We have all been in this situation. It has been a busy work week and although you really need to get some work done, you find yourself in a meeting. The reason is usually the discovery of a problem and the meeting has been called to figure out a solution. After the first 15 minutes, you start to see just how effective your team really is. If what occurs next is an active and engaging debate between everyone in attendance, then you have nothing to worry about. However, if the room goes silent or if the list of ideas seem familiar and there are few of them, then most likely your team has issues. I am a big believer in the concept that all problems are people problems first. Regardless of how great a process can be, if the people executing the process don’t understand it (or their role in said process), then that process will ultimately fail. The same goes for teams. If you have a team where members do not understand what role they play or are not willing to actively participate within the team concept, then your team is not very effective at all. Not being effective, means not productive, not able to think creatively, not working at all. This is most often described as the Nonfunctional team. Nonfunctional teams are costly, don’t produce quality work, and force your most talented and productive people to look for another job. The impact on the business is immediate and sometimes irreversible. So what can be done to build better team?
Begin The Conversation
Recognizing that the team is nonfunctional is great, but the problems will not just go away by pointing them out. Team members will need to be communicated to individually and as a group. Convincing most team members that there are problems will not be hard, getting them to talk about it is what will be difficult. It is important that the team take responsibility and ownership over improving the team environment. Empowering your team is the single most important thing you can do. Take the time to listen to each individual’s point of view. Some managers take it upon themselves to do a day long meeting and hash out a team building event, but if the problems have been going on for a while, it is better to build up support before going to team events. As a team leader or manager, be prepared for obstacles. Remember that the status quo is not where you want the team to be and that feeling “comfortable”, means that you have not really implemented any change.
Once you have some support on your side, present to the team the plan. You should have some goals, as to what defines the team, what values the team will have, and how the team will get there. These should be written out and easily recognizable to anyone who reads them. Reaching your goals will mean changing the culture of the team, to work effectively, to focus, and to let go of old habits, processes, policies, politics, etc that get in the way of these goals.
For the first day long team event, you will need to tackle the first thing that most teams are not good at, namely communication. Effective teams communicate openly and honestly. In order to do that, as a leader, you have to put yourself out there first and talk about what difficulties you have as a manager or team leader. Communication is personal and so our instinct is to avoid anything that makes us feel vulnerable to each other, however, you have to share. Communication is a shared experience and until you share something, you can’t really communicate. Once you take that first step, the team will follow one by one. It will be difficult at first, but the more you share the better you will be able to communicate. Again, the communication has to be personal. There are simple exercises you can do, or you can simply have an open discussion similar to a talk show. For example, the statement “I feel uncomfortable when…” is a good start. The idea is to have the team get to know each other as people first.
Once you have a shared experience, next comes work. The idea is to communicate better and with better communication comes that magic word that everyone talks about all the time: trust. In effective teams, all team members trust each other. It sounds simple but a good working relationship takes a lot of work. In order to get there, as the leader in the room, you have to help the team to craft some ground rules on communicating with each other. Communication needs to be active and engaging, but you also need to agree as a team that once the team decides on something, that it is decided. You want to allow for individual discussions and points of view, but you also want to the team to be able to achieve consensus.
At the conclusion of your first day long event, you should have come out with ground rules for communicating and agreement to work with each other for the sake of the team goals. You won’t have the perfect team yet, but you will have something which you can build on in the coming months.