It’s true across every industry and through all of history: leaders who want to accomplish something of significance need a team to help them do it.

We all work in and lead teams of people every day, but rarely think about all the complicated dynamics at play in these interactions. Teamwork is hard work, and without conscious effort, it’s easy for teams to devolve into dysfunction and disunity.

A Perfect Storm of Disunity

Teams often lack unity in just one or two areas, still able to function effectively, though not firing on all cylinders. It’s rare that leaders will be blind to all the ways in which their teams are disunified, though these situations are always good examples to learn from.

Our leaders encountered one such team while working as volunteers setting up a merchandise store. They were led by two people who preferred vastly different methods for getting things done. Though these leaders knew their teams were volunteers, they didn’t set a clear plan for others to follow.

This meant that volunteers were free to move from task to task, often huddled in one large group, leaving other tasks unfinished when the group began to lose interest. The two leaders saw one another as a threat and constantly worked to undermine their vision for the store. It was common for volunteers to hear one set of instructions from a leader, then watch their other leader blatantly disobey in favor of their own desires.

Every hour spent in this toxic environment sapped energy, enthusiasm, and tolerance from store volunteers. The conflicts between leaders affected the whole team, which in turn affected those who shopped there, or would talk to team members later each day.

Ways to Strengthen Team Unity

Based on Dave Ramsey’s 5 Enemies of Unity, these focusing points can help teams dissolve divisions and forge a new, collaborative, profitable identity.

Communicate Openly

Nothing kills connection between people quite like clamming up.

Leaders should model and encourage open discussions about purpose, plans, and previous decisions so that everyone’s on the same page. Coordinating teams, whether of volunteers or employees, hinges on everyone buying into the process and the leaders. It all starts with communication.

Don’t Gossip

Talking about team members behind their backs always breeds disunity; it lets everyone know they’re not safe.

In the example of disunity we described earlier, the two leaders wholly embraced gossip as a way to undercut one another’s authority. Instead, leaders should invite team members who uphold their coworkers and who keep unhelpful thoughts to themselves. Lead by example and call out others’ gossip before it becomes the norm.

Rally Around a Common Purpose

It’s easy enough to coordinate volunteers to accomplish a specific job, but it’s more rewarding when you know everyone came for the same reason.

Practice good communication skills by telling teammates early and often the purpose of their contribution. Give them the big picture; the story their efforts are telling. This aligns them in their role and draws them into the team, which is doing something bigger than any one member could do on their own.

Don’t Sanction Incompetence

Team members are like relay racers: they are only as good as their weakest link.

Leaders need to demand excellence from each team member in the form of growth. If a few workers decide what’s easy is good enough, they rob themselves of opportunities to learn, and the rob the team of achieving the best they can. Workers and volunteers should also hold their leader(s) accountable for their own competence — the same standards for growth and excellence apply at all levels. A team responsible for its own excellence is secure through unity.

Resolve Conflict

Take your problems to someone who can help, not to those who can’t do anything about the situation.

What teams see overwhelmingly as a hindrance to being productive is actually the source of their greatest growth. Conflict, whether due to differing opinions or clashing personalities, requires humility and boldness to resolve. When someone seeks conflict resolution, they put the team’s health above their own personal interests. Leaders can model this behavior and help shape their team’s responses to conflict by communicating well and being available to listen.

Committing to Growth

Though neither team members nor their leaders may be able to unite a team overnight, identifying where your team lacks unity can help you target an area to encourage others or hold them accountable. It’s the first step on a steady journey toward a better functioning, more unified team.

If you’d like to keep growing with us, follow along with our other posts on Lemler Leadership!