All managers look for ways to improve team building; a quick Google search delivers endless solutions. For field rep managers, however, building a cohesive team is harder. Achieving a tight-knit team is especially difficult when all of the members are out in the field working. Due to their dispersion and lack of a physical office space, field reps miss out on staples of office culture such as water cooler conversations and break-time chatter. How do we make field reps feel like they are truly part of a team?
The answer isn’t as complicated as it may seem; in fact, according to a 2009 MIT Sloan School of Management Study, success is often determined by how cohesive a group is. Here are four tips to increase your group’s cohesion:
The first key to successful team building is communication. You want to foster regular communication between your reps, because that will create lasting bonds. These bonds, in turn, result in a variety of benefits for you and your company. Strong teams have increased productivity and profitability. Here is the backbone for communication your organization should be using.
- Emailing: Emailing is good for in-depth topics that require a longer conversation, like a rep asking for lengthy advice.
- Social Media: Most people already use social media for personal use, and it provides an informal platform to build connections. Look into private social networking sites like Yammer.
- Messaging: Real-time communication and accessibility is important. Every rep should feel like everyone, including the manager, is only a click away.
- Face-to-face: Aim for weekly Google Hangouts, as it allows reps to actually speak to you and each other as if you are meeting in person.
- Phone: Face-to face interactions, even Skyping, are difficult to arrange. An alternative is to try to plan conference calls. Make sure the discussion includes non-work subjects, and encourage team members to share their accomplishments and experiences from the week.
Reps also need physical interaction that goes beyond communication. By scheduling days for group lunches or coffee, you are allowing the team to get some face-to-face time, which is important to forging bonds between team members. Another idea is to notify field reps of learning events that they can attend; shared experiences are a good way to build relationships between reps. Social interactions create an universal company culture and are substitutes for all those water cooler conversations your reps are missing.
Although reps are not in an office, it is good to create structure through scheduling regular meetings. By establishing structure, you are giving direction to field reps, who otherwise have a very self-managed work schedule. Regular meetings prevent reps from feeling isolated because they 1) create a routine that reps can look forward to and 2) are mandatory forms of communication and interaction. This type of structure reminds field reps that they are not alone in the field and have a team to rely on.
Field reps can learn a lot from each other- other reps can be a valuable source of ideas, inspiration, and information. They can share insider tips or personal experiences and can also motivate each other through friendly competition. Team-created competition is effective because team members are pushed to try and outperform each other purely out of their own desires. This means you have a team of high-achievers who willingly challenge each other without the “every man out for himself” mentality that might result from the promise of tangible incentives.
Another way to build motivation is to state a common goal for reps to work towards. When you have all team members working toward a single goal, they motivate each other and work harder than they would do if they were alone. Stronger team members can help the ones who need advice, and consequently, those team members will strive to achieve the same amount of success as the stronger ones. This helps build camaraderie and create a lasting support system.
Why is team building important?
Team building is a circular model. Communication and motivation create strong teams, and strong teams create effective communication and promote motivation. In addition, cohesive teams improve the accountability of individual members, because each member will perform their best in fear of letting down their team. It also increases the employee retention rate, because if field reps do not feel isolated, they are less likely to leave their job. This is important because field reps build personal relationships with the customers they visit every day, and without that field rep/customer relationship, you could be losing business. By using these tips for building a strong and cohesive team, you will be helping both your field reps and your business perform better.
Nancy Chen is a Content Marketing Intern at Repsly, Inc. and is currently completing a Marketing degree at Northeastern University. A contributor to the national online publication Spoon University, she is experienced in delivering knowledgable, quality material to readers.