It’s natural for humans to form teams, and it’s natural for those teams to slide into dysfunction. Without effective leadership, teams can become unproductive, apathetic, and even toxic.
However, there’s good news. With the right leadership, these same teams can be coached into cohesion. Cohesive teams are industrious and generally drama free. Interactions among team members are respectful, disagreements are resolved peacefully, and consensus is a regularity.
How can you get your team from wherever it is to there? We suggest the following:
The first step toward a top performing, cohesive team is believing it exists. Set your expectations and your standards high and hold team members accountable to you and to each other. Examples of ground rules include: Everybody shows up, everyone participates, all ideas are respected, and commitments are kept.
We all learn differently, communicate differently, and handle conflict differently. These differences (not to mention those based on race, gender, ethnicity, sexual identity, socioeconomic status, age, life experience, and so on) can be the driver for enhanced problem solving and innovation, but they also can be the source of stress and discord. Rather than assuming what people are likely to believe based on their outward characteristics and their backgrounds, why not introduce some team building exercises that reveal, more objectively than not, who’s who? Omnia’s professional development report helps employees understand their own personality traits and motivations. The report is ideal for reducing conflict and building collaboration.
In every group, some members will be more vocal than others. These individuals might be the natural leaders worth following, or they might instead be those with the biggest mouths and the biggest egos. In either case, don’t allow them to take over. The magic of diversity can’t work if true inclusion isn’t practiced. That means everyone gets a say, and each idea is given the consideration it deserves. This is not to say the team is obliged to spend hours hashing over every bad idea. However, dismissing an offering with a snort and a “That’s stupid!” is out of bounds and a violation of those ground rules mentioned earlier. Instead, anyone who cares to counter another’s idea should be required to defend her position with rational and clear principles.
As any sports fan knows, coaches encourage and enable others to do what they do. Coaches don’t do the work the players must do. So it is with good leadership. Getting out of the way is crucial. To bring your team to cohesion, be prepared to provide resources, inspiration, guidance, and wisdom, but don’t interfere where you’re neither needed nor wanted. At best, you’ll infantilize the team and teach dependence. At worst you’ll create resentment and other ill feelings – all the while impeding work that would otherwise get done.
It’s a common complaint that the same manager who is quick to criticize what employees do wrong is also slow to praise what employees do right. Don’t be that manager. Instead of catching your employees doing “bad,” catch them doing good – and let them know it.
Nothing can tear a team apart faster than a leader who plays favorites. It’s okay to like some people more than you like others. It’s human nature and nothing to fret over. However, allowing your personal feelings to influence how you manage to the point of treating some employees unfairly is clearly to be avoided.
Highly functional teams are highly valuable to the companies that support them. Coach your team into cohesion (or ensure it stays there) by following the advice in this article.