We know how frustrating it can be working in a dysfunctional team. It’s not only frustrating but it also brings a lot of stress and it will boil down to ineffective teamwork. That’s why we want to share with you Asian Efficiency’s secret sauce to effective teamwork and the benefits of teamwork.
Teamwork at Asian Efficiency BEFORE
When we first started, we didn’t have a high-performing team. Performance was, on a regular week, just average, there’s wasn’t really a sense of belonging, and we had trouble with communication. We had team members all over the world who needed to work together, two founders who never built a company before, and we had to figure it out as the business grew.
Teamwork at Asian Efficiency NOW
Fast forward to today and we have a high-performing team that can hold each other accountable, thrives on collaboration, and only misses a deadline once in a blue moon. Although some dynamics might not be similar to yours (working in an office vs working virtually), the essence of a highly productive team remains the same. There’s a misconception that when you work remotely, you don’t really need teamwork because you are working on your own. Definitely not true. Teamwork is just as important for remote teams as much as in-house teams.
Over the years we’ve discovered that there are three important lessons we had to learn to become a high-performing team based on good and effective teamwork.
1. Trust among team members is the foundation of effective teamwork
In the book The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni, he emphasizes Trust as the foundation for effective teamwork. Without teamwork, everything else will fail. At Asian Efficiency, trust accelerates collaboration and getting stuff done and it also contributes to team health.
We all trust each other’s capabilities and skills. At the same time, because trust allows us to be vulnerable without the fear that this vulnerability will be used against us, we also know each other’s weaknesses. We know where everyone’s expertise lies and what tasks we should not assign to team members.
Trust takes time to build and this is part of the challenge of teamwork. Trust comes hand in hand with being comfortable with each other. This is one reason why the work environment is important because we also need to build good relationships inside the team to foster teamwork. This is something we all notice when someone is new to the team. When we are in a meeting, there’s a lot of dead air and one-worded answers from the new team member and at the same time, old team members tend to hesitate with the jokes. It’s a bit awkward.
Through time and constant interaction, this dead air becomes less and far in between and new team members start to make jokes during meetings and if there is silence, it’s not uncomfortable or awkward.
So how did we do that? Here are some of the things we did to build trust among team members as our base for teamwork:
These are mini trainings that we do 1on1 or with more team members. The goal of these pairing sessions is to transfer knowledge to another team member by showing them what the correct process is, how it is done, and passing on the skills. It’s basically working through something while the team watches your screen and listens to your explanation and decision-making process.
During these sessions, we get a glimpse of how a team member works and thinks, how they process information, and also their knowledge level. This allows the team to learn from each other at the same time it fosters camaraderie which eventually turns into trust. The more people pair, the more trust gets built and the more knowledge is shared.
Asian Efficiency invests in meetups because we know how important personal interaction is in building a great team. We have noticed an increase in productivity after each meetup. Since we are a remote company, this is one of the most impactful things we’ve found to build trust. Once you see someone in person after hours of calls on Zoom, you instantly feel more connected and that you can trust that person.
This is also one way for us to get to know each other outside of work. If you work in an office, this can be in the form of dining out or going to the beach as a team.
In a team, it is normal to have conflicts. When there is no conflict, you know there’s no effective teamwork because it’s impossible for everyone to agree on everything 100% of the time. However, in highly functional teams, conflicts are normal and are addressed when it’s still small. This is something that we do a lot – resolve conflicts while it is small and we openly discuss these as a team.
Thanh will openly invite people during meetings to express their concerns, challenges, and frustrations. As the leader of the team, he is constantly inviting conflict because he knows it’s important to address differences in opinions while it’s still small. When conflicts don’t get talked about, they grow like cancer and it becomes worse as time passes.
The challenge is to make the team feel safe enough to state their feelings and opinions during meetings without feeling like it could backfire on them. The more this happens, the more trust gets built over time.
Act With High Integrity
We say what we mean and we mean what we say. This is also the same as our handling of tasks. We take accountability for the tasks that we say that we are going to work on and finish.
The more people can rely on you and your word, the faster the trust gets built and the better the teamwork. So if you make a promise to someone, you better believe you will fulfill that promise. When you often make empty promises and not fulfill them, it’s easy to lose trust in someone.
Video On For Meetings
There’s so much anonymity when you work remotely. People tend to hide behind their screens and their tasks for the team. We removed the anonymity and enforced everyone to always have their webcam turned on so we can see each other’s faces. There are no more anonymous calls – we can always see each other as if we were meeting in person. This small, subtle change allows us to feel more connected and build trust. Seeing each other and getting used to everyone’s facial expressions definitely helps in building teamwork.
2. Communicate as much as possible to reap the most out of the benefits of teamwork
A key part of good teamwork is being able to communicate clearly with each other. When one person says something but another team member misinterprets it as something else, everything that follows can fall apart and you end up wasting valuable resources.
A simple example is when you communicate about meeting at a specific time. You might say “let’s meet at 3 o’clock” and then you show up at 3 pm with no one is on the conference call. What happened?
The other person misinterpreted it as 3 pm Eastern but you are on Pacific time.
You won’t believe how often this has happened to us. Especially since we’re a remote company and we have people across multiple time zones, it has become important to clearly communicate what the specific timezone is. When in doubt, don’t assume. Ask for clarification.
That’s why we make sure that we overcommunicate at Asian Efficiency. You will hear us say “let’s meet tomorrow at 11 pm Central on the AE Zoom”. This sounds weird in real life but it is necessary for a remote team.
In JIRA (our project management application), we leave a comment on each task that we work on with:
- what we did
- what’s next
- any issues encountered
We also tag people to make sure that they are notified and they do not miss important information. But that’s not enough. After updating the JIRA task, we also send a Slack message to the team to make sure that they check the task.
You might think that it’s over the top, and it may seem like it, but we have found it proven to be effective. Ever since Asian Efficiency team members agreed to overcommunicate, issues stemming from miscommunication or lack of communication drastically decreased. We had to constantly remind ourselves and each other to overcommunicate until it became second nature. When we started overcommunicating, we worked better as a team and our team performance increased.
Here are some of the things that we’ve done to get better at communicating:
- Train the team on how to write in specifics. This includes stories, requests, time, meeting notes, action items, etc.
- Ask people to repeat back what was communicated. This is effective for retention as well as making sure that they pay attention.
- Ask the team’s inputs on decisions.
- Agree to disagree and then decide as a team, the best way to proceed. This is impossible to do without trust.
- Hop on Zoom if it can be better explained through a call. There are even times, even if the feedback has been given through JIRA, we still hop on a Zoom call to iron things out.
3. Everyone’s happiness is equally important
There are teams where we see someone as being the weakest link. This person is the one holding the team back from achieving the team’s fullest potential. This person could also be the reason why projects are delayed or tasks are not moving forward. If you look a little deeper, the weakest link in the team is usually the least happy person.
This is why we put a lot of importance on the happiness of teammates–as individuals. Happy people are productive people, something that we tell all our clients all the time. This applies to teams too. Having happy teams means great teamwork and a sense of belonging in the team.
Take two team members. Both are equally skilled and meet their deadlines but one is extremely happy, the other one is not. Which person would you rather collaborate with? Who would you prefer to have as a team member?
I bet you would pick the happy person. Even though the two team members are equally skilled and get stuff done, we all prefer to work with people who are happy. It’s also no secret that team members who are happy at work also have better work performance. They tend to also listen to feedback positively.
That’s why we want to do whatever we can to make our team as happy as possible. Here are a few things we have done to improve everyone’s happiness:
- Use Bonus.ly points to award teammates’ contributions to the team based on AE’s core values. Bonus.ly is a web app that we use to track these points. We have 100 points to give away each month and it’s up to us who to give those points to and why (no, we can’t give ourselves points). It’s our way of giving recognition to people and the person with the most points at the end of each month wins a prize. It also encourages the team to work together more.
- We added a Happiness metric in our sprint (or task/project cycle which is every two weeks). Everyone on the team writes down what will make them happy that sprint. It could be someone helping them with a task or someone would be happy if all the tasks get done. As a team, we work together to make sure that everyone’s happiness is reached.
- Thanh, Asian Efficiency’s CEO, conducts regular 1on1 sessions with individual team members. This is when we talk about what AE can do to make the team members happier as well as what we can do to make things better.
- We send out eNPS (Employee Net Promoter Score) Surveys to each team member at the end of each quarter which the management reviews. This is completely anonymous so everyone is free to rant or rave without any fear. The eNPS gives the management more information on the health of the team. This includes information such as what support the team needs, if they want to learn new skills, how they feel about the current work environment. But so far, we have always retained a nearly perfect score each and every time. This means, everyone at Asian Efficiency is happy.
- We have a ritual called the round table of gratitude. At the end of every team meeting, we share with the team who we are grateful for in the team and why. It’s an awesome feeling for both the person receiving the compliment and the one giving it. The round table of gratitude greatly improves team health as well as fostering good working relationships.
There you have it. The three things that we do at Asian Efficiency that make us a great and Asian Efficient team (you can share our secrets, it’s fine).
Go through our suggestions from building trust, to communication, to happiness. Find out how you can implement the three in your team. Once you decide on the How, take action by getting your team’s buy-in. You might encounter resistance at first, but it’s only part of the process. Better yet, have your team read The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni and have a discussion about it (after everyone is done reading).
We also recorded a podcast on how we doubled AE’s team productivity and collaboration through teamwork. You can listen to the podcast here.