Five steps to achieving greater Teamwork

Recently, I was entrusted with leading a new team at work. The team’s previous manager had recently resigned and I was asked by my boss to step in and fill the gap.

As I was introduced to the eight-member team, I recognised the classic signs of team dynamics being played out. The team was clearly sceptical of me as the new leader and I could see the doubt in their faces. In some instances, I saw a marked indifference, as though the person couldn’t care less that I was now in charge. This was quite exasperating since whenever I would call the team together for our daily huddle, this person would sit with his laptop, pretending to be busy and hence not paying me the slightest attention. Of course, I made my intentions clear by pointedly requesting him to shut the laptop and participate. But the fact of the matter was that he did not consider me worthy of being his leader.

Now, two months into the team, I feel confident that the team is truly working with me rather than for me. As I introspect on what went right for me, I found the following factors enabled me to gain a foothold into the team and become one of them, thus commanding their respect. These then are the 5 steps that led my team to greater Teamwork:

#1 Roll up your sleeves

The number one rule I have learnt that governs all team interactions is this. The team want their leader to be in the trenches with them – getting his or her hands dirty. It is the single biggest motivator for them to realise that their leader is right there with them, grappling with issues, listening to problems and offering solutions. Being a team leader is all about working with the team. Never mind whether your team comprises 5 or 50 members.

The basic fact is that a leader needs to be seen as someone working side by side, shoulder to shoulder with the team. This gives them the assurance that their leader is not someone who sits in an ivory tower and barks instructions. Instead, he goes out there, sits beside them (this is another must do) and starts pulling the team together.

#2 Take notes and remember action items

The next important factor that engages a team into action is to ensure that the leader takes notes and remembers action items. Diarising the tasks to be done and then following up to check their status on a daily basis, demonstrates to the team that you are tracking the important deliverables and making sure that everyone knows and sees that. Besides the obvious benefit of tracking several action items to ensure nothing is missed, noting and remembering also shows the team that you are keenly involved in your work. Hence your fate is tied to theirs and success or failure affects the team as a whole, including yourself.

#3 Appreciate good work, even if it comes from the person who is resisting you.

Appreciation if sincere and given at the right time (immediately upon completion of the task/project) does wonders to the morale of the team. Members begin to realise that you appreciate their efforts and this makes them feel good. After all, who doesn’t feel the need to be appreciated?

So once an important mini project came to a satisfactory conclusion, I made it a point of congratulating the two team members at their desk, thus ensuring that others also heard me lauding their efforts. And yes, one of the two members was the same individual who was studiously ignoring me in earlier meetings.

I think it was Dale Carnegie who summed it up best – Praise in public but give feedback in private.

#4 Volunteer to take up part of the team agenda

This point is strongly correlated to the first one. Take up part of the team’s workload thus enabling them to focus on what they can do best. Initially, the team would give me numerous reasons why a particular piece of work could not be done. Sometimes it was merely to pass on the buck but mostly it was because the team felt overwhelmed with their priorities and could not decide what to tackle first.

I started volunteering to pick up certain actionables (corporate jargon for things to be done). This showed them that I was willing to shoulder some of their workload. And it really helped to break down the perceived barriers and helped me gel with the team.

It showed them that I was not above taking up part of the workload and pitching in when required. This also aided me in getting a handle on the work myself and pretty soon the team started sharing updates on a daily basis, helping everyone to move forward and achieve shared objectives.

#5 Identify individual strengths and assign tasks.

Not everyone in a team is the same. To revisit the cliché – not all the five fingers of your hand are the same. So the team leader needs to understand each individual’s strength and assign responsibilities accordingly, which will enable the person to shine by doing the things she does best.

This becomes all the more crucial when the team is faced with a multitude of tasks, all of which have to be completed in the shortest possible time. Assessing the individual’s flair and ability enables the leader to assign particular tasks to each person who would then complete the same with high quality and in the quickest turnaround time.

These then are the vital gleanings from my new assignment which have helped me to bond with the team and earn their respect .

As Henry Ford put it so simply – “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”

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