The difficulties of encouraging workers to gel as one in pursuit of common aims have been highlighted in two, recent articles on the nature of teamwork.

In a column at PR-industry site More About Advertising, seasoned ad man Giles Keeble notes that getting employees to collaborate is often very much a case of ‘You can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink’ – even when the stakes and prestige of the job are high.

Keeble writes: “I remember as executive creative director of Leo Burnett London being asked to provide a team – or teams – for a global effort for, say, P&G and arguing that it would have been better to nominate the best team available with the best account team available, because any team knowing that ten other teams were also working on the brief would prefer to concentrate on their other (probably national) work.”

Similarly, in a piece at, performance consultant Kerry Goyette notes that many leaders are simply “doing it wrong” in their attempts to kindle the flames of collective effort. Goyette points out that many leaders recognise the ‘load-sharing’ principle coined by neuroscientist James Coan, which she boils down to: “When individual pressure is reduced, creativity thrives.”

However, she warns, “while many business leaders understand the need for team building, they often take a makeshift, unscientific approach that actually results in increased friction and division.”

For example, she adds: “leaders sometimes assume that all their employees should be best friends, as if employees who don’t sprint out of work to get together for happy hour are doing something wrong. Despite our fervent hopes, this is never going to happen, nor should we want it to. Though employees need to respect one another to work effectively, the best collaboration often takes place between people with vastly different perspectives who would rarely socialise outside of work.”

In light of those pockets of distance between people who should be pooling their strengths and enthusiasms, what can leaders do to help employees from disparate backgrounds and with varied outlooks think more like a unit?

The Institute of Leadership & Management's head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “Nothing builds teams like success – but in order to succeed, a team must have a clear idea of what success means, and how each member is an important contributor to getting there. Liking each other is certainly something that can emerge over time, but I wouldn’t say it’s a prerequisite. Social relationships, as Goyette hints, can often interfere with the pursuit of outcomes. One may be to some extent inclined to be less critical or demanding of one’s friends, and perhaps less challenging towards them. One may also be inclined to downplay, or cover up, their mistakes.”

That said, though, Cooper notes: “a team that reaches the success it has pictured is so pleased with its achievement that a surge of respect and admiration between the various, disparate members for each other’s contributions sparks a genuine camaraderie. As a result, the team members end up bonding and liking each other – even if their previous relations have been marked by shades of antagonism.”

Cooper points out: “While liking each other doesn’t have to be the point from which you start, there’s a lot to be said for taking a team offsite – or at any rate, away from daily interruptions – to develop a shared understanding of what the desired success looks like, and focus on creating the roadmap that everyone needs to get there.”

Plus, she adds, “it’s helpful to nail down an idea of what a minimum contribution looks like. A maximum one can be almost impossible to scope out, but people can generally agree on the definition of a minimum contribution. Once that is firmly in mind, and the team members start to deliver at least that baseline effort, they will naturally challenge themselves – and each other – to raise the bar and excel.”

For further insights into the subject of teamworking, BOOK NOW for our upcoming webinar with leadership expert Linda Armstrong, set to take place from 12:30pm to 1:30pm on Wednesday 30 May

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