on teams

So much of team building chatter is based on the premise that we are all capable of being excellent, that same mentality of the Blair years that we can all have anything that we want, that there are no losers and similar excuses that blights genuine progress. The reality is that there are always losers because there are so few genuine winners and, in any case, true excellence is something that comes at the expense of much else. If you want that you can forget most of the work:life balance claptrap that is bandied around.

For anyone leading a team the issue is how to get the best balance from what you have and you will rarely have any choice in picking your team, at least at first, so you will be doing what you can with the hand that you are dealt. There is every chance that you will have a star or rough diamond in the mix and a number of people who are very competent as well as what will seem to be a dud or two.

The first step is to get to know them and try to understand what makes them tick. Weaknesses are important, but put them at the back of the queue for now and concentrate of strengths. You may want to work on people’s weak areas in time, but for now use the team to cover each other’s weak area. If someone is not good on the ‘phone don’t let them answer it. It is important to the team to feel that you believe in them so if you get them doing the things that they are best at they will be happier and start to trust you. As that trust builds they will be more receptive to your efforts to develop them and these should always be around polishing their skills before working on their weaker areas.

If you can get that right you will find that at least some of your team will start to ask about working on their weaknesses. This only comes when people begin to feel confident and you will not get that by harping on about their weaknesses; you need to be subtle and building the confidence that they, and you, need. It is about building an atmosphere of mutual trust.

Another benefit from this approach is that when things go wrong people will be more open about what they did which helps to understand what you need to do to prevent recurrence. Eliminating errors becomes a lot easier when your team truly believe that they are working in a no-blame culture so always look for what went wrong rather than who did it.

As you come to understand your team better you will also understand what motivates them. Not everyone wants to be a star and there is no reason why they should. For many people to just do a job that fulfils them and enables them to survive in modest comfort is all they want and people like that are the bedrock of any team. They turn up, do their stuff and go home day in, day out. What will demotivate people like that quickly is a poor working environment so, as leader, you want to make sure that the physical infrastructure works well and that your team have the things that they need. It can become a huge problem when the stapler can rarely be found and, when it can, it is out of staples or the photocopier is always out of paper. These are simple things to fix, but are the grains of sand that can grind people down. Fix them and people will be happier and happier people are more motivated and productive.

A few thought to play with. As always, feel free to disagree.

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