This month, we have noticed a common trend among our clients: many want to work on unifying their team. It makes sense – social sector organizations need strong teams to take on tough projects, management teams to lead programs and organizations and willing team players to collaborate with other groups. To build team cohesion, leaders should consider all the phases of group formation – forming, storming, norming and performing. Taking deliberate action in each of the phases can yield strong results, which has paid off for Southwest Airlines, a company renowned for its spunky team, which is unified in purpose. To help you rally your social sector teams, we offer these tips gleaned from our recent visit to Southwest (I even got to serve as a front-desk agent).

Forming Stage: Board the Right Employees
If you feel like your team is having trouble coming together, sometimes the hiccup is in the boarding process. A crucial step to building a strong identity is ensuring that employees get to know each other and the company, and Southwest goes the extra mile to select and onboard employees accordingly. To make sure potential candidates fit the organization, Southwest uses behavior-based interviewing and has the following litmus test: Would you be willing to fall on your sword for the candidate you are hiring? Southwest is also clear on how its values translate to action and collects stories to share with candidates and employees. These stories illustrate the behavior employees are expected to exhibit – for Southwest, this means going the distance to serve and delight.

Storming and Norming Stages: Prepare for Take-off and Turbulence
All teams require a runway to take off and reach a stable altitude, but there can be turbulence along the way. While it may be uncomfortable, this is normal for any team. To help teams weather storms, Southwest assigns each new employee a LUV Guide who lends advice on how to live and work the “Southwest Way.” When turbulence hits, Southwest coaches employees on how to improve and models appropriate behavior rather than penalizing them, particularly when employees acted with good intentions. The company recognizes that the fastest way to kill its unique culture of empowerment is to reprimand employees for trying to live out its values.

Performing Stage: Arrive at Your Destination
Finally, to create a team that is in sync and can reach its final destination, members need to be motivated, self-directed and astute in managing conflict. This means they are aware of what is expected; they receive regular feedback to keep them on course; and the messages they receive from the top are consistent. Southwest trains employees on key metrics (like on-time performance and Net Promoter Score), provides routine feedback and encourages team leaders to use daily team huddles to drive goals and performance. Human Resource Business Partners also work alongside departments to optimize individual and team performance by providing real-time feedback.

Summer is the perfect time of year to bring people together – we’d love to hear what’s worked for bringing your team together. If your team is having trouble developing a productive identity, tackle the stages of group formation by channeling ideas from Southwest and other companies that have the culture and workforce you know your team can harness.

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