Partner like a pro: Five golden rules of teamwork

A team of synchronised swimmers
FluxFactory/Getty Images
Anna Brech
by Anna Brech
31 May 2021

“Nobody can be successful alone and you cannot be a great leader without great people to lead.” 

These words of wisdom from Richard Branson sum up Virgin’s approach to innovation: you are only ever as good as your team. And for teamwork to flourish, people need to feel valued and heard. 

Not only that, but they want to have fun too. A sense of playfulness is massively underrated in business. But the fact is, we’re most engaged and work best together when we’re having a good time. 

Want teamwork to make the dream work? Here are five golden rules to get the most out of your co-working, collaborations and partnerships. 

1. Nurture new points of view

It’s easy for leaders to develop tunnel vision when they’re running a team. Ignoring ideas is a common mistake, even though we’re aware that organisations are more innovative when employees play an active role in decision-making. 

Teamwork is all about encouraging people to share their views and opinions; even "negative" things that may be difficult to say. Instead of micro-managing, leaders should be listening closely and handing over the reins wherever possible. 

Often, this process involves understanding the value of other people’s perspectives, too. For example, Envision Virgin Racing’s partnership with Amy and Ella Meek (above) trusts the fact that these teenage eco-activists have a unique view on sustainability – and gives them a collaborative platform from which to share their knowledge.

2. Give voice to the issues that matter

Since work overlaps with our personal lives, it makes sense to make teamwork all about the issues that matter most to you as a group. If you’re simply doing a job together, you may as well grab your paycheck and clock out at 5pm – as many people do. 

To harness that sense of belonging that makes an OK job into a great one, however, you need to rally around a key purpose or cause that everyone in the team feels passionate about. Holly Branson explores this quality in her co-authored book WEconomy, pointing out to Forbes: "Purpose is one of the greatest untapped forces in the for-profit world."

For teamwork to feel authentic to its members, it has to be rooted in inclusivity and belief. Issues that go to the heart of what matters to people in any given business give that team voice and meaning.

3. Hero your team members’ specialisms

Everyone has different skills – and your job as a manager is to coax them into the limelight. For a team to work happily together, each person needs to feel a sense of self-worth and self-respect. Research shows that if employees are able to truly show who they are within a team, they’ll be a whole lot happier and more productive as a result.

One way to do this is to celebrate the full range of each other’s talents. Necker Island’s yoga teacher and conversation manager, Kate (above), for example, is the go-to person at Virgin Limited Edition for yoga lessons with lemurs. Meanwhile Virgin Wines’ Dave is the man to ask for custom-made local gins

As a team, it’s good to reach within, with a real sense of what each person is about and what they have to offer.

4. Build a rock-solid sense of community 

When it comes down to it, a great team is about learning from other people. Degrees will only get you so far: you also need to be open-minded and play well with others. 

So community is key: if you don’t have a cohesive support network around you, you’re unlikely to succeed in a common goal. This includes listening and being an active ally to anyone facing discrimination, as well as bringing as many different voices as you can to the table. 

It’s also about opening the doors to the next generation of talent. Newcomers bring life and vitality to a workplace community, and – with the right support and freedoms in place – they will challenge you to be the best team you can.

5. Have a whole lotta fun along the way

Fun often lands bottom of the pile when it comes to business priorities: buried below more critical values such as profit, productivity and KPIs. 

But, while all these targets are indeed important, they’re much harder to achieve if your team’s not feeling it. Don’t make fun an afterthought – put it centre stage and the results will soon speak for themselves.

Studies show that people who perceive manager support for fun will be more likely to feel comfortable about disrupting the status quo – a central tenet of Virgin companies – which, in turn, will enhance the customer experience. 

Plus, when it comes down to it, work and play are one and the same thing. If you can learn to have fun at work and connect with those around you, it’s amazing how far your team will go. Try it and see – that deskside dance-off is just itching to happen.