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How to Build a Team That Works Together

with Jonathan Keyser



with guest Jonathan Keyser #MakingBank S4E40

The difference between working on a united, cooperative team and a competitive, individualized one is night and day. If you’ve been part of a company culture you would describe as ‘toxic,’ you know how destructive it can be not only to your productivity, but your happiness as well.

Real estate is a particularly notorious field for fostering competitive rather than cooperative work environments. Due to the structure of the industry, individual agents are essentially motivated to not even share their problems or details of their work life because they are in direct competition with the people they work with for future income. The result is a group of people who spend the majority of their lives working together and know each other well, but can’t fully trust one another, creating a boundary to establishing real cooperation or real relationships that would ultimately make the them stronger together.

Part of this is simply modern culture. We are taught from the beginning that we need to stand out and be better than the rest, which creates a mindset that we are somehow against one another. But we also all have a need for relationships and emotional connection, and we are more than capable of establishing fun, productive, cooperative teams that accomplish more than competitive ones.

If you value this type of work environment – and you definitely should – and you want to do whatever you can to create it at your place of work, begin by establishing the following practices that will encourage cooperation among your team:

  1. Emphasize it Early and Often

Right off the bat, you should be addressing this starting in interviews and emphasizing it all the way through the hiring process. Ask candidates for examples of when they have worked cooperatively and helped coworkers succeed in the past. Make it a priority to hire people with a demonstrated history of acting selflessly and a professed interest in doing so. If you hire people who are more naturally inclined to think cooperatively, building a strong team will be much easier.

The importance of teamwork should continue to be stressed during orientation. New employees need to see this as a valuable, desired attribute and get this message consistently, but more importantly than hearing it, they need to see it.

If a new hire sees a team full of people that are happy to help onboard them, happy to help them get adjusted and acclimated to a new, unfamiliar work environment, they are going to naturally take on those tendencies themselves when they have fully hit the ground running. People care for those that care for them, so making sure your newest employees feel well treated, respected and guided should be a top priority.

2. Don’t Just Talk About it – Be About It

Everyone from management to executives need to consistently demonstrate an ability and tendency to work together and help others. If they are visibly doing so, the message that this is valuable behavior will resonate with everyone. If it is seen and understood that this is the way to get ahead, everyone will want to do so, and they will be happy about it too!

Part of this means directly seeing executives on a daily basis. Your top guys should be visible and ready to hear and help everyone. This takes time and energy, but the confidence and allegiance that it inspires is invaluable.

Setting up good training and coaching programs is another way to support your team and establish a friendly, positive work environment. If people feel that their wellbeing and support is a priority, they will return that energy to everyone around them.

3. Rewards System That Values Cooperation

This is probably the most important element you need to incorporate into your workplace if you want your team to work together. Most real estate firms are highly competitive because the agents have no incentive to work together for fear of losing future business to a particularly cutthroat coworker.

Set up an organizational structure that inspires the opposite behavior by rewarding people who spend their own time and energy in order to help those around them. This can come in the form of bonuses, raises and promotions for those who are most visibly acting selflessly, but simple things like verbal recognition in front of the group are also extremely effective.

Saying that you value teamwork is one thing – of course the boss wants their team to work together – but actively rewarding it is another. If people are financially motivated to act selfishly, all the messaging in the world about teamwork will fall on deaf ears.

It also doesn’t take millions of dollars in bonuses in order to inspire the right behavior. Simply having a group of employees that feel secure in their jobs, a group that has nothing to lose from helping coworkers, is a big improvement from an actively competitive workplace. People want to do the right thing – you just need to create an environment that lets them do it.

4. Performance Reviews Focused on Cooperation

On top of a reward structure, employees should know that this is how they are being evaluated. If performance reviews are solely based on an individual’s output, it follows that they will focus solely on their own output rather than on helping others improve theirs. However, if helping another person succeed is also a way to get recognition, they will naturally direct more of their focus there.

These don’t have to be specific metrics, they can just be comments, or you can even ask people to review their own cooperative behaviors.

Keeping it informal gets the message across without applying pressure, which is exactly what you want to do. You are supporting your employees and putting them in a position to thrive, not scrutinizing their every move.

We live in a culture that has historically valued competition. Going back further, evolution has always rewarded the strongest, fittest and smartest. Training ourselves out of this mindset can take time, but with the right structures in place, it works better for everyone. At the end of the day, the species who have ultimately risen to the top have been the ones that learned how to work together with others, and the organizations who learn to do that today will put themselves in the best position to rise to the top tomorrow.