#11 — How to Manage a Team (Part I)

The most important and most difficult aspect of managing a team is dealing with the people on it.

Focus first on relationships. How people get along can be crucial to the success of any team effort, especially if the task you’ve taken on includes stress-producing conflicts or obstacles. The minimum goal is to create working relationships good enough to promote open discussion and ready cooperation.

If all the members of your group don’t know each other at the outset, spend whatever time it takes at the first meeting—or set aside a special time—for everyone to get acquainted. Suggest that people share not just the usual biographical information but also the reasons why they’re there, and whatever expectations, concerns, and questions they may have. As the project goes on, regularly schedule “people” time---pizza out, a ball game, a potluck with the kids, a celebration for a job well done---anything that brings team members together in an atmosphere that’s informal and relaxed. If you’ve got the time and resources, a team retreat can help deepen connections.

Trust. It’s important that members be as comfortable with each other as possible. But it’s even more important that they trusteach other to contribute to the work of the team. Coach’s Corner #7 focused on building trust with opponents or potential opponents. It’s also vital to build trust among the people on your side. Mutual trust keeps a team motivated and moving forward. It improves coordination and communication. It makes the work more fun. It helps the team weather obstacles and disappointments.

Trust also provides a healthy framework for dissent, so that contrary opinions are given fair hearing. Good teams are never made up of robots, and the team vision, strategies, and goals are products of contributions, discussions, and even arguments. Members of a good team trust each other enough that when they dodisagree, it’s in the context of a shared commitment that holds them together even in dissent.

The ultimate goal is to create a team bond that allows many people to move almost as one; individual needs and priorities are not forgotten, but they’re willingly subordinated to those of the team. That level of bonding is an ideal. Certainly it isn’t always possible, but when it does happen, a team can be an almost magical enterprise, making the total effort of its members more than the sum of what each of them could do alone.

Competence counts in building trust; if everyone on the team is qualified to act on the problem you’ve taken on, you’re going to trust each other more to make a useful contribution than if you were all beginners. You can increase competence on your team by making sure that everybody has the information and training they need. Taking extra time in the beginning for this prep work will pay rich dividends when your project is in full swing and there’s no time to stop for remedial training.

Accountabilityand honesty build trust—knowing that your teammates will do their jobs, especially when things get tough, and that they will tell you the truth, even when that might be difficult.

Respect for teammates’ differing backgrounds, priorities, needs, and styles is important, too—especially if any of those elements in a teammate make you uncomfortable.

But the critical factor in building trust is caring. Working on a team whose members care for each other not only makes the work more enjoyable, but it also builds the trust within each person that the others appreciate and will act for the good of the group and its mission. Uncaring or selfish behavior has the opposite effect; teammates are reluctant to trust anyone they see acting only in his own interests, even on small things; they fear that in a crunch he’ll just take care of himself. That view could make a difference in how the team performs, especially if it suddenly has to deal with a stressful issue.

What’s Your Experience? Ever been on a team with someone who seemed constantly focused on her own needs, never going out of her way to help others? What about the opposite experience of working with someone who was always helpful—doing small favors, for example? How did these different attitudes affect the trust you and others put in these people? How comfortable were you working with each of them? Was there any effect on how the team performed?

Find ways to encourage caring actions on your team, and model them yourself. If you’ve got loners along who want to stay that way, that’s fine. But every team member can be encouraged to share personal stories, listen to others, do small favors, and honestly share concerns. All of it helps. Others pick up on these examples, and as they do, trust expands among the entire team.

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