Team Development: A Non-Negotiable for Stronger Engagement and Retention

Written by Ryan Williams

Business meeting at work at trendy startup company discussing planning strategy for growth and development using smart technology

In once-bustling businesses, an unexpected trend is unfolding: restaurants operate with reduced staff, retail stores struggle to find employees and office cubicles remain unoccupied, waiting for skilled professionals to fill them. In short – the available workforce is dwindling. What used to be days of overflowing inboxes with resumes or eager candidates are gone. Today, ‘Help Wanted’ signs and job advertisements stay up longer, highlighting how difficult it is for businesses to find the right talent. This challenge isn’t because people aren’t interested in work – it’s because there just aren’t enough people to fill all positions. The professional world, once a diverse talent pool, is now facing a shortage of available workers.

This problem paints a troubling picture of the changing professional world, a worry that’s shared across industries. With 20,000 baby boomers retiring daily and U.S. birth rates dropping to an all-time low since the Great Depression, the workforce gap is widening at an alarming pace.

To stay ahead, businesses are enticing employees to come aboard through increased wages, benefits, and flexible working arrangements. But while employees may join a company based on these perks, it doesn’t mean they’ll stay and will leave if the work conditions fail to meet their expectations.

However, there’s another solution for this dilemma – one that’s often overlooked – and it could be the missing puzzle piece for addressing the workforce challenge. Instead of only hiring talent, this approach requires you to put in the proper time and effort to develop your existing teams. Building and sustaining an A-team means growing a team of individuals who remain motivated to work and stay together long-term, fostering stronger retention and engagement.

What is Team Development?

Team development, in its simplest definition, is the intentional process of growing a collaborative and high-functioning team. It involves nurturing the ideal habits and teamwork behaviors that you want and expect from your team. Now all this may seem common sense, but the question remains – when you hire someone, do you prioritize their talent over their potential for teamwork? And are you spending more time, money, and energy on developing individuals rather than on your team as a whole?

If your responses suggest that there’s room for improvement, then your team may be missing out on a critical element that could affect its cohesiveness and success.

A team’s effectiveness isn’t only about the individual talents of its members; it’s about how well their collective strengths are harnessed for them to work together toward common goals.

In fact, the numbers speak for themselves – statistics show that team development is closely tied to engagement and retention. For instance, effective group communication alone can boost talent retention by a remarkable 4.5 times. When teams provide each other with the right amount of feedback and mutual respect, higher loyalty levels can increase by 33%, with 63% of employees emphasizing the importance of teamwork. Moreover, members who feel connected to their teams report a staggering 56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in turnover risk, and a 75% reduction in sick days. These figures cannot emphasize enough the importance teamwork has on an employee’s well-being.

This becomes even more complicated when we look at the impact of hybrid workplaces on engagement and retention. More than ever, people now expect flexible work schedules. 57% of employees expect to spend 10 days or less in the office per month, leaving fewer opportunities to connect face-to-face. As a result, 9 out of 10 employees with flexible work arrangements report significant difficulties in trying to collaborate with team members or create inclusive environments where their ideas are valued.

These numbers underscore the need for employees to feel as if they belong to a great team. It doesn’t matter how lucrative their benefits or incentives are if your team feels isolated from each other – it will still affect their motivation and their retention. When you invest your time and energy into developing your team, the rewards are endless, including creating a sense of safety, fostering belonging, reducing conflict, and improving the overall work culture. Shifting your focus on developing teamwork over individual talent can thus become an incredible force in boosting your workforce engagement and retention.

How to Develop Your Teams: 4 Non-Negotiables and Key Areas

Ideally, your team size should consist of 5 to 9 members. While many would argue that adding more members to a team will get more things done, that may not necessarily be the case. Keeping your team this size is the sweet spot for lower frustrations, improved collaboration, and higher decision-making processes. With this number, the manager can allocate sufficient time and support to each member, ensuring they feel heard and appreciated rather than left out.

When you begin to develop your teams, start by asking yourself these questions:

  • How well do your people know each other?
  • Does everyone know why the team exists and do they share the same goal?
  • Does the team avoid conflict/debate? Why?
  • Are you efficiently harnessing the creative/innovative ideas of your team?

These questions serve as a guide for enhancing team dynamics. Assessing how well your team members know, communicate, and collaborate with each other provides a starting point for you when selecting appropriate teambuilding activities or approaches.

Furthermore, regardless of the approach or activity you’ve chosen, always prioritize these 4 non-negotiables:

  1. Voice: All members have the opportunity to speak and be valued equally.
  2. Engagement: Everyone has a part to play and must be actively engaged or involved.
  3. Real-World Connection: The activity/approach needs to be clear on ‘Why are we doing this?’ to reinforce its purpose and significance.
  4. Insight: The activity/approach must generate new insights that drive meaningful change.

To start, focus the teambuilding activities around the four following key areas:

  1. Bonding: Fostering Connection Beyond Work

If anything, the one lesson COVID-19 lockdowns taught us is that we don’t do well in isolation. Social constraints during the pandemic forced many people to live alone, leading to an increase in depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. At the end of the day, no matter how much we cherish our privacy and independence – we need to feel connected to others.

Your team members are no different. Imagine your team as a piece of machinery, made up of different gears and cogs that cannot work without the other. Your team members, too, need to feel connected to the team to do their best.

Fostering team bonding is thus the beginning of successful team development. It doesn’t always require anything big like a team getaway. Even little activities, such as having your team share photos of their family or discuss what’s important to them outside of work, can do wonders for developing a sense of kinship and team camaraderie.

When your team members start recognizing each other not just as another employee, but as an actual person who’s like them, complete with unique stories and experiences – the beauty of the human connection comes into play. By emphasizing the importance of appreciating team members beyond their professional roles, you cultivate a sense of connection to each other.

  1. Foundations: Building Trust and Accountability

Trust is the lifeblood of productive communication and collaboration – without it, there can be no team development. When your team members trust one another, there’s a culture of shared values and psychological safety. They’re not afraid to speak up or even to make mistakes as they know they’ll be supported rather than judged or criticized.

Feeling psychologically safe allows your team to develop accountability and a growth mindset, where they embrace the idea of overcoming obstacles and achieving shared visions together.

When you hold regular trust-building activities such as feedback sessions, collaborative problem-solving, or appreciation circles, you build a solid foundation that enables your team to thrive even under challenging situations. 

  1. Collaborations: Addressing Conflict and Improving Communication

Let’s face it – even if you’ve got a fantastic team, you’re still going to experience conflict now and then. The true test of how well your team works together is by seeing how adept they are in addressing conflict when it arises. If your team fails to accomplish this, it can lead to a deterioration of trust, communication, and collaboration.

To improve the way your team manages conflict, start by exploring how each member responds to conflict. Do they shy away from it? Do they face it head-on? Would they rather ignore it altogether?

Once you discover these individual responses, bring the team together to discuss ways to move forward. For instance, if one member tends to withdraw from conflict, what can others do to help them become more comfortable with it?

Encouraging open communication about conflict not only gives each member a voice but also provides the opportunity to uncover new insights that move your team forward. Additionally, it empowers your team to embrace conflict as a natural part of its growth.

  1. Innovation: Harnessing Creativity

So, we’ve got the basics down on how to build team trust and collaboration.  However, what’s the secret to transforming your team from being merely collaborative to truly innovative?

The key to this requires taking a good, hard look at the way your team handles new ideas. When presented with something new, are their initial reactions to question its feasibility? Do you often hear questions such as ‘How are we going to do that?’ or ‘How’s this going to happen?’ If so, you have ‘How-ers’ on your team, individuals who restrict creativity and different perspectives as they’re seen as too risky, haphazard, or untested.

On the flip side, if you’re always hearing enthusiastic responses such as ‘Wow! That’s a wonderful idea! Let’s do it!’, then you’ve got ‘Wow-ers’ on your team – those who love new ideas but may not be skilled at executing them to completion.

Striking a balance between these two types is crucial for team innovation. You risk losing creative members if they’re constantly shut down by How-ers, or ending up with many promising ideas that never get implemented if you’ve got a lot of Wow-ers.

One tip to mitigate this is to hold meetings focused solely on each aspect. For example, in ‘Wow’ meetings, new ideas are presented and the only response to them can be ‘Yes!’. Alternatively, ‘How’ meetings focus on presenting the same ideas, but the discussions revolve around the construction of actionable implementation plans rather than outright dismissal. This approach encourages the blending of perspectives, fostering collaboration and innovation between the ‘Wow-ers’ and ‘How-ers’.

Build a Great Team with Frontline

Developing a team takes time, patience, and a lot of practice. It involves more than assembling individuals to accomplish a task; it’s about humanizing the connection so that each member appreciates and leverages the strengths of others, navigating differences in pursuit of common goals.

Discover more about how to push your teams to greater heights through our free webinar. If you’re worried about the challenges your team is facing or dealing with the stress of team members leaving, reach out to us at Frontline. We offer customizable solutions designed to help your team become fully invested in moving forward toward success. Contact us to discuss solutions to develop your team!

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About the Author

Ryan Williams

Ryan Williams

Ryan Williams serves as a Team Development Specialist at Express Employment Professionals of Grand Rapids. He is a certified Everything DiSC facilitator and has his master’s in organizational leadership from Cornerstone University. Ryan brings a wide variety of cross cultural leadership experience, having worked previously in Hong Kong and with Native American populations in Alaska. Most recently, Ryan has worked in higher education, developing and implementing training curriculum and programs across the organization. Ryan’s passion and focus is for everyone to love the place they work. People who love their workplace, work harder and perform better. He brings a unique perspective in helping organizations evaluate their organizational culture, understand cross cultural dynamics, and implement strategies to create better leaders