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Team Building 201: The Role of a Leader

Team Building

By Daniel Bobinski

In my July column, titled “Team Building 101,” I outlined six factors that I believe are necessary to build an effective team. To provide readers with more nuts and bolts of how to build a vibrant team, I decided to take a deeper dive into each of the factors. In this column, we’ll examine team leadership.

Through experience and professional observation, I firmly believe teams work better when they have a leader. Small teams of two or three people can function nimbly and address issues quickly without a leader, but the larger a team gets, the more a leader is needed.

A truth that applies to all team leaders is that multiple hats are the norm. It’s not uncommon for team leaders to function as supervisors, trainers, leaders, managers and even front-line workers. Knowing the responsibilities corresponding to each hat and when each hat needs to be worn is important if the team leader wants to be successful.

Another universal truth is that leaders should be passionate about the vision and mission of the team. The power of what I call “water cooler conversations” applies here. Team leaders should regularly weave the principles of the team’s vision and mission into day-to-day conversation with team members so that the concepts become deeply embedded in the team’s fabric.

If a team does not have vision and mission statements, the leader should work with other team members to create them. Involving everyone on the team in this effort is important, as team members don’t usually buy into what they perceive as ivory tower dictates.

By way of review, a vision statement outlines where the team sees itself being, and a mission statement outlines what the team will do to achieve the vision. Shorter, one sentence statements are better, because paragraph-long statements are easily forgotten and usually ignored.

Team leaders must also assume the managerial responsibility of learning 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. Each person has unique motivations, too. This is important because what drives one person will not necessarily drive another.

If a leader simply goes through the motions on all this, the effort will fail. People will see through it. A leader does best if he or she views each person as an invaluable asset and places those assets where they can feel most productive. A common reason people give for disengaging or quitting is they feel like their talents are not being used.

If you think about it, investors take great care of their valuable assets. Art collectors don’t leave their paintings in the rain, and people holding bearer bonds don’t walk around with them stuffed into their back pockets. If our employees are truly our most valuable assets (and they are), then they need to be treated as such.

A good framework for learning about the strengths, blind spots and motivations of people is to use the model of head, hands and heart.

“Head” refers to cognitive style, which includes how a person perceives and processes information. It also considers how people prefer making decisions.

“Hands” refers to behavioral style, such as how a person responds to problems and challenges. It also includes a person’s preferred work pace, how much one likes to follow or not follow rules, and to what degree one is driven to influence others.

“Heart” refers to one’s motivations. Two types of motivation exist; natural and learned. This part of the framework requires a leader to become a student of what drives people, but if creating a vibrant team is the goal, then becoming a student of this facet is a valuable endeavor.

Next let’s address what I call “roles and goals.” Each team member should have a well-defined role, which could also be called a specific set of responsibilities. With that, each person should be working on a specific set of goals. As with the vision and mission statement, goals should not be handed down from on high. People are much more engaged when they are participants in the goal setting process, so involve them in creating their goals.

After that, it’s vital for leaders to maintain regular communication with team members. Regular emails and phone calls throughout the week ensure that the gears of communication stay lubricated. I cannot emphasize enough the need for regular communication about projects and ensuring everyone understands the deliverables. Millions upon millions of dollars are wasted each year because of poor or non-existent communication.

Along these lines, I especially want to emphasize the value of face-to-face conversations. If team members can’t meet face-to-face, a video call or phone call is the next best thing. With so many teams operating remotely these days, the dynamic, real-time voice is much more effective and strengthens relationships better than a text or email.

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. 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.

In addition to regular communication, it’s also vital for team leaders to connect with each team member every two or three months for a slightly more formal review of one’s goals. Jobs and situations can change, so better to stay on top of things and keep momentum flowing in the right direction.

Finally, 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, whereas builders are those who invest in others, equipping them to be better. If team leaders act like builders and build up the people on their teams, they are much more likely to create a vibrant, can-do team. Think of it this way: the leader creates the weather. Good leaders take that responsibility seriously.

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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