Archive for October, 2008

Team dynamics and project success

TEAM DYNAMICS and PROJECT SUCCESS

by David B. Waters

We all know that we are supposed to “get along”. We’ve heard this since we were youngsters. Then why is it so hard to practice as adults? We have our degrees, titles, gray-hair, and nice offices, but when it comes to playing on (or establishing) teams, many of us struggle.

WHY DO WE NEED TEAMS

Vince Lombardi, the successful leader of football teams and of men in general, said this about teams; “Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” Lombardi knew the secret to success was not ‘knowing’ something that others did not, but rather, in executing a plan in a way others would not, or could not.

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”– A speech made by Winston Churchill in the House of Commons. Churchill went on to say that, “a whole nation [was] fighting and suffering together.” On paper (or on Hitler’s map), the British were as good as defeated. Gallant efforts from every individual in England would not have saved off the Germans. But an organized team-effort by the Brits did the job just fine thank you.

But are teams really needed in today’s business? Some may say the answer is obvious … however, the “obvious” answer may vary depending upon who you ask. Most business leaders say teams are a necessity for any business with more than one employee. Even with only one employee, teamwork is required in order to work with vendors, financiers, customers, etc. The complexities of today’s businesses require effective teamwork for any company daring to succeed.

TEAMWORK

Just calling a group of people a “team” does not a team make. As a manager, you know when a team is not hitting on all cylinders. The symptoms are easy to detect. Here is a list of a few causes and associated symptoms common among troubled “teams”:

1. There is no clear direction – due to a gap in, or poor, leadership. A lack of clear direction does not necessarily point a finger at the team-leader. Perhaps the team-leader is not receiving clear direction. Lack of clear direction manifests itself in missed deadlines, fragmented or disjointed results, and in a lack of team commitment.

2. There is no clear leader – either by lack of appointment, or by lack of acceptance, absent leadership results in wasted time, inefficiencies, poor results, incorrect results, no results, and poor team-member morale.

3. There seems to be no connection to the business – because the business objectives have not been tied to the project / individual tasks, or the project simply does not connect to business objectives (proper justification was never required). Team members become disenchanted with the leaders / company, feel isolated and not part of the ‘real’ business team, and tend to lose sight of the business purpose.

4. People dwell (work) in silos – to protect their own interests, to control specific outcomes, to ensure ‘something’ gets done, or to mimic the operating style of the overall corporation (silos may be prevalent throughout the organization). Common symptoms of ‘silo dwelling’ include poor meeting attendance, inadequate communication, limited brainstorming, and scarce cross-functional problem-solving.

5. It is hard to retain or attract team-members – or it becomes impossible. Obvious symptoms include requests for transfers, members leaving the company, and no requests to join the ‘team’. Over several months / years a “team’s” composition would gravitate toward average, or poor, performers.

6. Members bicker and argue –more than they laugh and problem-solve. A few symptoms include an absence of communication, accusatory communication, and common phrases such as: he said, she did, they didn’t, etc. These demonstrated behaviors replace healthy team behaviors (discussed in the following section).

As easy as these symptoms may be to discover, finding solutions are just as difficult. Before discussing possible solutions, let’s look at some causes and effects found in healthy teams.

1. The purpose is clear – and team-work is needed to accomplish the mission. Many teams are formed to accomplish tasks that should be performed by individuals. For instance, establishing a team to order a pizza would be ridiculous. This task could be performed by most six-year-olds. A team might be essential, on the other hand, if you want to erect a building. Yes, one person might be able to construct a building without human assistance. This approach would take considerable time and the results would probably be of lesser quality than if done with a team approach.

2. Members have a sense of pride – by connecting contributions to specific business initiatives and results.

3. Job satisfaction – is obvious. Members strive to, and often do, accomplish objectives much larger than otherwise would be individually possible. Job satisfaction results in higher levels of retention, higher quality work, and more consistent results (not to mention creating a more stimulating work environment).

4. New and innovating ideas – are shared and fostered. Healthy teams provide a ‘safe’ haven for members to bring up unconventional thoughts / ideas / approaches for discussion.

5. Members understand – every member’s role and responsibilities. Timely and effective communication, constructive problem resolution, and consistent escalation processes contribute to results when members understand individual accountabilities.

SOLUTIONS

Regardless if your team has been in place for two-years, or it is just forming; there are several critical steps involved in forming, leading, and managing a healthy team.

1. Team Charter – is used to define the overall purpose of the team as well as the business benefit associated with the team’s objective. The charter should explain the reason for the team’s existence and why the stated objectives are better accomplished as a team. The charter should also identify the team’s customer(s).

2. Guidelines – should be established by the team leader, but with input and ‘buy-in’ from team-members. Guidelines include processes for communication, problem resolution, escalation, status-reporting, and questioning. This tool should not be used as a rigid device to monitor team progress, efficiencies, effectiveness, etc. Guidelines should be used to provide an operating structure from which the team functions. Guidelines should also include a process for modifying the guidelines.

3. Line-up Cards – should be created for team-members in order to better understand who’s on first. Who is the pitcher, catcher, first-baseman, etc? A line-up card will include an attachment with a list of responsibilities assigned to each team position. These cards should be part of the initial team meeting; discussed to ensure understanding and acceptance.

4. Yardsticks – are created to communicate the standards used to evaluate individual and team success. This is a critical step in expectation management. Yardsticks are also used as an additional mechanism to ensure tasks are aligned with, and connected to, appropriate objectives.

5. Stage Matrix – is a feedback tool that allows team-members to provide a personal assessment of the team’s progress, as well as a tool to communicate ‘normal’ stages of team development. The longer a team is expected to work together (the bigger the initiative) the more important the stage matrix. See the following graph.

Attempting to align an existing team will certainly require different tactics from those used to form a new team. However, the previous steps are equally important in both situations; the amount of time and effort will vary.

Copyright 2007 Gerke & Associates

When was the last time you communicated to your list

When was the last time you communicated to your list? “Communicated to my list”, you ask? “I am emailing them all the time”. Sending out emails about this offer or that special is not communicating, it is selling. Business marketing is not selling, it is about relationships. Relationships are what build any business.

Maybe you have heard that when a business has performed well, the customer tells one other person, but if a business does not perform they tell one hundred people. The internet now provides this scenario times thousands.

What measures can you take to be mentoring to your business?

Every marketer knows that the money is in the list. Therefore, your business is in the list. By mentoring to your business, you should actually be finding those star prospects within your list. By trying to build a large list and only focusing on that task you will be missing the whole point of building your business.

Placing you in a magnetic attraction position brings prospects to you that want to work with you, learn from you. You are recognized as a leader and this is where your business grows. Finding the star prospect(s) that may already be in your list could catapult your business to heights not previously considered.

The human psychic has known this from our beginnings. As humans gathered, the stronger became the leader as he protected the group, thereby allowing the group to flourish, reproduce, and pass these survival traits to following generations.

You should set your business marketing strategy to give before you get.

The thought of finding the star prospect(s) holds much value. The fact that someone already on your list may be able to grow your marketing presence just by being mentored properly would pay many times over in the future. This type of magnetic attraction brings other stars to you. Mentoring to your business is growing relationships with those on your list that you have found to be needles.

Even though the majority of the information seekers are not buying, these individuals trusted you enough to give their information. What ever the reasons that they did, by setting in motion some of your sequences to search out for the stars will be a huge benefit. Keep all that don’t opt-out and market to them, but find the needles and mentor them.

As a business marketing person, you have built your foundation and this foundation is key to support your business. Star performers are those that build the business. They just need the correct mentoring to allow their star light to shine. Your business marketing plan should include a structured strategy to mentor to your business.

Nobody succeeded entirely by themselves.

We all have some mentor that provided us direction. Your business is important. Would your heart be lifted higher if someone you found took off and succeeded as well? Can you see your future with many stars that came from your mentorship? Understanding that the largest list does not win this game.

The largest following that succeeds wins, because when they win, we win. The more winners you assist, the larger your magnetic attraction grows and others will be coming to you to be on your list. What better strategy then by mentoring to your business could you ask for? Future stars coming to you are a beautiful thing.

For any business to succeed it must know what it is about

For any business to succeed it must know what it is about. It must be able to explain what it is there to achieve, and where it ultimately wants to end up. Unfortunately the majority of businesses can’t describe, or don’t have a picture of what they are trying to become. Either it’s just not considered important enough, or they get so caught up in the daily running of the business that there’s no time for thinking beyond the next cycle.

Having a vision and long term goals is essential. After all, if you don’t know where you are going, you’ll never know when you get there.

How Up To Date is your Street Map?

Think of it this way. When you get into a car, turn on the engine and roll out of the driveway, 99.9% of the time you always have a destination in mind. Whether it’s the office, the fast food drive through or a town that is miles away, you know exactly where you are going. And because you know where you are going, you can choose from several routes to get there. Each route will take you where you want to go, but there may be pros and cons associated with choosing one over the other (traffic considerations, length of the trip and so on). Still, you can consciously choose a specific path, to meet your needs on that particular day.

Now imagine getting into your car with no destination in mind. You wouldn’t know when to turn right or left, or when to stop altogether. You could go forwards or in reverse – depending on your mood. You could keep driving around aimlessly forever – until you run out of petrol or the car breaks down.

Not having a long term destination for your business puts many business owners in the “aimless driving” category. If you don’t know where you are heading, then you can make any choice and go in any direction (including backwards). Plans are made based only on the current situation and short term goals. Decisions are taken without having a broader context.

The value in knowing your final destination (your vision) is that you can choose to take the specific paths that lead you there. Your action is intentional and keeps you pointed in the right direction.

Developing a vision for your business creates the context in which all other decisions are made.  The vision statement should stretch expectations, aspirations, and performance. It needs to be powerful enough to excite and motivate both you and your employees. Without that powerful, attractive, valuable vision, why bother?

So now that we’ve agreed that having a vision is a business imperative, how do we create one?

Vision statements can take many forms. Their main purpose is to articulate the “dream” state of your business. If your business could be everything you dreamed, how would it be?

Start by writing your answers to these questions:

When I move on from this business, what do I want to leave behind?

What am I really providing for my customers beyond products and services?

If my business could be everything I dreamed, how would it be?

What will success look like?

What will this business look like when I’ve finished doing everything I want?

Then begin to fashion your answers into one or two statements that encapsulate your intentions. And to give you some inspiration,  here are some real life vision and purpose statements from well known global organizations:

Amazon:                       Amazon.com seeks to be the world’s most customer-centric company, a place where people can find and discover anything they might want to buy online

Microsoft:                      To enable people and businesses throughout the world to realize their full potential.

Cadbury Schweppes:     working together to create brands people love

World Vision:                 a world that no longer tolerates poverty. 

Your business may not be global or large like these examples. Nevertheless it can still benefit from the clarity and purpose a vision provides. So dream big. And make your professional life truly rewarding and satisfying.

Effective leadership is essential at any level of management in business

Effective Leadership is essential at any level of Management in Business. From the newly appointed Supervisor to the Senior Company Director, the core role of a Leader is surprisingly very similar. The Leader is responsible for Leading the Followers, their Team, and taking them to a predetermined destination. HOW the Leader gets the Team there, how they achieve their own and their Team’s objectives, is the complex bit – involving the effective use of lots of Leadership skills, processes, motivators and tools. The beginning is very simple – win over your Team Members.

Where many Leaders become very ineffective, and fail, is in not understanding this very first step. If I have not won over my Team Members individually, and my Team as a group, then all the later steps will not work effectively. The first set of  Leadership Skills involve winning over your Team Members, persuading people to work with you and later persuading them to go in the direction the you need them to go.

Who do People Follow?

At a very basic level, people follow people they know. If I don’t know you, I can’t trust you or respect you. Take time to BOND with each of your Team members, and build a habit of doing this with each of your Team members on an ongoing basis – not just new recruits.

Bonding is where we get to know each other. We spend a short time socialising, talking about non-work topics. It might only be 10-15minutes each week, but this is our one-to-one ‘personal time’ and it is time well spent. Here the Leader gives this Team Member their undivided attention, listening, showing interest and gaining a good understanding of how this person ticks. We are not ‘buddies’, the relationship is still Leader / Team Member. Also be careful to bond with all Team members equally – to avoid favouritism or isolating someone.

People Follow Someone they Respect

People also follow people who they can respect, and who respects them. The next step for the Leader is to spend time with each Team Member discussing their work and their performance. This is one-to-one time, but now we are talking about work rather than non-work. The Leader listens to the Team Member as he or she talks about their goals, performance, strengths, and achievements.

The Leader is showing an interest and demonstrating respect for the Team Member, praising achievements and suggesting possible next steps. The Leader is also positioning themselves in these one-to-one performance discussions as the Leader, worthy of respect. These sessions will later become coaching and mentoring sessions. But at first they are establishing the Leader – Team Member relationship.

Why do People Follow?

People follow the Leader firstly, if she is worth respecting – and secondly, if she is going somewhere I would want to go. The Follower will want to know where exactly you want me to go – what is the goal? They will also want to know why – what is in it for me if I go there? I will follow if I think this is worth doing and it is feasible – the goal and strategy to get there is doable.

This is what the Leader must satisfy in order to persuade the Team and each Team member to work with them. The best Leaders are skilled at painting that forward vision of where we are going – painting it as an attractive picture that is worth working for. To do this they must pitch the goal appropriately for this person or the Team at this point in time, using terms that would be attractive for this person.

They also persuade the Team Members WHY they should work towards this goal. What are the benefits of this goal – why it is good for the Company, good for the Customer, the Team and me, the Team member?

An important Leadership skill is the ability to deliver a motivational, goal setting talk to a Team Member or the whole Team. Both the goal and the talk is always planned and prepared carefully. The Leader’s time spent bonding with Team Members and building mutual trust and respect will be really useful here. The Leader’s personal knowledge of individuals will help ensure that the goal is appropriate, and the talk can be pitched perfectly. Equally, the personal knowledge will help the Leader AVOID saying something that would alienate or disrespect any Team Members. The benefits of the goal can be expressed using examples and language style that will appeal to this individual or the Team.

Winning over the Team and persuading them that the goal is worth following are the starting points in effective Leadership.

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