If you work with at least one other person in your office, this article is going to be useful to you. Businesses are built by small groups of people working together. Ultimately, if your team isn’t working well, your business will suffer. Use this guide to measure how your team is functioning. Identify any gaps and work to improve them. You’ll see a greater return thanks to reduced stress levels and more focussed and consistent efforts from everyone involved.
What is the point of your team? What are you working toward achieving? You should have a clear and measureable goal. Be wary of having too many priorities. If you have more than three focus areas, you will be too stretched to get anything done well. Often IT departments hire people who can work autonomously, and that’s a great benefit. Even independent workers need a deliberate hand that guides the overall direction of their efforts.
Make sure your team is aware of what the goals are, and how their work contributes to achieving them. Clearly demonstrate how progress is made. When you have smaller groups working toward a larger goal (like a company-wide objective) it can be difficult to see how one’s individual efforts are contributing. It’s critical to communicate the ‘why’ behind your team’s actions. This works well to keep that autonomy aligned. It can be used to unite the direction of a team of size, from a small group through to international departments. Conversely, individualised, separate measures of success will create disharmony, wasted time and misdirected efforts.
Team culture is vital, particularly when you’re working with a small group of people. When you have a tight group of staff that produce consistently excellent results, your productivity skyrockets.
Spend some time clarifying what behaviours and attitudes (values) are encouraged and discouraged at work. Sometimes this happens naturally as teams develop norms, sometimes it’s intentional. The team leader can nominate values and enforce them, or they can co-create them with the team. If you’re the manager, you’ll be able to assess the right approach for your team.
Like the priorities, you need to make sure the values are internalised, and followed through. Don’t reward performance that goes against the stated values of your team. It erodes trust and fosters cynicism. Take a firm line with this and your team will begin to trust that the values are genuine. Rewarding contrary behaviour will white-ant the integrity of the team.
If you decide to write a list of team values, keep it short and focussed. Make sure the chosen values are specific. Don’t go for vague, well-meaning catch phrases. Give employees the black and white version of what the stated values mean. This doesn’t have to be inspirational or poetic. Keep it clear, stay focussed, and follow through.
Balancing the responsibility of meeting deadlines with managing the emotional team environment isn’t always easy. Even when under pressure, it’s important to avoid creating a defensive environment, filled with conflict, grandstanding, or public dressings-down.
Instead, model the behaviour you want to see (it should also be in line with your stated values). When teams develop a slightly competitive edge, a toxic environment can sometimes emerge. Cut this off by implementing a culture of ‘best assumptions’. It can be easy to misinterpret staff actions like making mistakes or missing deadlines as personal attacks. Assume the best from people, so a poor turn of phrase or a late report isn’t interpreted as a personal vendetta or a mission to bring down a project for personal glory. Remember that hindsight can give the opportunity to create a narrative of behaviour where none exists.
Don’t write stories or fill in the blanks about what you think the offender is doing/has done. Reflect on how often you worry about how you’ll affect others – almost never. If you can act in this way, it will be reflected to the group. You can also implement a zero-tolerance policy on negative chatter. Like everything else, enforce it, stay true to it, and execute the policy publicly so it can be seen to be trusted.
It matters, and it’s omnidirectional. Especially in a small team, keeping commitments and relying on others is vital to bringing projects in on time. Follow through on your word and expect the same from staff. Accountability ties in with personal reputations. Staff should be aware that careless errors or delivery failures can affect their own pay, position, team and even the company. Develop a culture that under-promises and over-delivers.
Like in any social situation, some managers tend to avoid difficult conversations, and it’s completely understandable. Most people would prefer not to challenge others or raise concerns. But if you don’t, small issues will fester and develop. Feedback, when finally given, will seem out of the blue, out of proportion and even undeserved.
If you establish regular chats with staff and an open feedback loop, problems can be nipped in the bud early. Staff will be more likely to listen to gentle encouragement on how to tweak behaviour or attitudes rather than coming down heavy out of nowhere at performance review time.
Avoid email when addressing conflict. Tone, nuance is lost. It can be impulsive and it’s impossible to retrieve. Consider guidelines for the team – if a discussion is getting too long, or is interpreted as combative, problematic or so on, take it to the phone or go and address it in person.
Small business teams can work extremely well and produce high quality results. Investing time in your team members and the deliberate culture of focussed success, best assumptions and frequent communications will see increased staff retention, fewer errors and better overall results.
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