As a leader, it’s up to you to give your team guidance if you want them to be effective for your business.
There is strength in numbers. More people working together makes less work for all — most of the time. The idea of “team” can bring to mind the image of people pulling together in one direction toward a common goal.
Unfortunately, you know, as a business owner or leader, that the reality isn’t so positive. There can be conflict between team members, at times unequal distribution of responsibilities, and sometimes one member can pull down the whole group. You may spend more time managing the individual personalities and conflicts than reaping the rewards of the team’s joint efforts.
When it’s working well, a team can accomplish a lot. Dividing up duties and having a plan to work together in a cohesive unit can make accomplishing a project faster, better and with more enjoyment.
There are big differences between a team that works really well and produces for you and one that does nothing more than frustrate the members, as well as the leaders in charge. If you want effective teams in your business, help them to get there.
As a leader, you can either give them guidance and facilitate the process or act as the leader of the team until they get on track and become productive. Here are six keys to harness the power of teamwork.
Put a similar and equal focus on making the team work together, on the plan and the project itself. In many cases a team might have a customer request or a company plan they need to implement.
They focus on the goal and what needs to be done. They might take the time to divvy up the work, but they may not take the time to figure out how best to work together.
When assigning projects or putting department teams together, take time to identify the strengths and areas for improvement of each team member. Talk about working styles and set expectations early on. Establish team ground rules. Put these in writing and circulate them to each team member for signatures.
Discuss communication approaches and what to do if the team gets off track. To do this well, the team should have one full meeting devoted solely to the topic of working together effectively. Put the plan or project or initiatives to the side and focus the dialogue on working well together. Prepare the team in advance for a collaborative experience. Don’t just expect it to happen.
PLAN TO WORK
In many cases, the team members each individually know what to do; they are experienced professionals who know their jobs. When the work gets divided, each team member may just act — they hear what’s needed or receive their assigned piece of the overall puzzle and then begin right away to do what’s necessary.
Instead of jumping to action, take time together as a team to construct a project plan. This doesn’t have to be a complicated process — in fact, it can be managed alongside whatever technologies or planning software the company might use. This is just a “cheat sheet” of exactly what has to happen and what each team member’s role is in the process.
The project plan should clearly outline everything: What specific steps does the team need to take? How are these steps broken down into smaller pieces? What are the deadlines for each step? Who is responsible for each piece of the process? Lay out a clear list of What, Who, When and Next Steps. Put this in writing and circulate it to all team members. Keep it updated as progress is made.
Often, the warning signs come early on within a team setting. It could be that the customer didn’t give you enough information, the project is becoming more costly than expected or the team is missing a key strength to be successful.
There are myriad reasons a plan can go off track. The biggest problem comes when the team ignores the smaller things, so they become bigger and more obstructive. Have regular meetings just to review obstacles.
This is for teams who work together regularly, as well as teams who come together on a project or customer resolution. The meeting should just be to address “obstacles to success.”
Highlight what’s in the way and then categorize the obstacles. What’s in the team’s control? What’s in their influence? What’s completely out of the team’s control? Focus the discussions on what the team can control and influence, and brainstorm ways to overcome the obstacles.
Don’t let something fester until it becomes too big to handle.
Put an emphasis on communication and understanding one another’s personal style. Some people are more talkative. Some like to listen and ponder before they contribute.
Some people prefer to know the whole process in advance and want it clearly mapped out. Others would prefer to “roll with it” and figure it out as they go along. Some want the rulebook on exactly what’s required and how to measure success. Others want to be creative and open to out-of-the-box thinking.
None are right, and none are wrong. These are just differences in the way we communicate and approach work requirements.
The problem comes when we expect that all team members have to be like us and do it our way. If one team member who is talkative and engaging puts down another for their quiet demeanor or lack of engagement, the team becomes fractured. All styles and approaches add value; they just do it in different ways.
Instead of criticizing a team member for their differences, understand them and find ways to leverage the complement instead of squashing it in favor of sameness.
Create a set of milestones, and celebrate wins. When working in a team, particularly in an open-ended fashion (such as within a department), on a challenging project or with a difficult customer, sometimes it can feel like it is all obstacles.
The problems become the focal point, and the team can be dragged down by trying to solve problems on a regular basis. Be sure to establish milestones and success points along the way, however small they may be.
It could be communicating to the customer such that they say, “Thank you!” Or it could be learning something new that all team members share. Don’t wait until the final completion of the project to celebrate as a team.
Instead, find wins along the way and have some sort of acknowledgement for these. It could be a team lunch or a series of high-fives.
It doesn’t matter how big the celebration is, it’s important just to take the time to identify what’s gone well, note it for all team members and give it a public team “atta boy and atta girl” to make everyone feel good about the progress.
Remember, there is an “I” in team. Each individual within a team remains an individual. They come together and work together in a team setting, but individuals still exist and still contribute what they are able.
There is nothing wrong with being one’s self within the team. In fact, it’s not possible to be otherwise. The important piece is that each “I” takes responsibility for their own actions and seeks to understand other team members.
If each person defaults to believing “it’s the team” overall and takes no individual responsibility for their efforts, that’s when the team starts to fall apart. Each person must act as if success depends on them.
As a leader or owner you may work in a team setting with other senior executives, vendors or colleagues, and you may have opportunities to assign your staff to team projects and goals. Understanding how to harness the power of teamwork is a critical skill for any leader.
David M. Dye works with leaders who want to build teams that care and get more done. He is a former executive, elected official and lead trailblazer of the leadership-consulting firm, Trailblaze, Inc. His book, co-authored with Karin Hurt, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results – Without Losing Your Soul, is available at Amazon.com. Connect with David on Twitter @DavidMDye or at TrailBlazeInc.com.