Have you ever been to a little league basketball game? If so, you’ve witnessed the chaos of 10 small children running around and fighting over the ball in an adorably uncoordinated manner. It is simultaneously cute and pitiful.
In contrast, we watch NBA teams in awe of their flawless coordination and precision. Public relations is the most common team “sport” of the business world, and going from little league chaos to NBA precision as a team takes effort. Here are four elements experts suggest to help your team not just work, but thrive.
- Team Leadership
On sports teams, captains are chosen for their skill in the sport and their ability to bring their team together. When captains optimize their role and impact on the team, teammates will follow their lead. If a PR leader wants a team to succeed, he or she will model collaborative behavior and help team members to find ways to follow that lead.
Managers at Nokia set a great example of not only modeling team building behavior, but promoting it through the way they train new employees. Harvard Business Journal reports that managers will sit down with new employees within their first few days and list all people in the organization it would be useful for that employee to meet.
“The manager sits with the newcomer … and reviews what topics the newcomer should discuss with each person on the list and why establishing a relationship with him or her is important,” writes Tamara Erickson.
Establishing leadership traditions early continues the cycle when those new employees eventually become managers themselves.
- Team member roles
Watching a little league soccer match, you may notice that all the children simultaneously scramble for the ball the entire game. Each of them understand their role as just to kick the ball at some point. World Cup championship teams work more successfully toward a win because each player understands what their position is and how to play it.
If everyone tries to play midfielder, there will be no one filling the important roles of forward or goalkeeper. Teams work more effectively when team members know their role and feel it is important.
“Collaboration improves when the roles of individual team members are clearly defined and well understood … Without such clarity, team members are likely to waste too much energy negotiating roles or protecting turf, rather than focus on the task,” explains Lynda Gratton, an organizational theorist and professor of management practice at London Business School.
- Team size
Imagine if every player on a volleyball team roster was on the court at the same time. It would be chaos, and there would likely be a lot of players standing around wondering what to do with themselves as a result. Communication would suffer and scoring would become less likely.
Similarly, PR teams need to be big enough to be productive, but small enough to avoid “too many cooks in the kitchen.” Gratton’s research found that as the size of a team increases beyond 20 members, the tendency to work together naturally decreases. Teams may vary based on the project, but on average the ideal team consists of about 8 to 12 members.
Nevada native Kaylee Barlow, a junior marketing major at Brigham Young University, has seen a stark difference in teams she has been a part of in different sizes.
“Smaller teams have worked so much better because everyone gets an opportunity to share their ideas and feel like they are making important contributions. Bigger groups take much longer to get anything done because there are just too many options.”
- Team relationships
A football quarterback relies on his defensive line to protect him as he makes a pass. That trust is essential to working together as a team to win the game. In PR, those kind of relationships take effort to cultivate and shouldn’t be ignored in favor of completing tasks.
- Richard Hackman, professor of organizational psychology at Harvard University, points out, “Perhaps the most common misperception about teams, though, is that at some point team members become so comfortable and familiar with one another that … performance falls off. The problem almost always is not that a team gets stale but, rather, that it doesn’t have the chance to settle in.”
As team members have opportunities to build rapport over time, they will come to trust each other’s opinions and respect their ideas.
Another common mistake in team building is trying to build the most diverse team to encourage the most diverse ideas. Gratton warns against this.
“We have found that the higher the proportion of strangers on the team and the greater the diversity of background and experience, the less likely the team members are to share knowledge or exhibit other collaborative behaviors.”
Taking the time to carefully choose similar team members and establish these types of relationships on your PR team will save time in the long run and inspire your team to work together instead of just work.
Anybody can assemble a team, but building a team that thrives takes a solid leader, clearly defined roles, a manageable team size and trusting collaborative relationships. By incorporating this advice from team building experts, your PR team can trade in your plastic participation trophies for the PR equivalent of Olympic gold medals.
Tell us your PR team success stories in the comments!