In this world of Lockdown, many businesses have reshaped their offering and reorganised teams. Some people have been laid off and others have furlough as a new term for paid garden leave. Those that are working in the business may be new managers or have new teams. There is a lot to think about. Where do you start?
When forming a new team, in an ideal world, you balance capability with personalities and get a good mix for the tasks in hand. You need some thinkers to balance action oriented people. You need some risk takers to encourage innovation in those who solidly work how its always been done. You need people to create actionable plans to get the best from your ideas people. However, today, you’ll have to work with the people you have “inherited” because of the situation.
The first step when managing a new team is a polite one: introduce yourself. While most of the team may know you or your work, this human step starts a new stage in your relationship. Take time to be yourself and explain in simple terms why you are committed to the objectives and expectations.
Step two is about planning the work. This may have been handed to you on a platter or you may need the team to help define it. Make sure the processes are joined up with what happens outside your team, and with your suppliers and customers.
Step three is back to relationship building. Get to know your people, their knowledge, aptitude, skills, experience and behaviours.
Meet them individually and discuss the tasks that need to be done. Discuss where to find the process documents and tools, and what gaps need to be filled. Find out what training and support they need or could give to colleagues. Make sure people know who they report to, who they work with and escalation routes for each task.
Step four is a review. After a few days of real work, get the team together. What’s missing or not working? Is that a risk and how can you mitigate that risk? Does that mean that, as team leader, you need to become a player-manager to slot into the empty position? If so, what management tasks need to be delegated elsewhere in the team to make time for that? Do you need to change the processes to make them more efficient? Make the changes you can quickly and try again.
Step five is uncomfortable but friction is vital to a high performing team. Recognise that this is a new team and it will go through a cycle to get it to performing well. Some teams can do that quickly, others appear to until the going gets tough (maybe after months) and then the issues come into the light. Most teams can form quite quickly but there will be rough patches. Recognise that your team members may have many demands in their life at the moment; there will need to be time to adjust and it might not work first time. There may be an imbalance or friction in the team that needs to be worked through. The whole team will need to adjust together. As team leader, this is where those leadership traits are most needed.
In your communication lead by example: be civil, clear, realistic, open, honest, and motivational. Give credit where it is due. As leader, you are responsible for good or bad: sharing the good and praise will build up the team, sharing the bad (except as team news) and blame helps no one. Be clear about your reasons for decisions. Communicate the decisions well and ask for the actions you need. Then follow up to check the actions are in progress and well understood.
Be realistic about the time and resources needed. While people are on a learning curve, there will be errors and time needed to take the lessons of experience. This is not a time to press for “faster, better, cheaper”: that approach too early increases errors and waste. The quality of work is often dependent on the training and support available to the team. Better trained people become more effective and efficient, and that promotes good productivity.
If you demonstrate trust and transparency, you will probably get the same in return. With transparency build psychological safety for the team and demonstrate your faith that they will work with you. The team need to trust you, be trustworthy and not hide problems that become nasty issues later. Welcome bad news with a “thank you” and drive away fear. It may not be palatable news now but the issue rotting away in a corner will be something you have to eat when a customer or senior manager finds it. Swallow the news and make the best of it as a team.
If you feel you can’t trust your team, you have to ask yourself some serious questions:
You as manager have the opportunity to fix most of those. If you won’t what will you do? If you can’t trust your team, you won’t reach high performance or productivity. Change your behaviour, fix problems with the team or leave the field of play to a coach who will get the best out of them.
Step six needs maturity as a manager. Once the team have a good grasp on the work, we need to up the performance levels. While higher expectations are needed, new targets alone are not the answer.
To multiply the sum of the individuals into a high performing team, the manager needs to adapt their management style to the situation and person. For some that will mean clear delegation and, for others, coaching to get to a better performance level. This situational management has been around for many years (look up Ken Blanchard) and is a good steer for why treating everyone the same doesn’t build high performing teams.
The team doesn’t work in isolation. To improve the performance of individuals, you need to facilitate their contribution and enable them to work beyond the boundaries of the team: with other teams, customers and suppliers. Rip down the silo and the expectation that all news comes from their manager. If they are working well, you will be freed to focus on other things: future ideas and finding other ways to improve team performance.
As the team members expand their sphere of influence, they need to work within the team. Team co-ordination and cohesion is something a good manager can effectively facilitate. The performance overall will increase through communication and planning of shared objectives, progress reporting and monitoring, feedback and joint performance reviews. The team should be aware of how it is performing, not to blame each other but to work together to find new solutions.
At this point, some of your team will have mastery over some of the tasks and have helped others learn how to do the task. They will be high on the motivational curve but continuing their motivation is important. Mastery can be boring: it becomes too easy. They need new challenges to continue to stretch their performance or skills. Don’t overload them: make space for a new learning curve and challenge the to master them new task.
That’s the six steps:
There is another. Step seven is when someone leaves or “normal” changes again. Make this a good experience for everyone and you will get the credit for the team, the credit that you have given to them so far will be reflected back at you. As the team evolves you will get the missing personalities that you needed in step four and the team will return to step three for a while until everyone works out their new place in the whole. Those leaving may remember what it is to work in a high performing team and give you the respect you deserve for being one of the best managers they’ve known.
This article was prompted by a real question during an online event. If your business needs help understanding how to make new teams work well in this situation, please get in touch.
I work alongside executive directors (C-Suite) and board members to make strategy executable. That means developing transformation strategy plans, defining target operating models and organisation…
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