the Achievements of Others

Do you have any “Employee of the Month” awards in your office? Do you ever email or speak with an employee simply to tell them what an awesome job they’re doing? If not, then you should consider creating new opportunities for outstanding employees to be recognized for their efforts. They’ll never directly tell you that they want recognition, but humans are psychologically driven to desire recognition and the approval of others, so this is an excellent first step toward establishing more positive channels of communication in your workplace.

Open Yourself to Constructive Criticism

One of the biggest obstacles to greater positive communication between employees and employers is the lack of genuine opportunities for criticism of the boss. In other words, a manager who is quick to lash out against anyone who dares to critique something they say or do probably won’t inspire their employees to be honest if they perceive that you’ll interpret their messages the wrong way.

As an alternative, explicitly remind your employees that they can be open and honest with you, even when the matter involves something you are doing. You may be their superior, but that doesn’t make you 100% infallible, either. Keep this in mind and your employees will feel more empowered by a form of leadership that willingly acknowledges the capacity to make mistakes.

Aim for Consensus, Not Control

As a manager, one of your central tasks is ensuring that your subordinates are performing to the highest possible standards. However, a control-oriented approach to management can put a real damper on your employees’ enthusiasm to come to work and get the job done. In fact, micromanagement is one of the top complaints among employees, which can lead to disastrous consequences like high employee turnover rates and low office morale.

Rather than trying to control everything your team does, generate more feelings of consensus by giving them more active roles in the decision-making process. If they think that every decision is solely based on your own opinions, then they’ll be less likely to contribute potentially revolutionary ideas in team meetings because feeling ignored can be extremely demotivating for anyone!