You do not want to herd cats.
Getting those independent and stubborn critters to go in the same direction towards the same goal is all but impossible, and you’re going to end up scratched. Yet, as a team manager, you sometimes feel that you are, indeed, trying to herd cats.
How do you get a disparate group of people with different personalities, different motivations, and different skills to work together towards a common goal?
No one said team management would be easy…
What True Teamwork Looks Like
Teamwork isn’t everyone sitting around at meetings with halos over their heads and butterflies in the air, smiling and pleasant. That sounds more like a cult.
Teamwork can, at times, be full of passionate disagreement, moments of silence, high energy, failure and defeat — the whole gamut. Teamwork isn’t identified so much by the temperament and style of progress, but that there is, in fact, actual progress.
So don’t think you have great teamwork happening just because there is no obvious discord. You might merely have a group of extreme passive aggressives who will eventually grind to a halt and be unable to function together. And don’t think you’re in trouble just because your brainstorming sessions seem on the high end of the decibel scale because of clashing personalities.
The truth is, it matters most how you manage these people that make up your team. Any team can work, and any team can fail. It’s up to you.
Defining Your Team Objectives
Do you know where you want your team to go? If you don’t know the objective, your team will blindly follow you into confusion.
This is obvious, but know what you want from each project, from each team, and from each member. Have a timeline. Define success. Define communication. Define what behavior or work is acceptable and what isn’t.
If you don’t define it, someone else will on the fly. Your team will go off track.
Managing Communication In A Team
So much depends on good communication in your team. When your team is communicating well, you will see positive characteristics emerge.
- Your team will be cohesive. Great communication is what you build strong relationships on, and that leads to a team that feels and acts as if they belong together.
- Team members will feel safe. Great communication makes it easier to share and critique ideas knowing there is no fear of being ridiculed or ignored.
- You will get more done. Few things get in the way of progress and productivity like miscommunication. It leads to mistakes and delays because team members didn’t know what they were supposed to be doing, and when.
Develop a communication process that works.
In order for communication to happen like this, you need to have a process in place. This process has to both create an avenue for communication, and an avenue for dealing with problems with communication that will lead to resolution. This process should:
- Not waste anyone’s time. More communication doesn’t mean better communication. It most often means you’re frustrating your team by wasting their time with pointless meetings and memos. Use tools that can help save time. Skip meetings that happen for no other reason other than we “always have a meeting at that time.” Communication is saying what needs to be said, when it needs to be heard. It isn’t a weekly meeting just because you like tradition.
- Encourages input. Top-down communication, where management does most of the talking, isn’t really communication. It’s dictating (i.e. dictatorship). Does your business encourage employee input? And do you do more than lip service to this input, providing a way that changes could be implemented based on employee input? Surveys, one-on-one meetings, suggestion boxes — open up the avenue for input in many different ways that will appeal to a variety of personalities.
- Teaches your team what to do with input. Does your team need training on how to give and receive criticism and valid critique? Do they need training on how to give feedback? Help them learn to be good communicators, both in giving and receiving. Make it a part of your regular on-the-job training program.
- Define how to use communication tools. Ever been frustrated by team members that use the task function in your project management software to list bugs? Bugs don’t get fixed and task lists balloon. Successful communication also means using communication tools properly. Define what your tools should be used for, and how they should be used. Instead of long email chains, use the messaging system. Instead of sticky notes, use the project management system.
- Hold management accountable, too. The communication expectations for the team should also be similar or the same for the management. If you raise the communication bar for the team and demand they learn to communicate with each other to be more productive, your managers have to do the same.
Keep in mind that communication flows between team members, and it also flows hierarchically, between the team and management. In a survey, 41% of respondents said that lack of communication between staff and management was the biggest mistake companies make in managing their employees.
The communication process you use might look differently depending on whether the communication is horizontal or vertical.
Some personalities run over others.
One reason brainstorming doesn’t always work is that some people are introverted or less forceful than others, and you’ll find they tend to become quiet instead of fight to be heard over their more vocal and aggressive teammates.
When this happens, you’re both missing out on great input as well as allowing resentment to build.
If you see a consistent pattern of some team members taking over the conversations or leadership in meetings, and others staying quiet, assume that those who are quiet do have something important to say, and not the other way around. Provide a method, as part of the communication process you establish, that allows them to have a voice without competing with those extroverts. That might mean:
- One-on-one follow-up meetings to get ideas.
- Going around the table and forbidding interruption.
- Having everyone write their ideas on paper anonymously and discussing them as a group one at a time.
Diverse personalities and opinions are wonderful. Just make sure all voices have a chance to be heard and that everyone can contribute in their own strengths.
Getting Your Team To Work Together
How do you make sure your team is like a set of oiled gears, turning perfectly towards one purpose, instead of a mismatched set of hardware that grinds against itself? That’s the big question, really, understanding how to make people work together.
Use team-building activities.
Team-building activities are the stuff of legend, bringing to mind corporate retreats and trust falls.
You don’t have to go that route, but you can do activities that are outside of the scope of actual projects in order to give your team a chance to practice working together. It’s a bit like lifting weights to build cooperative muscle: create scenarios that stretch and challenge your team to be creative, better communicators, better listeners, or simply have more empathy for each other.
It’s a bit like on the job training; you’re helping them improve their creative and cooperative skills.
Master the art of conflict resolution.
Conflict is inevitable in your team. You simply can’t get around it. People see things differently.
Conflict isn’t necessarily bad; it pops up when ideas are being discussed, it shows up in meetings where big decisions need to be made. In other words, it often results from otherwise healthy team activity. Iron sharpens iron, so to speak.
In those cases, your communication process will kick in and allow for a peaceful resolution where everyone saves face and no one leaves feeling dismissed or humiliated. Ideas you decide not to pursue can still feel like valuable ideas.
There are other conflicts, though, that are more destructive.
Personality or work-style clashes, for example, can lead to gossip and complaining among your team. When team members start gathering other team members to “their side” of a problem, the conflict got out of hand. You’re going to end at a painful confrontation that will affect the whole team instead of just the few members the conflict was really about.
To resolve a conflict before it gets out of hand:
- Acknowledge the conflict.
- Get the people involved into a room where you can discuss the issue. The whole team doesn’t need to be in on this.
- Get everyone involved to agree to the end result, and that the goal is to resolve the problem for all before they leave the room. Get everyone to agree to communicate without personal attacks, remember that it’s about the conflict, not the person.
- Let each party share their understanding of the conflict, but make sure that they do not use accusatory language. Make sure they focus on the problem, not the person. Forcing them to rethink and then speak about the issue in terms outside the realm of accusing the person is a huge step towards resolution. If need be, tell them to use the word “I” instead of the word “you”; it then becomes about how an issue made a team member feel or how they understood it instead of an accusation.
- Find the common ground between the descriptions of the problem. Ask the team members if they can identify common ground. See if they can find a solution on their own. Remember, you are trying to help them both save face and feel like they got something of value out of this (unless there is truly one person at fault and completely out of line).
- If needed, provide a clear set of guidelines for each person to follow so the problem doesn’t happen again. Try to get them to agree to and understand the need for this.
In a worse case scenario, you must end the conflict if they cannot resolve the issue on their own; that might mean being decisive and final whether the team members are willing to end the conflict or not. That may mean some hard feelings or negative attitudes. If you see this at work, have a meeting with the employee and be clear: this problem is now an attitude problem and it ends here or there will be penalties.
Making Jobs Fit The Team
How did you design the jobs for your team?
No doubt, you had “generic” jobs that needed to be filled in order to get the work done. You knew you needed a line manager, for example, and created a job suited for that needed task. But once you hired a team member, did you allow that job to evolve, either on its own or by your own redesign? Did you realize the position required too much or too little? Team management means being flexible and adjusting to a fluid evolution of that job you once defined before you had an actual person in the position.
Jobs that fit your team members will:
- Help employees find meaning in what they do. This gives them a sense of pride, and a reason to keep doing their best.
- Capitalize on their strengths. Let your employees work in their strengths, and keep an eye out for strengths they don’t even know they have. Working in weakness is disheartening.
- Instill confidence. When a job is a good fit, employees are confident they can do it. Failure is a great learning method, but a job that sets someone up to constant failure will kill their confidence.
- Provide room to grow. The longer your team works together, the more the evolve as a group. Do their jobs give them room to grow? Do they have opportunities for advancement, continued education, or a chance to pick up new skills?
Team management is understanding where you want your team to go, teaching the team to communicate as they head that way together, and putting out any fires that threatens the relationships and progress en route. It’s not easy to get a group of people to have a single focus, but the challenge is worth the reward. A cord of three strands is not easily broken, and a team that has one mind and one motion can’t be stopped.
Your Complete Guide To Team Management In 2016 Rob Wormley