Some find having to go to work every day … day in and day out … to be a drag, but if you have ever worked on a strong team, you know that that drag isn’t so bad because you have peers around you with a sense of team work that has everyone pitching in to do quality work with a strong sense of pride. In the previous article I elaborated on elements of a strong team. This article picks up where that article left off … how does one go about creating a strong team?
How do you know if you are on a strong team?
Simple, you can cite current and frequent examples from your day to day work that align with the elements shared in the previous article.
How does one go about creating a strong team?
A bit harder … up front, a strong team culture, as so often quoted, starts at the top. The team manager must take steps to foster such a culture. Micromanaging the team is a sure way to block any sprouting of a sense of strong team. The manager needs to set the tone that cooperation and teamwork is favored and rewarded with shameless self promotion frowned upon. Empowerment or more simply, allowing people to do their jobs with low supervision and coaching rather than pointing out failures or frequent “is it done yet?” status queries goes a long way to encourage teamwork.
A team lead or manager also needs to show an outward passion towards the work the team is doing; including taking an interest in what each team member is doing such as listening to what they are getting excited about. Is it that new development component that enables all kinds of rich UI features? Is it that next platform upgrade that includes an ability to take a virtual snapshot of a box nightly to aide in troubleshooting those “happens once in awhile, but when it does …” problems? Is it that emerging architectural standard that will make a great cup of coffee while curing cancer at the same time? Technical people get excited about aspects of technology that align with their interests. In leading a team, being aware of professional interests and looking for opportunities to steer those interests toward current and future service demands will help to create a sense of a strong team. Team members seeing their interests align with work requests will instill a true sense of importance with each individual. This creates a real notion of “my ideas are being heard and acted upon” and further supports the concept of a strong team described in these articles.
Another opportunity to build a strong sense of team is to try and emphasize a narrow focus for the team’s services. “We do this, and we do this … of, and we also do this other thing once in awhile” will tend to water down the team’s focus. In watering down, the team members will see very little overlap in what they are working on with other team members. With little overlap comes little drive to cross communicate, share items, help solve each others problems, etc. Sure, a team most likely provides multiple services, but by bringing those disparate services into a more singular and common theme, team members will begin to see how their work overlaps other team member’s work. With more overlap, team members will be more inclined to share ideas and communicate. Individuals with technical problems will feel more apt to share since others may have worked on similar issues rather than assume they are a one person silo and will continue to plod along trying to solve the issue on their own. Also, to reinforce this sharing, as a team manager or lead, try to mix up who is working on what group of tasks. If Bob is the printer expert, try to avoid routing all printing problems to just Bob. Not only will Bob grow tired of being the printer guy, he will have no one else to chat with and generate new ideas and approaches to printer problem solving. Plus, as an added bonus, mixing up the task handling will increase your team’s ability to handing spikes in requests, increasing work throughput, and reducing single points of service failure.
What other external factors develop a strong team?
As a leader, one can try all of the above techniques and achieve some degree of a strong team, but external forces help to bump up the sense of team even further if handled positively. One external factor that a team led or manager has no real control over but he or she can leverage to their advantage in creating a strong team is having a small team being charged with providing services within a larger organization. The theme of being the under dog that is struggling to succeed against some difficult odds helps to galvanize a team together with a sense of survival that ultimately builds team work. This is also colloquially referred to as going up against the 800 pound gorilla. It is the tried and true notion that working together against the larger “foe” will result in more success than going it alone. One point of caution, carrying this “us against them” theme too far into a negative tone will work to undermine morale by making people uncomfortable to be pushed to be combative. Thus, make sure to have a sense of competitive pressure in working within the larger organization but be careful not to proceed into negative territory:
Not OK: “We hate that other team! They are terrible. They make our lives miserable. They can’t plan worth beans and thus everything is a last minute crisis. They don’t know what they are doing. We could do their jobs twice as good in half the time …”
Better: “Man that other team is demanding. They are our most challenging customer. Since it doesn’t look like they are going to change, what can we do to reduce the last minute crisis requests on our side?”
Another external factor that strengthens a team is going through a demanding work activity involving everyone pulling together to get the job done successfully. The immediate example that comes to mind is having everyone pitch in together to complete a bunch of tasks for a project that has an aggressive deadline. By pitching in and completing the work together, everyone shares in completion glory. Under the tight time pressure, applying the approaches listed prior and acting as a coach or mentor rather than a task or slave driver can give everyone that sense of working together equaled the final success.
Anyone have any other examples of techniques one can use to strengthen a team that one has control over? How about example of other external situations that, if handled a certain way, can strengthen a team?