Team Blocks

Over the years I have come across a slew of management styles, some formal, some informal, some great, while others… well you get the idea.  During my own management career I drew upon best practices from my former bosses as well as management gurus in order to come up with something that was effective and yet easy to implement.  Here I’ll share with you a summary of my management style, which is based upon my general philosophy about employees that:

  1. They come to work hoping to make positive contributions
  2. They work hard if they clearly know what they are supposed to do
  3. They are motivated when they feel being part of something bigger than their job
  4. They put in their best effort when they feel empowered, are guided, and are provided with the right tools for the job
  5. They improve when they are given sincere, honest, and timely feedback 

The following 5 steps I present to you are indented to be a general guideline and not hard-and-fast rules.  Since each team and each environment is unique, you will most definitely have to tweak these steps to best suit your personality, your team, your environment, and the task at hand.  See my article on different management styles for more information.

1. Define Clear Goals

The reason most teams fail in achieving their goals is because they do not have any goals to begin with.  As leaders or managers we must take the time to define and clearly communicate reasonable goals for our teams at regular intervals and track the progress of such goals throughout those intervals. 

One key success factor in achieving goals is to ensure that we pick the right goals.  Goals we choose must be meaningful, move us closer to our departmental or company vision, and should be relatively unlikely to change during the time interval we choose them for.  It does not mean that they cannot be changed at any cost, but if we keep changing goals midstream as a general practice rather than an exception than the whole exercise becomes counterproductive pretty quickly. 

2. Communicate Goals

The way we communicate goals to our teams has a profound effect on the successful realization of such goals.  We must not only make sure that our teams completely understand the goals, but also that they are sincerely committed to achieving them. 

The practice that works best for me is to set “Team Goals” each quarter.  Initially I do not assign any goals to particular individuals.  At the beginning of each quarter, I hold a team meeting to discuss what the goals are, why each one of them is important, gather feedback, answer any questions or concerns, revise some of the goals in the light of feedback received, and finally assign goals to individuals.  Even when I assign goals, I make sure that everybody understands that I am only assigning “ownership”, and that each goal still remains as a “team goal”.  This exercise takes several hours, but yields great results because a) each team member clearly understands our short-term vision; and b) each team member appreciates being part of something bigger than just a set of 5-10 items assigned to them. 

3. Track Progress

Defining and properly communicating goals is only half the battle; realization of those goals is the other half that leads us to the final victory.  First and foremost, we as managers must genuinely believe in the goals we define and be sincerely committed to achieving them.  Then we must help individuals on our teams achieve their goals and promote an environment where team members help one another in the realization of their goals.

Everyday I casually discuss goals that are in-progress with my team members on an individual basis to stay in the loop.  I try to do this without alienating them or making them feel that they are being micro-managed.  I allow them plenty of liberty in how they approach specific problems, but just by holding intelligent conversations sometimes makes them see things that they would have ignored otherwise.  It also helps me to assess any risks as early as possible, and allows me to find opportunities where I can help. 

Then I also discuss each goal and its progress each week with my entire team in our weekly meetings.  During this exercise I deliberately go over all the goals, even the ones that we all know have not been started yet.  This serves as a great reminder to all and keeps everyone on track.  Discussing goals in weekly meetings serves a couple of other essential purposes.  Firstly, it helps with knowledge sharing, which reduces the risk for me in case someone working on an important goal gets sick or gets hit by a truck.  Secondly, it helps the goal owner draw upon collective wisdom of the entire team, making him more confident in decisions that he makes.

The idea that a particular goal is owned by one individual but all team members are stakeholders is usually foreign to many people in the beginning.  However once they give it a shot, they are usually amazed by its power and how sometimes it can literally help achieve the unachievable. 

4. Reward and Celebrate

Managing teams is in some ways like raising children.  You reward them for good behavior, and they will outperform their own selves the next time around; you ignore their positive contribution and they will quit trying out of disappointment.

While small financial rewards can usually go a long way, that’s not the only kind of reward I use to motivate my teams.  When an individual or a team performs great, I make sure that a) they know that they have done something great; and b) they get the due credit for their achievements.  First and foremost, I recognize good performance one-on-one through appreciative and congratulatory dialogue.  Then I proudly highlight any success in our team meetings.  Finally I also look for opportunities to highlight success with external entities, for example though department- or company-wide e-mails. 

5. Analyze Results and Provide Feedback

Human brain is wired such that it learns best from experience.  No matter if the results come out to be phenomenal or pathetic, it’s important for us as managers to provide opportunities to analyze the outcome and learn from our own experience. 

In a meeting at the end of each quarter I take some time to go over our past quarter’s performance and discuss how and why certain things turned out to be better than expected while others left much to be desired.  I conduct this exercise in an open forum where each team member has a chance to speak and enlighten the rest of the team with their viewpoint.  This is a time where great process improvement ideas also come about.  

It is important to highlight anything that positively effected our results, and see if it’s possible and feasible to somehow make it a permanent feature of our process.  More often than not it’s not something that we can formalize, but by discussing it for a few minutes gives everyone a subconscious sense for it which helps in other similar situations in the future. 

One key thing while analyzing negative results is to stay positive, be forward-looking, and encourage our teams to do the same.  There is hardly anything we gain from finger pointing or criticizing external elements.  Where we can potentially gain is in coming up with objective ideas to minimize the occurrence of such negative instances so that future attempts can be much smoother. 

So there you have my 5 steps to stellar team management.  If you implement these steps and gain positive results, I would absolutely love to hear your story. 

Wish you the best and stay tuned for more!

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