The forming stage of a team’s evolution is fascinating. Many team members are positive and polite. Others are anxious and withdrawn as they are unsure of their role and their place in the team. Some are excited at the opportunity to be part of something new. What is the primary function of the leader during this phase?
I was fortunate enough to sit on a meeting earlier this week. The meeting was the first of its kind for a new group of people. The team, thrown together in a rushed manner to deal with the COVID-19 emergency, was having its first meeting. For days, members of the group had worked within metres of each other, knowing nothing of each other backstories, barely even a first name. Unconventional but not uncommon, even in non-COVID-19 days.
The Team Leader, new to a leadership role, had just left her management meeting and was eager to cascade all she had learned to her troops. The team gathered in a meeting room near their work stations—nervous glances from some, an opportunity to shine for others!
As the Team Leader, let’s call her Carly, began nervously, advising her team that she had good news. Carly worked her way through a page full of notes, pausing as she went to allow the individual team members an opportunity to voice concerns or ask questions. As the meeting continued, lessons about leadership and the formation of a team regularly presented.
The need to know the plan – and what it means for me!
No matter the situation, we all need to know the plan. Where are we going, how are we planning on getting there, and what is my role? Missing these three wise men leaves many people in a mild state of distress.
Carly provided the team with a general update. She communicated her understanding of the current state of affairs. Carly answered questions as best she could and took on notice those that she could not. You could visibly see individuals relax, and the levels of anxiety reduce.
Rumour, innuendo and Chinese whispers had filled the knowledge void in the absence of clear and concise communication of the plan.
Leadership Lesson: Communicate the plan consistently.
Understand people’s strengths – and let them flex!
This group had come from a variety of industries and backgrounds. Due to COVID-19, we had Architects, IT Techs, Painters, Flight Attendants and many more in the room. All are doing work that is not their first preference—all eager to do work that they love and energises them.
Carly found a way to allocate specific tasks based on their voiced preferences. Luke, the IT Tech, a very detailed focused guy, was assigned the task of daily process changes. Kane, the boisterous and colourful architect, was allocated the job of our weekly team-building exercise. Both smiled when given responsibility and an opportunity to use their strengths.
Leadership Lesson: Seek out your people’s strengths and make them smile.
Check-In and ask – what’s on your plate, and can I assist?
The simple act of asking these two questions is the foundation of all leadership roles. Firstly, you are expressing interest. We all appreciate people showing a genuine interest in us. Secondly, the offer of assistance demonstrates a willingness to engage on a practical level – a level which makes a tangible difference in that person’s world at work.
Carly asked these questions to the entire team. Keep in mind that the majority of the team knew more about the work than she did; her realistic potential to assist was limited. The fact her skills and knowledge are limited is neither here nor there. The simple act of the offer was all that her team needed to hear.
Leadership Lesson: Check-In with your people at least once a week, mindfully and authentically.
Girls (and boys) just want to have fun – even in a Call Centre!
A smile and a laugh cost nothing to produce. Bring people together, and they will naturally find ways to generate enjoyment. A fundamental leadership responsibility is to provide an environment where your team can do their best. You can not motivate them, but you sure can demotivate them with a workplace which is depressing to.
As the meeting came to a close, Kane suggested that the team complete a short “getting to know you” exercise. Every member gave their name, their previous role and three facts about themselves. Two were true, and one was a lie. Kane began. His stories were engaging and funny as laughter echoed through the room. Endorphines released in every person’s brains and a sense of togetherness and commonality permeated.
In ten minutes, this group of “strangers” formed small bonds. Individuals transformed from nameless “fellow workers” to people with which we all shared a connection.
Leadership Lesson: Find excuses to have fun at work. Shared experiences are the building blocks of team morale.
Respecting our differences and adapting our communication styles
Throughout the meeting, I observed and listened intently. Who spoke up and who did not. Who listened intently and who switched off. Who interacted with who. A diverse group of people with representatives from each behavioural style.
In the red corner, your dominate folk. Those in the room who craved the facts, the direction and the plan. Those who switched off and became uncomfortable when the topic of conversation became personal.
In the blue corner, the conscientious team members. Visibly distressed when the exact process was unclear, or the process had changed again for the third time. “Please just commit!”
In the yellow corner, the influential types. Sixty seconds was too long without a verbal outburst of some kind. Always with a signal to look at me!
And finally in the green corner, our steady folk. Focused on others and ensuring that they were OK. They were taking their time to think changes through and considering how the change will impact their colleagues.
Leadership Lesson: Take the time to understand each individual, how to communicate with them and how to be the leader that they need.
As the meeting closed, it is evident that the forty minutes the organisation had invested in the team meeting was worthwhile. The mood of the team had changed dramatically.
- People knew the plan; they felt informed.
- Individuals felt better understood: they felt heard.
- Another connection formed with their Manager: trust grew.
- Faces turned into names with a story; colleagues transformed into people.
Communicate the plan, treat people as people, cultivate trust and have some fun. Simple really.