A lot of teams nowadays are distributed. People are telecommuting, working fr om home and relying on other forms of non-traditional employment ranging fr om (freelancing, temp work, short term contacts). How do you build a strong team when people don’t see each other every day in an office environment?
JL: Three things come to mind:
Clarity of work and outcomes. When people are working in non-traditional environments, it’s easy to get so focused on your own work and forget how it connects to what others are doing. As a manager of leader of virtual teams, it’s critical to keep everyone focused on the “big picture” and what each member is doing to contribute to the outcomes.
Maintain “face time.” Part of what makes a strong team is positive emotional energy. Interacting with others through some type of video conferencing on a consistent basis is important. If at all possible, physically meet from time to time as well.
Keep everyone informed. As the leader or manager of the virtual team, keep other team members abreast of what others are doing. It prevents team members from thinking, “I wonder what _______ is doing?” which can lessen the trust they have that the other person is fully contributing to the desired outcomes.
A lot of times team building activities provide a short term motivational boost that quickly fizzles out. What can managers do in order to make sure that there really is a long term transformational effect after that weekend retreat?
JL: I think it starts BEFORE the weekend retreat starts. Getting input from the team members about their expectations and needs from the retreat is essential. It helps them take more ownership in the event and more fully participate. When someone contacts me about conducting such a retreat and says the goal is “teambuilding,” I know I have a lot of work to do to get to the real needs of the team before the event.
The other key is completing something akin to a 30/60/90 day plan before leaving the retreat. Connect the actions to goals and outcomes. Make it as “granular” as possible.
What are the most common team building mistakes that companies make in your experience?
JL: Thinking that team members know each other. You may know wh ere they have worked and some “surface” stuff, but do you know the types of projects and assignments they have completed? Team members so often have experience and insights that are never leveraged because we don’t take the time to learn from them. We don’t know what drives their behaviors or gives them a sense of meaning about their work.
Not everyone is an outgoing extravert type. How do you deal with ‘loners’ and ‘lone wolf’ employees?
JL: Communication, Communication, Communication. In my opinion this is wh ere the manager or leader can have a huge impact on the success of the team. Take the time to better understand how each member of your team prefers to get work done. Consistently communicate to that “lone wolf” about staying in contact with other team members. Regularly scheduled brief meetings via video chat or phone can help keep them connected to the team.
You wrote three books. What was your motivation behind ‘Juggling Elephants’, 'Getting to It' and 'Getting the Blue Ribbon'?
JL: For Juggling Elephants, the primary motivation was for Todd Musig (other co-author) and I to find a better way to manage the struggle of “too much to do.”
Getting to It was a natural follow up to Juggling Elephants. We wanted to create a sort of “field guide” to personal productivity. The idea of “It” is fun because people always say, “I just can’t seem to get to it.” We wrote the book to help people identify what “it” really is, how to get it done.
Getting the Blue Ribbon grew out of my own struggle for professional and personal improvement. I was looking for a model that was easy to understand and apply. It’s been fun to see organizations take the gardening analogy and move their people and their teams forward.
What resources, books, blogs, podcasts do you recommend to our readers who want to build a productive team and need to learn how?
JL: There are just so many resources available today, and it’s hard to begin listing them. My advice for those who want a “quick start” on building a more productive team is to look to social media. For example, spend a few minutes on Twitter seeking out subject matter experts on teams and leadership. Create a list of 10-12 of them. Set aside 10 minutes each day to review the posts from the list and explore content that connects with your needs. It’s amazing how many nuggets you can gain in a short time that you can immediately apply to your situation. Look to Linked In in a similar way, following those who focus on developing your team.
I’m a huge fan of Patrick Lencioni’s work in the development of teams. I think his book, 5 Dysfunctions Of A Team, is still one of the most eye-opening books about building a stronger team. You won’t go wrong with any of his content.
Thank you for the interview.
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