• Priya Sharma Shaikh

Building teams that work better


Once you’ve spent some time, usually a few years, learning the ropes of your work area, you get better at it and invariably make a mark in the company you are working for. Following this, your boss will more often than not, reward you with a promotion and make you responsible for a client or business or a process that is critical to the success of the company. Along with this new role, you most likely will also inherit a team. And lo and behold your career will leap frog ahead - and that is something that you’ve been waiting and dreaming of! But, but, but ... take a pause and reflect on the hugely popular Spiderman's Uncle Ben's dialogue to him - with great power comes great responsibility.

Getting things done while working on your own is dramatically different from leading people and motivating them towards a set goal. However good you might be at doing your own job, leading teams calls for developing an entirely new set of skills. Some of you already have enough experience of doing this so at informal settings like in your school or colleges or maybe on the playground with your teams or with your friends. Some of you might even have a natural bent for it. Leading teams in formal settings requires you to develop certain skills and even if you don’t have them, you can develop them over time.

We’ve gleaned a few things from our collective experience to equip you to take on your new role with élan.

Know yourself

There’s no other way of getting better at anything in life than knowing your own inner self. What makes you happy, what motivates you and how you work are questions that you should have answers to. You can maybe afford not to know these when you don’t have people working under you but once you do, it’s very important for you to be able to answer these. For any person who intends to lead a team successfully should know himself or herself well enough to be able to lead a team of disparate individuals.

Reveal the big picture

Grand visions motivate people. Every great leader excels at painting a picture of the future that draws people towards it and moves them to act. What is the future you are trying to create? Let your team in to the vision. Let them visualize it. Ideally, this should happen before they join the organization, during one of the interview stages. That means they join the organization fully aware of what it stands for.

If however they don’t then it’s up to you to show them the big picture and how their work helps in bringing that to fruition. The more connected with the vision people are, the less motivation they require. Now they may find their own ways to relate to that grand vision but as long as they are connected to it, your job is done.

Define roles and responsibilities clearly

Every team member should know what his/her job is and what’s expected of them. They should be able to see how all that they do adds up and where they fit into the larger scheme of things - this keeps them motivated. While roles and responsibilities are usually quite clear, you should make the effort to help every team member understand them clearly. Once they are clear about it, let them define how they think they will be going about achieving their set goals. As long as they achieve their goals, it shouldn’t really matter how they do it (unless of course it is a specific process that they need to follow).

Self-driven individuals hate having everything spelt out to them.

In fact the more you spell it out they zone out as they wonder for what purpose they have been hired. So, it is good idea to explain roles and timelines and then "coach" them into giving their best to the project. Having said that, not everyone is self-driven. And that leads to the next point.

Know your team

In todays times of easy access to better opportunities, it is important to know your team members well. What makes them tick, what excites them, what motivates them, their interests, hobbies, family background and life stories. The more you know them, the easier it will be for you to work with them. This will also help you as a leader understand better if they are suited for the job at hand and if not then what additional mentoring or training is required for them to perform their tasks optimally.

Different people communicate differently and as a leader it helps to know what these are.

Getting to know them better will also help you tailor your communication towards them. Only then can you get across to your team.

Communicate with clarity

Healthy communication is the foundation of all strong relationships. Your team looks up to you for direction and feedback. If you aren’t able to communicate clearly with your team members it will lead to confusion, which only leads to disenchantment within the team, irrespective of whether you achieve your goals as a team or not.

Where necessary, use written communication to augment verbal communication.

Don’t overdo emails but they are sometimes important to emphasize things and remove any possibility of confusion that may arise from a conflicting understanding of verbal communication. Avoid usage of indecisive or open ended words like ‘maybe’.

Be Honest

Honesty is an under-rated trait that rarely gets mentioned when people talk about successful leaders. You only have to look back at your own experience and the people who you look up to and more times than not, you will realize that whatever else they might have done or been, they were honest in their interactions with people. And honesty means being able to tell people what you really think about them and their work, without sounding derogatory.

All too often we try to please others and avoid confronting issues that eventually become debilitating to the team's performance and to the organization. Leaders have to face up to problems and a lot of this involves letting people know where and what they are doing wrong. You will have goals to achieve and tough targets require tough calls. The best way of dealing with these is by being honest. Most people know when you are bull-shitting, so clearly there’s no point doing it as things like that pass around and you will acquire an unpopular reputation down the lines. So, learn to be honest and transparent in your dealings with your team and they will trust you, if and when you have to lay out any bad news.

Be Transparent

Everyone knows everything. You can’t really hide anything from your team. Neither should you. It’s the sign of a weak leader to hold back information. People like to know what’s happening, especially when it affects their work and their future. Of course this doesn’t mean that you share everything with them. Information should be shared on a need-to-know basis. But the more they know the better equipped they will be to do their jobs.

Also if you have an open and transparent relationship with your team, they don’t have to double-guess you or create room for lose gossip and mis-representation. They will know what to expect from you and will find it easier to trust you. Being honest and transparent are the best ways of earning people’s trust and that, my dear reader, is the key to leading teams.

Enable and empower your team

Many years back when I was a fresher, I was in a meeting with many senior people from across our company discussing the implications of significant regulatory changes. I was the youngest person in the room by at least a decade. I was basically there to take down notes to create detailed minutes of the meeting to be sent to the attendees post the meeting. So imagine my surprise when in the middle of the meeting, right after everyone had presented their thoughts on the matter, my CEO turned to me and asked me what I thought about the changes. I was stunned, with everyone in the room turning to me, but I some how managed to mumble some incoherent thoughts. The meeting went on and concluded without my remarks adding to the proceedings. But I still remember that moment as a defining one in my career. I was treated with respect and like an adult and my views were heard. In that one moment I knew, that I and what I thought, mattered.

People act the way you treat them. If you treat them as juvenile delinquents who need to be directed and monitored at every turn then that’s how they’ll behave. If however, you treat them as the responsible adults they are, then you would’ve created a team of leaders. That’s the best thing to happen to anyone. Trust me.

Help them grow

Invest in your team and you will be repaid manifold. Sadly loyalty doesn’t count for much in organizations these days and individuals tend to hop from one job to another every couple of years. Even if you take that as fait accompli, there is no greater joy than seeing someone in your team grow into a higher role and take on bigger responsibilities. Help them acquire new skills so that they can get better. Regular assessments will tell you where they lack. Use the results of the assessments to push them into company funded training programs. As, the better they get, the easier your work will become.

Feedback is important

Regular and constructive feedback is one of the most important jobs of a team leader. It’s an important and difficult skill-set to develop but there’s no way around it. Any good manager has to be able to give constructive as well as developmental feedback. It should be done with tact and if you are honest with them otherwise, they will appreciate the feedback, however negative it may be. What makes a great leader?

An important part of feedback is actually listening to your team and not with the aim of responding.

Try and understand their fears and desires. Only when you do that can you give feedback that will be relevant to them and that they’ll be willing to listen to themselves.

Facilitate communication within the team

While you can’t ensure that everyone in your team gets along with each other, you need to ensure that communication within the team is clear. Everyone should know the roles and responsibilities of everyone else and the workflow. Get them on the same page with regular open discussions that can also act as brainstorming sessions to tackle problems that afflict the team.

I have tried to put down some key tenets for you while leading your team successfully. I am sure all of them do most of these things most of the times.

There are hundreds of different styles of leadership and the best leaders usually find their own style over a period of time.

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