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Improve productivity by building team identity









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Every year workplace sickness costs the UK economy over £77 billion. This is not calculated simply for days that employees take off due to ill health, but also for the productivity deficit when they stay at work when they shouldn’t.

Presenteeism – attending work while ill – and absenteeism – missing work without valid reason – are problems every team leader finds themselves facing.

Take a minute and write down the average number of spontaneous (sickness or otherwise) days off members of your team have taken in the last year. 

Then consider that the number of days of productive work lost due to ill health is 30.4 days per UK worker – 6 working weeks each. 

How different is your estimation from the average?

Regardless of whether your estimation was higher or lower than the 30.4 days average, research suggests that emotional intelligence trainings can reduce absenteeism and presenteeism.

Successful leaders and managers have long recognised that stress, burnout, motivation and low morale all play a significant part in absenteeism and team productivity but recent research from USA and Holland provides insight into the relationships between team cohesion (team identity) and absenteeism/productivity.

Lieke ten Brummelhuis and colleagues from the Beedie School of Business, the John Molson School of Business, and the University of Amsterdam, found that the strength of working relationships were the greatest influences on absenteeism/productivity. 

In a study of 300 people they found, perhaps not surprisingly, that when people regularly called in sick, colleagues who were also frequently absent did so because they thought it was acceptable.

What was more interesting, was the research suggested that they those who were frequently absent did not have strong relationships with their co-workers, so would choose days off where it would most benefit them, regardless of the needs of their team. 

In the second study of 97 teams, the results showed that where a group of colleagues were highly socially integrated, individuals in teams strongly disapproved of absenteeism behaviours, regardless of the absence behaviours of their colleagues.

Team members would feel guilty even if they called in sick illegitimately and still wanted to support the team. Even when their colleagues were often absent, they were much less likely to call in sick compared to less socially integrated teams.

These results support previous research that team members who have a strong sense of team identity feel accountable to their colleagues for the team performance. 

 
EBW View

The studies by Lieke ten Brummelhuis and colleagues show the business case for improving the social integration (team identity) within teams and the performance indicators to use to measure the improvement.

One of the challenges faced in building a team is the lack of full-time involvement of team members. Specialists often work on different phases of a team project and are often members of multiple teams, each competing for their time and allegiance. And so, building a team identity can be a difficult job.

Leaders and managers need to make a team as tangible as possible to members by developing a unique team identity to which participants can become emotionally attached and accountable. 

One of the challenges faced in building a team is the lack of full-time involvement of team members. Specialists often work on different phases of a team project and are often members of multiple teams, each competing for their time and allegiance. And so, building a team identity can be a difficult job.

Here are 5 suggestions to build a strong sense of team identity to reduce absenteeism and improve productivity: 

  • Structured Meetings.
    As well as providing the opportunity to communicate information, meetings help establish a concrete team identity. During meetings, members see that they are not working alone. They are part of a larger team, and team success depends on the collective efforts of all the team members. Timely well-structured meeting  help define team membership and reinforce a collective team identity.

  • Location of team members.
    The most obvious way to make a team tangible is to have members work together in a common space. This is not always possible in matrix or global environments where involvement is part time and members are working on other projects and activities. A worthwhile substitute for co-location is the creation of a team office or a virtual team office. Team offices contain the most significant team documentation, their walls are covered with Gantt charts, cost graphs, and other output associated with team planning and control. These rooms serve as a tangible sign of team effort and help establish team identity.

  • Team Name.
    The development of a team name such as the “Maverick Team” is a great device for making a team more tangible and increase team identity especially when associated team logo is also created. Getting the team to create an appropriate name and logo is important part of developing team identity. 

  • Team Engagement.
    Nothing reinforces a sense of a team more than working on something together. For example, on one international project, the leader hosted a potluck dinner at the begining of the project where each member brought a dish or drink his or her country was famous for. 

  • Team Rituals
    Just as corporate rituals help establish the unique identity of a firm, similar symbolic actions at team level can contribute to establish a unique team identity. A ritual like presenting a team member with a silly baby toy every time they hit a team milestone, sets the team apart from mainstream operations and reinforce a special status thus establishing a strong team identity.

If you want to build strong leadership, higher team productivity and improved teamwork contact an EBW Licensed Partner for a demonstration on the EBWt Team Assessment and approach.

Lieke, L., Johns, G., Lyons, B.J. and ter Hoeven, C.L., 2016. Why and when do employees imitate the absenteeism of co-workers?. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 134, pp.16-30.


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