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Team Building 101

Team Building 101

By Daniel Bobinski

To get things done in any organization, we need teams. Teamwork has been valued and recognized as necessary ever since Krog and Grog found it easier to hunt mammoth as a team instead of working solo. Still, teams can be effective or ineffective, depending on their makeup and their leadership, so let’s take a moment to explore six factors for building an effective team.

First things first. I firmly believe a team is more productive and its members are more engaged when the team has a strong leader. That leader should be passionate about the vision and mission of the team, as well as the interests, attitudes and values held by each team member. The leader should also understand each team member’s capabilities as well as each person’s goals. And, since billions of dollars are wasted each year due to poor communication, team leaders should talk with each team member to learn his or her preferred communication methods. A clear understanding should exist between a team leader and team members on how frequently to stay in contact and what topics should be discussed.

Also keep in mind that team leaders can be builders or climbers. Climbers are those who climb on the backs of others to achieve promotions or status. Builders are those who invest in others, equipping them to be better. You can probably guess which style I recommend.

Next, I think it’s important that every team understands its vision and mission. A vision is where the team sees itself going, and a mission is what the team will do to get there. Don’t buy into the idea that these statements must be wordy. If team members cannot remember their vision and mission statements, the statements are useless.

At its founding, Microsoft’s vision statement was, “A computer on every desk and in every home.” I’m old enough to remember when that vision statement became public. People scoffed at it, saying, “That’ll never happen. People don’t need computers in their homes.” And yet, that simple vision became the goal that drove the employees of Microsoft, and today, pretty much everyone has a computer in their home. It was a short, clear, easy to remember vision statement, and because of that, it was powerful.

Whereas a vision statement articulates where a team sees itself in the future (seeing=vision), a mission statement articulates what a team will do to achieve its vision. Personally, I think a statement with three to five points is best. Remember, it must be easy to remember to be useful. Nobody’s going to memorize a paragraph.

I also think mission statements should be industry specific. Statements like, “we empower employees” and “we exceed expectations” are too generic. They could apply to a McDonald’s franchise as easily as the nuclear facility at Idaho National Laboratory. Think about the specific actions your team must accomplish to be productive and effective, then build a mission statement around those actions.

Third, ensure everyone understands their roles and goals. I’m a huge fan of everyone having a well-defined job description that includes a duty and task list. Duties are general areas of responsibility, and tasks are those things that must be accomplished in order to fulfill a duty. It’s usually best if the team leader and each individual on the team agree on what those duties and tasks should be. And, for optimal productivity, it’s best if the team leader meets with his or her direct reports quarterly for a brief review of the assigned duties and tasks. Such one-on-one meetings need not take long. Thirty minutes should be sufficient. Neglecting this leads to blurred expectations and lower productivity.

This leads me to my fourth point, which is maintaining a balanced diet of meetings. This is in addition to the one-on-one meetings a team leader has with his or her direct reports. I know meetings can be the bane of our existence, so allow me to offer a few suggestions.

First, be clear about the type of meeting being scheduled. Is it a status update? Is it strategic? Is it a discussion of tactics? Status updates are best done via electronic means, but often those updates are not reviewed, thus making updates a necessary evil in face-to-face or group video meetings. Save time by hitting the highlights and referring people to the electronic communications.

That leaves strategies and tactics. Think of strategies as big picture, direction-setting meetings that have to do with vision, and tactics as hands-on nuts and bolts discussions that correlate more to mission. My general recommendation for established teams is to have four or five tactical meetings for every strategic meeting held.

Second, and this is vital, each meeting must have a purpose. I recommend a short agenda be created for every meeting. If no purpose can be articulated, then don’t have the meeting. Almost always, once a meeting starts, people bring up issues not on the agenda, and sometimes those issues can totally derail a meeting. Every situation is different, but I recommend putting those conversations on hold until after the agenda items have been addressed. This allows people to leave a meeting after all agenda items have been covered, and their time won’t be wasted if the new topic does not apply to them.

Much more can be said about holding effective meetings, and multiple books exist on the subject, but I believe the above-mentioned fundamentals are important and should not be overlooked.

Additionally, much more can be said about creating effective teams, but be sure to include these fifth and sixth factors to create a winning formula.

Fifth, be sure people are trained. Every team is unique, and so is every team member. Gaps can exist between expectations and capabilities, and learning does not occur by osmosis. It is the team leader’s responsibility to identify any gaps and ensure any needed training is provided.

And sixth, celebrate achievement. People want to know they are contributing to something bigger than themselves. Recognize both individual and team accomplishments and celebrate as appropriate. •

Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed. is a best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. For more than 30 years he’s been working with teams and individuals (1:1 coaching) to help them achieve excellence. He was also teaching Emotional Intelligence since before it was a thing. Reach him on his office phone at 208-375-7606 or through his website at www.MyWorkplaceExcellence.com.

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