Warning: The ideas that follow work. Don’t be fooled by their simplicity. For experienced team members and team leaders some of these tips may seem obvious. Sometimes however it is the obvious things we forget about or don’t apply. As you read the list think about your past experiences and determine which of these ideas would have made your team experiences more effective and productive.
1. Know your roles, purpose, boundaries and resources. Teams need to first know their purpose, the role of each team member, what they are responsible for (and what is outside their scope) and what resources they have at their disposal. Once they know these things they need to remember them! Team Leaders can help by setting a clear purpose up front. The team can build processes to keep their roles and scope in focus. And as a team progresses, the resources required may change. Teams should try to succeed with their original resources, but should engage the team leader to provide additional resources when needed.
2. Assume the best about people. People on teams will do and say things you don’t understand or agree with. Always start from an assumption that their motives are team-based and their goals are consistent with team goals. Too often a comment or action will be misinterpreted leading to rifts, factions and dysfunctional behaviors. If you don’t understand a person’s perspective or comments, ask them for clarification rather than making your own assumptions based on your biases.
3. Be patient and caring. Teams sometimes need time to get going or get unstuck. As a team leader or any member of the team, be patient. Individual members of the team might not get on board with an idea or decision as rapidly as you so be patient and give them some time.
4. Maintain a sense of urgency. Patience is important, but teams also need to maintain a sense of urgency. Too often teams get bogged down in the process, spend too long on small points, or languish for any number of other reasons. Give the team time to work things out, but always keep the timeline in mind – and move towards completion.
5. Take time to plan your meetings. Want the best way to increase the productivity of your team? Spend more time planning your meetings. Meetings cost time, money and emotional and physical energy. Improve the return on that investment by having clear objectives and plans for every meeting – and by letting everyone see that plan (agenda) before the meeting so they can be prepared to succeed.
6. Be willing to ask for and accept help. Being on a team means being a part of the team. Be willing to ask for help on a particular task or decision. When help is offered don’t be proud – let people help. It will build relationships and help the team succeed more quickly.
7. Share. Your ideas, your thoughts, your experiences. Sharing these things are critical to a team developing synergy. Without the willingness to share, a team is just a collection of individuals. And as the work is completed, be willing to share the accolades and success as well.
8. Be willing to give feedback. Sometimes people will do something that bothers you or other team members. Be willing to give the person feedback on their behaviors. Equally important, when people shine or have done something very valuable, let them know that too! Effective timely feedback helps a team avoid breakdowns and provides the information needed for continuous improvement.
9. Fix the problem, not the blame. Problems will occur. Use them as a way to assess progress and as an opportunity for learning, rather than as a chance to assign blame. After learning what can be learned, let the situation go and focus the team’s energies forward, not on the problem or issue.
10. Involve the right people at the right times. Sometimes teams need outside help and expertise. Go get it! Get the right people involved to make decisions and the right people involved to implement those decisions.
11. Keep the big picture in view. Teams often get lost in procedures, small problems or on any other sort of “rabbit trail”. Don’t lose track of the big picture. Remember the goals and purposes for the team and continue to bring yourself and the team back to those purposes. Keeping the big picture in view will smooth out many of the bumps in a team’s road and reduce the time and effort required to reach success.
12. Be proactive. These tips are for team leaders but not just for team leaders. Everyone on a team has a responsibility for team success. Be willing to ask the hard question, encourage the team to have better meeting planning, give the feedback and more. Highly effective teams are made up of highly effective, proactive team members.
As I mentioned at the top of this article, think about which of these tips you could apply with the greatest immediate impact. Resolve to take the appropriate action based on that determination and you will be taking positive step towards more effective teamwork.