Unifying the team

Image courtesy Hunter Valley Wine and Tourism Association

By Ilga Horvat

As part of her ongoing series providing tips to grape and wine business operators, Ilga Horvat from Boutique HR Consulting, looks at effective team-building ahead of the upcoming vintage.

As we are nearing Christmas and coming into the busiest quarter in the grapegrowing and winemaking calendar, I thought it timely to write about unifying your team. Harnessing a positive and resilient team dynamic is crucial for the next few months of multiple priorities, hard work, and urgency.

Last month I wrote about ‘Mastering the Art of Feedback’ and using this to create an effective relationship with your team members. This is one of the tools to create an empowered, engaged, and well-performing team.

When a feedback loop is created effectively a psychologically safe environment is created. This is an environment where team members feel they can speak up without negative consequences.

There is a lot of talk about this of late especially in light of the recently updated Psychological Safety legislation. We will explore more about this in future articles but it is important to touch on in talking about building a strong team. Team psychological safety has huge benefits. When a team collectively embraces shared beliefs and fosters an environment where individuals feel at ease and secure in voicing their ideas, concerns, questions, and acknowledging errors without facing adverse repercussions, their collaborative performance is enhanced. That is, together they achieve more.

Harvard Business Review, in their article “What is psychological safety?” highlights studies that concluded that positive impacts of team performance ensue when team psychological safety exists. Some of these are improved resilience, motivation and engagement. A referenced study was done by Google to understand the factors that impacted team effectiveness. This study concluded that “who was on a team mattered less than how the team worked together. And the most important factor was psychological safety.”

So, you can see how important that team dynamic is when you are managing your people through the busiest and most challenging periods.

The Christmas party is the perfect time to celebrate the hard work of the year behind us and prepare the team for the next few months. Sharing some laughs and camaraderie and getting to know each other in an out of a work setting is one way to create a stronger team.

Keeping engagement and motivation high

It can be challenging to keep engagement and motivation high during a long vintage period. Sharing what is going on and highlighting mini milestones you are working towards is a good way to keep everyone focussed. Communicating what is happening to everyone is important to create unity and engagement. Creating a visible planner with noted milestones is one way to do this.

Timing is crucial during the vintage period as it evolves, so conducting regular briefing sessions with the team would prove beneficial in maintaining their motivation. This is especially important when the team may have been working relentlessly with minimal time off for several weeks and are getting tired.

There is always someone who gets whingy and disheartened, however, if you have a team that is unified and focused, they will put a stop to that kind of talk. If that person’s mood doesn’t shift and negative talk continues then it needs to be addressed. If you have one member not functioning well it can be a risk to others. Feedback is important to manage this and reset their focus. It can be an opportunity to shift perspective and motivate or understand that the person may need some time out. Giving someone an opportunity to vent and be listened to may be all that is needed or there could be something serious that is occurring that you may need to consider.

Be mindful of tired team members. Tightly resourced teams may not be able to afford to give someone a day off when it is such a demanding season, however, after a rest we all work better and faster and with fewer errors.


The WH&S risks in the vineyard and winery when someone is exhausted and not as attentive can have serious consequences and involve much greater delays. This greater risk is not worth the short-term inconvenience of accommodating the time off.


Mistakes happen – build resilience and team psychological safety by using them to learn from. Wins should be celebrated, and mistakes or losses noted and learned from. Reset quickly and push the team to hit the next milestone.

The best sporting teams perform well and win games because the team is unified, trust each other, overcome obstacles, learn from mistakes and are resilient to push to that win.

In the spirit of unity and shared purpose it is important to remember, it’s not just about achieving goals and building a team, it’s about building each other up. Together, a great team has the power to conquer challenges, achieve greatness, and create a legacy of success.

As we approach the end of the year and embark on the last leg prior to harvest, make sure you take time to reflect on your collective learnings and achievements and raise a glass to team efforts.

I have my eyes on a fabulous vintage cuvee. Cheers!

More information can be found online: www.boutiquehr.com.au


This article was originally published in the December 2023 issue of the Australian & New Zealand Grapegrower & Winemaker. To find out more about our monthly magazine, or to subscribe, click here!


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