What is the first thing you associate with sustainability and a sustainable team?
The environment is often among the first things that come to your mind when thinking about sustainability. The emerging societal challenges induce a huge transformation in companies’ economic paradigms, and this is how certain transactions are made. Sustainability is indeed affecting companies’ business models to an extend where they think equally about the production of economic good and social and environmental good. However, sustainability is much more than reducing your carbon footprint.
‘In general, to be sustainable means to be bearable and continue existing/producing/working with same efficiency levels over time.’
In the end, sustainability can be seen as a developing process by which something is kept at a certain level. A company’s sustainability typically looks at its impact on the community locally and globally, but sustainability starts with the people behind the scenes.
Companies need to start from their core, more specifically from their teams. If the company encourages and “produces” sustainable units, this will leave its mark on its strategy and activities.
What is a sustainable team?
A sustainable team is a team that can work and exists together, keeping a certain level of efficiency and productivity over time. Sustainable teams are not only those:
- Self-organised cross-functional groups voluntarily came together to educate and inspire their colleagues on how important it is to implement social or environmental strategies to “sustain the world”.
- Who aims to achieve general sustainability in the place where they work?
Sustainable teams are teams that achieve corporate goals, progress within time, and cultivate ethics and culture where collaboration, admiration, and teamwork are developed and valued. They are the driving engine of a company because they are sustained over time.
The most successful leaders and teams operate with a balance of peace and progress. It is of great importance to aim to build a sustainable team and to keep it over time. Sustainable units serve as a foundation to any successful effort you, as a leader or part of a group, make. Teams that sustain in time also stay steadfast in the face of a constantly changing business environment.
Sustainable teams protect the longevity of your business
The cultivation and preservation of sustainable team members are necessary to retain your company’s overall healthy work culture. If your team does not share a shared vision and purpose, lacks trust and true collaboration, the corporate established culture is suffering deeply.
Sustainable team performance is a result of the combination of two key drivers – passion and learning. When you unite them, you have the motivation and the know-how to make progress and innovate with time creatively.
Passion and the desire to learn are products of another two key elements:
If team members feel satisfied both with the nature of their work and with the work environment, they will feel comfortable collaborating with their peers. Being satisfied, team members will feel more eager to learn continuously.
You, as a leader or manager, need to recognise their willingness and motivation to learn. By fostering recognition and rewarding, you stimulate your team to grow sustainably.
Leaders should actively participate within the team as team members themselves. Building a more positive and sustainable work culture means opening and creating opportunities for professionals to know each other. It means giving them a chance to develop by:
- Providing frequent and constructive feedback
- Establishing solid and open communication
- Share results and accomplishments
- Reward and acknowledge the team as a whole and individuals.
The components of a sustainable team vision
Principle 1: Trust
The most successful leaders the world has known have reached the top because people trusted their minds, abilities, vision, words. Trust is an imperative element for creating collaborative and productive teams and establishing a healthy workplace.
Sustainable teams are those where trust is established and developed over time between team members and their leader(s). When you trust your peers and your team leader, you do not doubt the processes, paths, methods that one recommends for a particular project or objective. Since you trust this person, you are motivated to be very productive, cooperate with them and achieve the final goal.
Trust is the first and foremost element driving sustainable teams for few reasons:
- Creating a sense of safety and willingness to cooperate
Google’s study on what makes their teams successful over time (sustainable) found that the number one factor for team success is psychological safety. Timothy R. Clark, CEO of Leader Factor, clarifies the relationship between trust and psychological safety.
“Trust is essentially the predictive understanding of another’s behaviour. The link between trust and psychological safety is based on my prediction of your behaviour based on your pattern of behaviour. Suppose I can predict that you will not embarrass, punish, or humiliate me when interacting with you and others in a social setting. In that case, I’m much more likely to engage, participate, and release my discretionary efforts.”
- When team members feel safe with each other, they feel comfortable and satisfied.
- Team members are encouraged to be open-minded and reduce their biases and prejudices.
- When you trust somebody, you start to enjoy collaborative work- the core of an efficient team.
Principle 2: Shared Purpose
Purpose, in general, is what drives you as an individual both in professional and personal development. The same applies to a sustainable team if and only if the purpose is shared. When team members are aligned, sharing common elements such as mission, vision, purpose, goal, way of working, and communicating, they remain focused and goal-oriented. There is nothing more powerful than a purpose in directing the collaboration of team members in one team or across multiple teams.
The goal is to align your team’s values and purposes with the corporate one to have an efficient and productive team. Then, you need to assure each team member that they contribute to the overall goal and acknowledged that. However, to motivate all the team members to share this purpose and productively work towards it, you need to accept their vision and values and try to align both parties to realise a mutual benefit.
Some helpful advice on what the leader’s behaviour should be to create a shared team purpose:
- Consider each team member’s values and professional purpose. Try to align them cohesively so that everybody feels fulfilled and satisfied.
- Involve the whole team in setting goals, communicating vision, and establishing a team strategy so that each member can see they are recognised and notice how their work contributes to the bigger picture.
- Hold regular check-ins with the team to assist with roadblocks, provide feedback, and communicate or clarify goals and vision.
- Establish priorities for the team to ensure the most critical tasks are completed on time and not derailed.
Principle 3: Adaptability
Adaptability is a very demanded soft skill defined as the ability to learn new skills and behaviours in response to unexpected changing circumstances. Leaders or individual team members who possess adaptability are also very flexible – in contrast with the traditional mindsets comforting the status quo and accepting nothing different.
You, as a leader, face a lot of changes in a macro business environment which leads to micro everyday changes. You must manage unexpected situations without explicit instructions. You must solve problems in a fast-paced environment, and you need to trust your team that together, you can cope with unforeseen challenges.
It can be tricky to cope with those scenarios. Each team member may accept the challenge in his/her way and decide one road to tackle it. However, with ten people in your team, leading to anarchy.
In such a situation, the first two critical elements of sustainable teams come to play their roles. If you work in a safe, trustful team sharing a common purpose, you maximise your chances to solve the problem efficiently, avoiding potential conflicts.
If you and your team are resilient as you can meet those changes daily, you will be the most prepared to avoid struggles and easily overcome challenges.
Sustainability is accompanied by resilience because the key is not to tackle a challenge once. It is to be prepared to continuously face changes, get used to them and learn how to be productive and growing despite them.
Sustainable teams are adaptable in the sense that they:
- Remain open and flexible in their approach – since they trust each other, they could speak out loud. They are motivated to work in such a healthy environment that they have created, and they do not stress out when they need to accept a new way of proceeding with their work.
- They will not see changes as barriers but opportunities to try new communication tools or channels, use new methods and approaches, and change the work dynamics to achieve their goal.
- Leaders and individuals in sustainable teams work by learning. They are not afraid of the unknown because they trust the stability of their team and the pool of skills and talents they can rely on.
- Leaders should focus on improving, not proving – doing by learning approach guides you to see challenges as opportunities.
Principle 4: Culture of transparency
Transparency supports the concept of equality. As a leader, you need to ensure your colleagues and all team members access only valid information to set realistic expectations and achievable goals. Clear, open, and frequent communication in the face of everyday informal talks, special meetings, team building activities events are the key to the creative culture of transparency. Now you can see how important it is to consider and mix all four principles for creating a sustainable team. How can you develop a culture of transparency and be opened, if there is no trust between team members or do not trust you as their leader?
Establishing it in the workplace, every team member will feel comfortable sharing their ideas, opinions, and lessons learned.
Having a common purpose and collaboration, everybody will hear out these recommendations and will acknowledge them.
Cultivating a culture of transparency and continuously working towards its improvement means allowing freedom of speech on various topics concerning the team, dramatically improving the quality of your work. Therefore, you authorise the members to share learning and gather knowledge together. This way of creating a safe forum for proactive sharing of information, concerns, opinions add a significant value to the three main principles stated above.
Some initial steps to create a culture of transparency:
- Make information accessible. Do not separate information between highly sensitive and fully available. Better divide the data into two: the one that may be interesting, useful, impactful, and job-related to your team, and other information that is not related to your team’s operations at all.
- Build and sustain over time organisational stability and solid teamwork. Since transparency helps build interpersonal trust between team members, when people are encouraged to participate in discussions or share their opinions, this nurtures a mutual understanding and stimulates more and more people to share and be part of the collaborative circle. It creates the feeling of: “We are all in this together.”
- Support innovation and never reject any potential idea or new finding. First, people need to be stimulated to invent new things because they feel motivated, appreciated, and delighted. Second, it is always a good idea to allow team members to share some personal growing ideas – they feel acknowledged, which fosters common motivation to be productive and initiative.
- Arrange team-building activities as a platform to encourage open communication and collaboration. The non-professional environment allows team members to feel even closer and more comfortable together, so they simultaneously will foster transparency soon as they start sharing.
How to challenge the status quo? How to create sustainable teams?
- Utilise the 3 Ps of your team members – personality, performance, and potential.
- Establish trust among team members to feel comfortable sharing ideas, working with others, and more easily creating common values, principles, and goals.
- Actively participate as an equal team member in the shared mission and purpose creation.
- Encourage flexibility by being adaptive and opportunistic yourself – be a behavioural role model as a leader.
- Support culture of transparency – stimulate open communication, informal and formal meetings, discussions, freedom of speech.
- Organise team building & developing activities and special events with sustainability as part of the core strategy to foster the required open communication, develop long-lasting trust, discuss shared values, goals, and interests.
- Take an active role in team-building activities to build a strong relationship with your team while at the same time ensuring their bonding and development.
- Serve as an exemplary leader – try to sustain the balance between work and life, encourage learning by doing, innovative mindsets, and willingness to tackle new challenges and opportunities without being afraid of the changing business environment.