“So, what do you do for a living?” slightly nervous networker asks me over a glass of sparkling mineral water.
“I’m a leadership coach and I help teams work more effectively together. Amongst other things….” I enigmatically add, for effect.
“Oh, so you drag poor people like me to the middle of nowhere and get them to build stupid rafts.” Comes the smart reply.
“Well…… “ comes my well-worn response.
David Brent rightly said that there’s no “I” in “team”, but there is a “me” if you mix some of the letters up. Teams are strange things. A group of totally unrelated people are expected to get together in the work place, usually without prior knowledge of each other and told to deliver knock-out sales or complicated projects or wholesale cultural change in the blink of an eye.
Workplace teams are exactly like your family – you can’t choose them (unless you’re the boss). So, people find themselves working beside human beings with whom they would never in a million years choose to spend time with and they’re expected to get on.
Developing teams is one of my favourite things to do as a trainer. I get a group of people who are pretending to work well together in a room and after asking them nicely to fill out a diagnostic anonymously before meeting, we set to work having some honest conversations.
Everyone is usually terrified of giving each other honest feedback on their contribution to the team’s success or its lack of success, but after the leader of the team goes first, they all settle into this simple exercise. By the end of the session, the team are happy, smiling and comfortable with talking to each other in an honest and constructive way about what works for them and what doesn’t work for them.
They realise that honesty is not about cruelty and in fact, they need to give each other helpful honest feedback in order to make progress as a team. Once they’ve got this simple concept, then they can plan what they want to achieve as a team and work out how they’re going to get there.
David Brent is right, there is a “me” in team because a team is made up of individuals who all contribute something different. In a well-functioning team, this is a positive contribution and in a dysfunctional team it’s a negative contribution. The trick is to get everyone to take responsibility for their contribution to the team and to make sure it’s a positive one.
If the team can’t turn a person around in terms of their positive contribution, then sometimes that person must leave the team.
The team also needs boundaries, a little set of rules to help everyone understand what the expectations are of the team members. A mini-contract if you like. I always begin my team development with a contract. The team decides what will be in that contract and they must all agree to it, which includes agreeing to be pulled up about deviation from that contract.
There’s always a little bit of learning about each other’s style too. I like to keep this simple and steer away from bundling people into coloured quadrants or assigning them indecipherable letters because I like to show people that they have much greater flexibility in their behaviour than that.
Then, ultimately, great team work comes down to great communication. Clear, concise and delivered in the right way. Effectively communicating with each member of the team is crucial to the long term success of the team. Great teams are like great personal relationships; there’s lots of good quality communication backwards and forwards and there’s loads of open, honest discussion about the best way to do things, with an understanding, that ultimately the team leader has to make a decision. Plus, they have a laugh. There’s nothing quite like a good laugh amongst a team to improve results.
As with most things in life, great teams are created from making good decisions and working well with people. The financial impact on a business of getting this right is huge so it’s well worth spending time, money and energy to improve the team working you have in your business.
Every great leader knows that they’re not a great leader without a great team or range of teams behind them and in fact, the really great leaders know that their key role is to nurture and support those teams just as much as it is to set the vision and direct the business.
In great teams, it doesn’t matter that you haven’t chosen to be with the people you’re with because the egos are left behind at the door and the core focus of the team is its purpose. Each team member is happily aligned to the purpose of the team and is happy to play their part in delivering it with the contribution and support of other members of the team.
Great teams are a great place to be. They just take a bit of effort to build and keep them great.
Rebecca Bonnington is a regular contributor to the3rdimagazine.
Rebecca is a Leadership Coach, Corporate Trainer and Trainer of NLP, you can contact her by calling 07734 934084 or Rebecca@rebeccainspires.com