Team Player

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When I was in school I despised being put on work teams for schoolwork. Athletic teams were fine, but schoolwork teams made me crazy. I found  it much easier to do the whole team’s work pretty much myself and let the team take credit.

Entering the work world, I quickly found that the strategy of doing it all myself for the team was not a good one. In fact – it was a terrible strategy.

Why was I fine on the soccer field  but not a science presentation?  Why do some teams work better than others?

The ingredients for a successful team weren’t present at school, but was present on the soccer field. As a team member and leader at work, team components are crucial. Good teams need:

  • A common goal or shared vision of success
  • Clear and open communication between all team members
  • Complementary strengths and appropriate roles played by members
  • Support and optimism
  • A process for sorting out problems and conflicts

I  like this article that simplifies ideal team ingredients into Energy, Engagement, and Exploration, and ties everything into how well the team communicates.

Want more information?  Here are some more links to good team articles:

Three Qualities Every Leader Needs to Succeed on a Team

Conflict Strategies for Nice People

Go Team!

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Honesty in the Office


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Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom – Thomas Jefferson

Let’s be honest – how forthright are you at work?

Too honest about obstacles sounds negative: you’re a complaining whiner, a bully, or an unsupportive boss. Honesty about obstacles up the chain communicates lack of problem solving skills. Yet honesty about yourself (AKA: self-awareness) and your awareness of strengths and weaknesses is paramount to success.

Effective honesty takes practice. It takes reflection, analysis, and evaluation… and then repetition with adjustments.

Your effectiveness at work and the effectiveness of your team depends on honesty. Need to have a talk about honesty in your office? Frame the discussion around purposeful practice and self-awareness. Remember that the discussion is not complaining, bullying, or fighting – it’s about reflecting, analyzing, and evaluating so that the practice of working together increases its purposefulness.

Pacing

camp_0905_02+1969_z11_camaro_official_pace_car+indy_500Do you ever have themes appear in your life? I do. Pacing (not the walking nervously back and forth kind) has been a recurrent theme since the beginning of 2014 for me.

More specifically – the pace at which I work, play, run and how it affects, influences, pleases, and annoys others. Some examples occurred over the last few weeks:

– I ran with friends that invited me to exercise with them. They’re training for  a 10K. I’m thinking about registering for a local 10K. Apparently they’re running to win their age class. Running for me is recreation and exercise. I practically killed myself keeping up with them and barely did. Boy did I pay the next day.

– Not having learned my lesson, I ran with another friend having expressed my dismay at my recent experience. She is what I’d call a jogger, not a runner. I ended up running most of the trail backward to challenge myself and engaged in reverse running face-to-face conversation with her. I think she felt deflated and I know I felt that I didn’t get much of a workout.

– I volunteered for a committee formed to define an important job description. I and other volunteers were assigned tasks at the close of the last meeting. I emailed my findings to the other committee members the following week, expecting that it would be useful for others to see the work done already and to get feedback. I heard nothing back for more than a week. I was told today that I should’ve waited to present the findings with the others at the next meeting to be held in a month. I feel under appreciated.

– I went shopping with a friend. We are the kind of friends that don’t see each other for years and then fall back into step and in sync as if the time never passed. We’re impatient at the same things and dawdle over the same things. We had a fantastic experience.

I realized that the not-so-good experiences and the great ones relate to pacing. I worked (or ran) too fast or too slow and it was frustrating for all involved. The last experience was, as Goldilocks might say, “just right”.

As a manager, the pace you set is crucial to having an effective team. Neither running laps around your team nor moving slower is rewarding or productive. There is no perfect pace, but the right one is one that you communicate and support for your team.

Frenetic is just fine if there’s an urgent situation, but not for sustained periods of time. Slow and steady is ok if consistency and long-term effectiveness is what you’re after, but not good for fast-paced project deadlines.

Communicate up, down, and sideways about the pace you’re setting; set expectations clearly, check in on deliverables and you’re much more likely to have a great experience.

Transparency

Transparency used to mean ‘see through’. More recently, it’s been vogue to talk about transparency in terms of information and context. Why?

Things have gotten more complicated and simple at the same time. Let’s take the progress of communication technology as an example. The communication tools I used as a small child (two cans with string between and shouting), progressed to a telephone and transistor radio (both of which I was able to disassemble into tiny pieces), and now consists of the internet and my iPhone (things that are rather mysterious to me and hard to take apart and understand). But the Internet and my iPhone are actually more simple to use than any of the others above.

This circuit board diagram from XKCD could be absolutely correct for all I know about designing hardware.

Circuit Diagram

So anyway, what’s the point and why I am I talking about this?

Middle managers are increasingly dealing with complex issues. A process diagram of how an important decision is made and executed at the middle manager level, utilizing all the stakeholders (collaborators, bosses, customers, peers, and  employees) is likely as nutty as the diagram above.

The ‘connectors’ between decision points is communication: communicate about what the goals are, what roles and responsibilities each stakeholder has, timelines, where there could be resistance, status updates. Whether you do it in written form, with two tin cans and a string, texting, Tweeting, Facebook, blogging, or hallway conversations, getting the job done involves connecting the dots.

Thoughtful transparency helps everyone do their job better.

Change

Change
Make it up
As you go
Future’s wide open
Nothing’s written in stone
I can’t tell you what’s best
I don’t know what comes next
All I know is that I don’t know anything
All I got is today, and I prefer it that way
Make a plan, but I know it’s gonna change
And that’s okay
-Lyrics by the Plain White T’s

The only thing that’s certain is change.  Change is a thing that managers today need to know how to lead through.  Why?  Because as the song says, ‘nothing is written in stone’.

There are lots of models of change management.  Just Google ‘Change Management’ and you’ll see tons of examples – some simple, others complex beyond understanding.

Here’s another certain thing that models don’t often reflect, as the song says, ‘Make a plan, but I know it’s gonna change.  And that’s okay.’

The managers and teams that do the best work not only change, but do it with flexibility, positivity, and resilience.  Sometimes these things come from help on the outside with positive influencers like teachers, friends, coaches, and mentors.

Change happens –  and that’s okay.