Tell Individuals They Are Part of a Team
I often refer to teams when I’m teaching supervisors or managers (or sergeants, lieutenants and commanders). That term may not be used in the various workplaces represented in the classes, but it’s convenient for describing offices, units and sections. (It might even be used to describe your Sunday School class, club or other group.) However, the fact that a group is called a team doesn’t mean that is the way the work is done.
Is your team actually a herd? Last week, one of the people in a class on conflict resolution said, “My group isn’t a team, it’s more like a herd. Sometimes we’re busy on our own and sometimes we’re stampeding, but mostly we’re in each others’ way.” We all laughed at that colorful, though cynical, description. Another participant made a very insightful statement:
“I coach 2nd and 3rd grade softball and that’s what most work groups, including mine, remind me of. It’s not that the kids don’t want to be part of a team–actually they love the idea of that, especially when we win. It’s just that they’re so focused on themselves they don’t get around to thinking about anyone else. One of my tasks as a coach is to remind them, every few minutes, to be aware of what’s going on around them and what their teammates need from them.”
I thought that was an excellent analogy and it led to a discussion of how much we should focus on individuals and how much on the team. The majority thought that most adults prefer to be valued for themselves and their individual work rather than primarily for helping their team be successful. This is particularly true when the individuals in a work group don’t get along well. (Not all employees may feel that way, but it’s a safe bet most of the time.) However, just as there are times when every person has to focus on their own work and depend upon others to do the same, there are also times when sharing a task is necessary and collaboration and cooperation is needed.
Contrived methods, such as naming the team (especially for yourself, like “Team Anderson”) are almost always rejected. The main way to ensure a team concept is to talk about it as though it is obvious and expected, then move on and let people work. If you’re a supervisor or manager and are observing as you should be, you’ll notice when the team is functioning like one.
*Refer to the team or group in meetings or when talking to more than one or two people: “This is a great group of people.” “Let’s stay united as a team on this.” “Each of you represents the entire section.” “OK, Team, let’s get started with our meeting.” “You guys know what you need to do on your own, but remember you’re part of a team too, so look around and see if anyone is needing help.” (You’d say something better than any of those–but it needs to be said.)
*Commend people who contribute to the work of the larger group. “Your work on this made us all look good.” “You represented us well.” “Lara, I’m always impressed with how much you contribute to the work of the group.” “Jim, Tom, Deanna, Mike and Maureen, your teamwork made this happen.” (Just make sure you are telling the truth. Don’t thank the team if you know not everyone contributed at an acceptable level.)
*Quickly correct actions that distracts the group negatively or that hurts team work: “When you made it hard for Darren to get his work done, you hurt the whole section.” “You may think you just upset Sherry, but what you did was distract the entire team.” “You do good work when you’re working on your own, but you’re expected to work effectively with others and within the team, too. That’s not happening right now.” “The most harmful effect of this kind of gossip is that it puts people at odds with each other and hurts the team.” “When you two are snipping at each other, you’re snipping away at everyone, because it ruins work for all of us.”
Recognizing good individual work and good teamwork requires awareness of what is happening, then taking a leadership role to talk about it. There is a time to give a pat on the back to individuals who are doing good work on their own. There are also times when it’s good to say, “Let’s go,Team!” Whether you are an employee (team member) or a supervisor or manager (team leader), take that leadership role and help everyone feel better about their work and their herd team.