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Objective teams part 3 – performing teams

Introduction

To use a metaphor: building a house with weak foundations is inadvisable. It might allow the first floor to be built but never more and, over time, there is a good chance that that house will subside and sink, or collapse in on itself. The same is with teams. Short term, first level, gains can be achieved but there’s nothing to allow further development; if a sustainable, continually performing team is the desired outcome then solid foundations, using trust as the mortar and the members as the bricks, must be built.

This doesn’t mean that it need be a lengthy process, a new manager is part of the team, hence the reason for using the word organic in many of the articles; as part of that team the manager can dictate the pace and progress as the team evolves.

This final piece on Objective teams discusses how to get the best from a team. If you’ve jumped straight into this article, then may I suggest going to part 1, it won’t take up too much of your time.

Environment

Everything that I’ve written about, with the exception of the anecdotal examples peppered throughout, has been written about before. The fundamental principles of management, people management, go back for millennia; in part 2 of Objective teams I reference Aristotle and I’ve used Herzberg, Maslow and Tuckman to illustrate various stages of team development. All of these theories and postulations (as each of the aforementioned were scientists, not practitioners of management) require a personal mental attitude for that state to be achieved, we can only motivate ourselves therefore, a conducive environment needs to exist, an environment that encourages motivation.

Whenever I’m stuck with the problem of how to motivate a team, I always think of what I would need at that moment and in that particular situation to motivate me; then I make every effort to create that environment. We aren’t that different from each other, working across several countries and different cultures has taught me that, so, when a manager understands the basic needs of people, he or she can create an environment in which a person will be motivated.

Form a stable platform

To prepare for improvement, there needs to be needs stability. Stability is the foundation upon which improvement and achievement can be built. Without having a stable platform, any attempt at improvement will happen in pockets and will fail. This doesn’t mean that separate projects shouldn’t be started, on the contrary. Departmental projects, when managed correctly, can create positive competition but projects started without inclusive involvement of others within the team will fade quickly, even after their specific objective has been achieved.

Now is the time for the manager to take the team out of disruption and uncertainty and creates, in psychological terms, a safe place. Now ideas can be discussed and implemented, successes and failures analysed and goals and targets set, without redress or negative consequence.

The team can progress once a stable platform or base has been created

Support and praise

Improvement is best approached in small stages. “Quick wins” provide opportunities for recognisable achievement, which sustains the motivational environment and strengthens the platform of stability. Sometimes ideas will fail but that’s OK, if failures are not hugely significant then the manager can support the next idea and coach the learning cycle, the team will lose any stigma of failure and be open to providing more ideas. This is the basic tenet of a brainstorming session but spread over different sections of the team and at different times; the point being to always encourage active participation.

Verbal support and praise, at various points in the process, are of great importance. I will refer again to Maslow and how he theorised the various levels that form our psychological needs and how praise takes on greater significance the further up the hierarchy we move. At this stage the manager shifts more into leadership mode, as the output and performance of the team reaches critical mass. Recognition and praise within the peer group is still desired but recognition from an established leader adds greater significance to any words of praise and support and the higher the level of the conveyor of the words, the greater the self-desire of the recipient to do better.  

If your chosen/preferred method of inspirational leadership isn’t public speaking then choose what is comfortable for you. The message content is important, not the manner of delivery.

The best teams intuitively know what sounds right

For example, where a message might need to become a continuing theme, the team wide email has enduring impact. Here I’ve copied an extract of an email that I came across a few years ago, the manager in question is using musical metaphor to convey a message of recognition, praise and achievement:

It’s amazing and hugely rewarding  to watch talent in the process of development. It’s like a composer writing a symphony, which starts with a disparate collection of musical notes and then blossoms into a sonorous piece of music.

I think the notes were written a few months ago, that was the cultural change and vision that we discussed back in April. The following months saw the creation of new notes. At various times I have witnessed the symphony being played, more of a cacophony at first but as you have developed your talents and have come to understand how the symphony should be played, it is becoming more melodic, showing greater harmony. As the conductor, I am especially proud of the emergence of virtuoso’s within the orchestra, it gives a different perspective to each meeting and the outcome.

We need now to discuss further ideas with the whole “orchestra”! Think of where we want to be and we’ll see where we go from there…..it needs to happen within the next week to 10 days, maximum.

This might not resonate with you, you may even find it twee and insignificant but it does show a different side of a manager who isn’t afraid to use emotion in support and development of their team. Having humility and empathy allows one to connect and that’s exactly what anyone who faces the task of building a team needs.

Conclusion

Creating teams and developing them into a performing, harmonious unit is by far, for me anyway, the most difficult function of a manager’s role. The approach that I have written about has been developed over time and it does create sustainable, performing teams. I have worked for bosses who demand immediate results, yet often they seem to ignore the underlying issues that have created the problems they want fixed in the first place.

As I did some research for this article, I came across a journal entry from a few years ago when I had just started a new assignment, my notes of analysis went something like this:

Lack of decision making-No ownership-Little/poor execution-Cliques and factions

What was broken was the team, that was the root cause. I couldn’t fix the team but we did rebuild it and in doing so it provided one, of many, opportunities to write these series of articles. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them.

© Andy Collinsson June 2020

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