How to improve your team chemistry when you’re not together

Written by Nigel Girling CMgr FCMI Monday 10 August 2020
Many things contribute to team dynamics. Here’s a checklist on boosting interpersonal relationships from a Chartered Manager and team-builder
Team standing behind chemistry equipment

Most of us are part of a team.

More often than not, we’re part of a whole ‘orchestra’. Teams within larger teams within even bigger teams – departments, divisions, business units, whole organisations and even multinational corporations. These last several months have been an interesting sideways shift for those teams – forced to work remotely and more importantly, independently as individuals – for most of the day.

We have proved to ourselves and our organisations that we can work quite effectively in this ‘virtual’ way. The huge strides in mobile and video communications technology has come to our aid and enabled many of us to continue to operate well while ‘working from home’. Leaders and managers have discovered that their people can work very effectively at arms’ length too – and without the supervision and direction we were all used to.

Many of us have rather liked that.

But not everyone. The question we all need to ask ourselves now is: “What have we lost?” More importantly, what can we do to get it back?

Working in teams is about so much more than just getting stuff done together.

There is the whole issue of morale, camaraderie, bonding, social networks, coffee and chat, lunch, nipping out to the shops with a workmate, finding a shoulder or an ear, buying cakes for a birthday, looking at someone’s holiday photos… actually missing that bit might be ok.

The thing is, though, many of us are just used to having our colleagues around.

A team is a physical thing, not just a box on an organisation chart. We know what team we are in and we know who else is in it, so we have a sense of belonging and shared experiences. We know where the team is located and we have developed a team chemistry…. That unique combination of the members, their individual and combined personalities, the climate and culture we’ve developed and which is familiar – even if we don’t like all of it – the relationships that have been developed, the ‘pecking order’, the workplace environment, the leader, what we all think of the leader, which other tribes we like and which ones are the ‘enemy’, who our internal and external customers and stakeholders are… So many facets that make up the thing we call a ‘team’.

Some of those we can easily replicate or maintain in a virtual world, but some of them aren’t so straightforward.

As the leader of a team, you need to develop a good ‘sense’ of what people are experiencing and how it makes them feel.

Seeing an array of smiling faces on a laptop screen during a video call may not be an accurate representation of inner calm.

Consider your team and all your people:

  • Who are the introverts who may be quite pleased to be left alone to get on, without those pesky extroverts making a row and interrupting them?
  • Who are those extroverts and how are they coping with comparative isolation? Are they feeling abandoned or diminished?
  • What aspects of the team’s typical day, week or month has been significantly reduced, impaired or lost?
  • How can you get a real sense for how people are coping?
  • How can you replace or replicate those lost or impaired experiences?
  • How can you use the technology to create whole-team discussion, small-group activity, one-to-one conversations?
  • Can you bring people together physically from time to time (social distancing measures notwithstanding)? If so, what will you do with that time to reinforce the strength of the team and help each individual to get what they need? How will you recreate the social interactions of the team so that the relationships don’t just become ‘transactional’? Can you identify some projects or ideas that will enable the team or some sub-groups of the team to work together to come up with new ways of working?

We know from years of research that people tend to feel better and mentally stronger when they can influence their circumstances. The danger is often helplessness or feeling like a victim of the decisions of others or of outside influences.

If you can empower your people to take back control of much of their day, week and month – and you can enable them to ‘circle the wagons’ to support the team and to gain strength and courage from each other – you will reinforce their capability.

What else could you do?


Learn more about team-building exercises and uses here on CMI’s Knowledge Bank.

Nigel Girling

Nigel Girling

Nigel Girling, CMgr FCMI FInstLM FRSA, is a senior consultant at Inspirational Development.

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