Welcome to Part 3 of our series, Building a Kick-Ass Team From the Ground Up. So far we covered the initial two foundational phases of building a kick-ass team: The Start Up Phase and Building the Team Identity. Now, it’s time to talk about everyone’s favourite topic – conflict!
So you have a solid team that’s working together. They know what they need to do and they have a good sense of how to do it.
Perfect! Or is it?
This is the time where bumps in the road to success are most likely to appear.
Think of team building like first starting to ride a bike without training wheels. Once you’re up and first rolling along, you may begin to wobble. Careful you don't overcorrect in an attempt to save yourself or you’re going to fall flat on your face…
Here’s how to handle your team’s wobbly period the right way:
Right now is the single most important time for you as a leader to really be present! Since this is when your team is actually settling in, the dynamics of different people sets off a whole chain of events and awkward reactions. Make sure you’re easily accessible and frequently visible so you can address concerns immediately.
Kick-Ass Team Tip - MBWA:
Ever heard of MBWA? Management By Walking Around is a great success habit for any leader. An unstructured random walk around to check in with your team demonstrates interest; it’s a deliberate strategy to get to know your people and will give you a chance to redirect and course-correct as friction develops.
As different personalities emerge, conflict and power struggles will surely arise. This period is when you’ll hear the most resistance from your people and a lot of questioning about why and how you and/or the company are doing things.
In addition, polarization or splinter groups can occur as your people start to choose who they like and who they don’t. In worst-case scenarios, you may even encounter open and vocal power struggles, which can be very difficult to manage.
Manage through this challenging phase using these T.E.A.M. strategies…
1. Talk it Out
We always filter what we hear based on our own personal vantage point, coloured by previous experiences and jaded by our own distinct behavioural style. During this phase of your team building process you may notice your team divides as some disagree with approaches or just need to be heard before they ‘buy in’.
Before a team can really work well together, you may have to help them work through their differences, and the best way to do that is by talking it out.
Bring the team together to discuss issues that seem to cause confusion or frustration. You’ll need to actively listen, hear out the root issues vs. just the conflict then facilitate the solution. In some cases you may have to veto the dissent. If so, bring the team back to the norms discussed in Part Two. The more you can reinforce HOW the team should deal with issues together, the better.
2. Eat Together
This may seem like an odd strategy for building a team, but I assure you, the more often you eat together, the higher the camaraderie and engagement!
The concept of ‘breaking bread’ may have a spiritual connotation to some, but the truth is, when you eat with a group of people, it creates an environment of meaningful social interaction.
Eating together improves connectedness at a basic human level, and as such, people’s ego’s leave the room. Everyone opens up and gets to know each other on an even playing field.
Consider these inexpensive ideas for eating together as a team:
There isn’t a human alive who doesn’t want to be appreciated. Being valued helps us reinforce our own sense of personal self worth.
When someone has noticed you, or you’ve been acknowledged for your work, you’ll feel well respected and more important. AND, as a result, you’ll want stay part of such as kick ass team!
According to Gallup Research, “The best managers promote a recognition-rich environment, with praise coming from every direction and everyone aware of how others like to receive appreciation. This type of employee feedback should be frequent -- Gallup recommends every seven days -- and timely to ensure that the employee knows the significance of the recent achievement and to reinforce company values.”
Kick Ass Team Tip - Appreciation
During this somewhat stress-filled period, you’ll likely be pulled in many directions – you’re going to be a very popular person! In order to provide the comfort and assurance your team are looking for, it’s important to host regular check-in meetings.
There’s also another reason why regularly scheduled (and attended!) meetings will pay off. Believe it or not, it’s one of the key ingredients in developing THE single most important factor of a kick ass team – trust.
Your team wants to, and needs to, hear from you…often. Don’t assume they are fine to just get to work – right now is when your team needs your connection and oversight the most. Through this phase you’ll want to set more touch points than usual so you can manage expectations, head off issues and communicate progress or changes.
Kick Ass Team Tip - Meeting Etiquette:
Ideal Meetings for Kick Ass Teams (Yes all of these during team formation!)
The Bust Through Barriers phase of team formation can be a very draining time for you as a leader. You may be called upon to referee and manage conflict and be pulled in multiple directions. It is a vital time for your team and can be a make it or break it period in the dynamics of your team. Give Dots Leadership Solutions a call if you need help, we can do individual behavioural assessments, facilitate meetings or work through conflict and coach you through difficult conversations.
We want to hear from you - comment below about your own experience going through this conflict filled phase about how you busted through the barriers?
Lookout for the next chapter in the series - Building a Kick-Ass Team From the Ground Up – Part 4 – Kum Ba YES! This is the phase when team identity really comes through, everyone understands why they are on the team, there are established rules and processes and the team culture really begins to come to life. Now your role as the leader takes on a slightly different course of action.
Welcome back to our series ‘Building a Kick-Ass Team From the Ground Up’. In the first post Part One - The Start Up Phase we covered the initial phase of team formation. In this blog, we’re moving on to building the team’s identity, which is essential for establishing team norms so that everyone knows how the team operates.
In this phase you will be hands-on and sometimes directive. This is a time for obtaining your new team’s commitment, setting well-defined expectations and clear objectives. This is also a critical time for you, as the leader, to demonstrate your commitment and follow through. Lets look at the key steps to founding your team with an identity each member can embrace.
1. Crack the Ice
Right now you have a team of strangers together or they haven’t worked together with you, as yet. To get work done, they’ll first need a chance to connect on a different level; otherwise they’ll naturally be cautious and hesitant to get down to work. You COULD throw them straight into the day-to-day work, but we’re talking about building kick-ass teams here – and kick-ass teams begin with a kick-ass culture. A better way to begin would be with a little bit of fun – laughter is the one of best ways to help people break down their walls.
There are plenty of team-building icebreaker games you can do to help warm up your group. Just be mindful that the icebreaker should properly underpin your objectives and be appropriate for the work environment. For example, I don’t recommend a game that involves hand-holding (i.e. like the one called Electric Current in the link) with engineers in a corporate workspace – they surely would be uncomfortable and resistant.
One of my favourite icebreakers is storytelling. This involves getting everyone together in a room and having each participant share the following:
As the leader of this icebreaker, it’s important to listen carefully and point out similarities or connections between team members (i.e. like how many people are a middle child). It’s also important to watch how comfortable each participant is. If anyone seems uncomfortable, try giving him or her a different question when they get stuck. If it’s a big group you can also break the team into smaller groups then have each group provide an overview of the fun highlights they learned.
To wrap up the icebreaker, make a summary statement about your team’s diverse backgrounds, different skill sets, similarities or the great potluck lunches you expect to have in the future!
The most important note is that YOU go first! You set the tone for participation. Make the exercise fun and memorable and be open and transparent. Enjoy this time to connect before you all get down to business.
2. Set the Stage
Remember in Part One – The Start Up Phase when you did all that white boarding of your vision? Now’s the time to share it!
Even if you went over your plans with each person, as you were onboarding, it’s still important to review your vision and communicate your expectations to the whole team. If you’re in a formal work environment, you may wish to create a slide presentation to walk through, otherwise use this list below to help guide your team meeting:
Kick Ass Action Step - Share Your Top 5 Personal Values
Take time to let your new team know about what you personally value and expect – these help to lay a foundation for the behaviour of the team. You can refer to this Core Values list to contemplate your top five. By conveying what you’re all about, you’ll be helping your team know more about who you are and what you do or don’t tolerate.
3. Assign the Mission
Just like in the Mission Impossible movies, each team member needs to know what they personally need to accomplish, what they will be held accountable for and who to go for approval or solving problems. This is a perfect time to share the job specs you developed in phase one, if you haven’t already.
Provide members of the team with their own job description and have him or her review their role considering the context you shared when you set the stage. Discuss their individual objectives to help meet the overall goals and ask them to begin thinking of their own development plan. This is a good time to check in and see what help they may need to be successful, and to let them know how frequently you’ll be checking in with them moving forward.
4. Establish Team Norms
You’ve likely worked in different teams with an assortment of distinct norms. Perhaps you’ve encountered one where the people were backstabbing and constantly late to meetings, or another where the people were supportive and eager to help each other succeed. I can guarantee you that the difference you experienced wasn’t the company; it was very much indicative of the behaviour of the leadership.
Team norms are standards and operating principles that groups demonstrate and quickly become the internal culture of a team – the ‘how we do things around here’ you encounter. It is during the ‘building team identity’ step that you, as the leader, can set the tone for these norms, whether by design or by action. The way your team operates is a direct reflection of you.
Think about what your team can count on when working with you…
With your guidance and direction in these areas, you can influence the culture of your team in a way that will not only have an immediate effect, but also a long term one. If you’d like to chat about developing a team charter that everyone will ‘sign up to’, let me know – I work with businesses to set principles that shape team norms.
Kick-Ass Action Step: Take a moment to list the norms YOU will personally uphold and commit to – i.e. responding to emails in a timely manner, remaining open to differences, working efficiently, following through on commitments, being on time etc. Then make those your MO! Your actions will directly influence how the team culture is formed.
5. Be Consistent
I recently read a great post on LinkedIn called No Consistency, No Success by Grant Cardone. In it, he acknowledges that consistency builds discipline and disciplined actions done consistently create success – both personally and professionally.
The fact is, the best leaders follow through. This builds trust, creates credibility, sets the tone with a team and forms the basis of a team’s identity. Follow my simple Kick Ass rule below to become a more consistent leader:
Kick-Ass Tip – a simple rule:
If you’re setting up your team identity or are struggling if its gone awry and want to talk strategy or simply design a killer team building session, contact Dots Leadership Solutions. We design kick-ass strategies to help leaders launch their teams successfully!
Watch for the next instalment in the series, Building a Kick-Ass Team From the Ground Up – Bust Through the Barriers, where we’ll talk about the high conflict stage of a team formation – this is where you’ll learn how to earn major leadership stripes!
We welcome your comments – let us know of your challenges or successes in building a kick-ass team.
Wow!! I hope you’ve been watching the 2016 Rio Olympics and have seen the strong and impressive Canadian Women’s Rugby team – it’s clear that their incredible team bond is core to making them a force to be reckoned with. So fantastic to witness the strength of this magnificent Olympic team; this powerful group clearly has an unbreakably strong bond!
They are such a perfect example of a strong crew of remarkable individuals – a tribe; a posse of people who really have each other’s back. The same high performance can be achieved in a working environment when a team develops such a strong sense of unity. Aristotle was right on the money when he said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
So what are the key ingredients to corporate teams becoming so well bonded?
There are a number of different circumstances that can be the catalyst for a team to form such an enduring connection. They may have gone through a seriously difficult time together, they may have worked through a tough project or they may have grown together through a unique experience like a new business venture or a new department build.
Regardless of the situation, there tends to be a common recipe for a strong team, which can be broken into five key components:
When reviewing cases where the strongest bonds are formed, the leader plays a crucial role; they genuinely and openly care for their team and are mindful of the needs of each individual. They also set high expectations; they deeply believe in their team and set them up for success by leveraging the strengths of each person.
Based on empirical research, Stephen Covey's book The Speed of Trust sums up the art of building trust as the single most critical leadership skill “the one thing that changes everything”. But it’s not just the leader who has to develop trust, it’s also the ‘trust contract’ established between the team members. This faith is demonstrated under pressure during the toughest of times. Difficult times are when you need to lean on each other the most. Can you count on each other through a rough patch? Does you team have your back and do you have theirs?
Whether during a planned team event or not, the degree to which you and your team laugh is a terrific way to gauge a team’s bond; a group who laughs together stays together. Think about the last time you had a great belly aching laugh with your team and colleagues. Sadly many corporate environments avoid laughter in the workplace because there seems to be this mistaken belief that it is not professional – bun that!
As long as the laughter doesn’t come at someone’s expense or disturb others, it is completely appropriate! Some of the best moments occur particularly when tension is high. Imagine a bunch of employees are working with their heads down, all tense and serious, when someone bursts the tension by making a light-hearted joke – how refreshing! Here is a great post by startups.co.uk discussing 30 Ways to Have Fun and Unite Teams, which includes very simple suggestions to inject fun at work.
Being a part of a group who have a lofty goal, a mission to accomplish or a really challenging task builds common ground for people who come together from very different places. The Olympics is a perfect example of this. Even athletes coming from the same country to compete in a team are often coming from ‘different walks of life’. They may have never played together before joining this team, but they share something huge in common – their drive to excel in the Olympic games and win a medal! If everyone understands the goal, they develop appreciation for the reason why it’s important to achieve and they will tend to check their ego at the door.
Even better when the goal is tough and the group has to tap into problem solving. People can’t help but communicate more and share ideas when there is little time or room for posturing and ‘one-upmanship’. It’s becomes a survival skill. You can do a simulation survival exercise to test this thinking by checking out this Team Exercise courtesy of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.
At first you may think it’s great to get a nice bump of compensation or a year-end bonus as a result of doing great work. But the truth is what people generally remember isn’t the bonuses – in fact I bet if you ever received one you don’t even remember how much it was. Sincere and genuine appreciation in the form of formal recognition, hand written letters, plaques and special presentations on the other hand are just plain HUGE! I remember working with a President and suggesting that he provide a handwritten note to a team who had done something no one expected them to do. We made sure there was a presentation from him to each team member, but he thought I was crazy when I suggested it. To his surprise, for years later people talked about receiving those notes, and all of those people are still united over that small gesture today – never underestimate the power of a hand penned note filled with sincere gratitude!
As I watch this amazing group of young women on the Canadian Women’s Rugby team compete at the 2016 Rio Olympics, (in the semi-finals at time of writing) I’m reminded just how a well connected team can be virtually unstoppable working together – I hope your own group can leverage the learning from this powerhouse of a well-formed team! Go Team Canada Go!!
If your team is struggling to bond together, or there are difficulties in working together consider seeking some outside help and support. Check out Dots Leadership Solutions blog for additional free suggestions and guidance or contact us for a consultation.
Photo Credit: http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/480540072
Elaine Adamson is a leadership consultant with Dots Leadership Solutions Inc. A natural dot connector. Passionate about coaching team effectiveness and leadership development she shares over 25+ years of real-life tips and tricks that really work!
Elaine believes you can discover and leverage strengths to forge a strong team dynamic despite business challenges or organizational change.