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Perfect Phrases for Building Strong Teams
Hundreds of Ready-to-Use Phrases for Fostering Collaboration, Encouraging Communication and Growing a Winning Team
By Linda Eve Diamond
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Linda Eve Diamond
All rights reserved.
The Team Leader
"A chief is a man who assumes responsibility. He says, 'I was beaten.' He does not say, 'My men were beaten.'"
—Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Team Leader Attitudes
Your attitude toward and understanding of team processes make the difference between a team that "goes through the motions" and one that thrives. Do you respect your team? Are you invested in team members' growth? Are you available and inspiring? Are you accountable when problems arise? A great team leader takes responsibility and shares credit.
As a leader, you set the tone for your team. What attitudes do you project? Do you use positive, encouraging words?
A leader of strong teams
* Wants to help team members achieve success
* Creates team cohesion
* Cares about the well-being of team members
* Creates a positive, inspiring atmosphere
* Respects every member of the team
* Shares credit and shoulders responsibility
* Gives team members necessary skills, then steps back to let them thrive
Strong team leaders align themselves with their teams. They consider themselves part of the team, not leaders walking out ahead. They encourage and take pride in the success of the team and its individual members. Team member success reflects well on the team, and people can sense a genuine interest in their success and well-being. Such an interest on the part of the team leader is a strong motivator.
Create a positive atmosphere for the day, the project, the vision, the goals, and the overall outlook. This would involve both something as small as the friendly "Good morning!" and as powerful as setting an expectation for whether your team's biggest challenges can be solved.
As team leader, you need to communicate with clarity and conciseness, speaking less and listening more. Great team leaders don't need to have all the answers; they just need to ask the right questions. Your role in support of the team will diminish as members gain confidence and hone team skills. Use your creative energies to assemble the best possible team and to give everyone the methods to shine as a team.
Healthy Team Development
The team goes through stages, most commonly referred to as Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, and Adjourning. These stages were coined by Bruce Tuckman in 1965 and are still the most commonly used illustration of team development. Following is a brief overview of the stages, which you may or may not share with your team. Whether or not you do, it is helpful for you to understand the stages of team development.
* Forming is the first stage; the forming of your team, goals, guidelines, and initial statements of expectations and establishment of roles. Team members are still acting independently in the beginning. Leadership must be strong and involved at this stage.
* Storming is the stage in which team members are adjusting to each other and determining roles within the team. There may be tension, power struggles, or shifting roles; this is all part of the Storming process. The team leader still needs to be the final word on decisions until a decision-making process is established and working. Some teams never leave this stage, but a strong leader can work the team through this difficult time.
* Norming is the stage at which things begin to settle down, and team members are functioning in their roles. At this time, adjustments can still be made, but team members know what is expected of them and how the team, as a whole, functions. Beware of the team working so hard to make things run smoothly that they enter a phase of group-think decision making. Disagreements and debates are a healthy part of team processes. As the team leader, you can often step back and allow the team to function by its own methods.
* Performing is the team working at optimal levels. Many of the kinks have been worked out, and this team now functions well as a unit. Communication and problem-solving channels are clear, and everyone is working together to contribute to overall team goals. You are still participating, but entrusting the team with more responsibility for its own success.
* Adjourning is when a team disbands or changes at a project's completion. This is a stage worth noting. Team members feel appreciated when there is a chance to celebrate accomplishment and, if necessary, say goodbye. When focusing on or bringing closure to a project, always remember the human element. Part of adjourning on one project may involve transforming to a new one. If this stage does not apply to your team, it is especially important to celebrate even small accomplishments throughout the process.
One important point to note about these five stages is that they may not progress steadily in one direction without ever falling back. Change in leadership or any unanticipated change can throw the team back into storming or even re-forming. But a strong team won't regress for long and will progress to performing again with a little guidance, patience, and trust in the process.
Overall, keep in mind that this is a process, prone to flux and change by the simple nature of being comprised of people, most often of varied ages and backgrounds. Even those who are similar on most fronts easily vary in style. Add to the mix egos, individual goals, personality types, and personal agendas. Think of teams as living, changing organisms. You are invested in nurturing this delicate creature and drawing upon individual strengths to build a team of people acting in concert toward a particular vision or goal. Healthy team development is no small feat; it is a job for a skilled, motivated team leader.
A Model of Loyalty and Respect
Your mother was right. Treat people the way you would want to be treated. Forget power plays; you may force some modicum of false respect, but you will not gain the enthusiasm and loyalty that come from being respected and appreciated. Be a model of loyalty and respect that your team members will want to emulate. Take it beyond your immediate team by not disrespecting anyone in your team's presence.
You can discuss a problem with a particular client, confront a sensitive issue with a team member, or dissect with your team a situation where everything went wrong, all without showing disrespect. Be a problem solver, but don't complain, demean, or put anyone down. Earn respect by showing respect. You will also be demonstrating, for team members, delicate ways of handling sensitive issues.
Never reprimand in front of the team. Any team member problems, disciplinary actions, or developmental feedback should be handled privately. If you need to discuss the problem with your team, do so as discretely as possible.
Showing respect for your team benefits you by having team members who are motivated and respectful of you, in return. An additional benefit is that if you show respect for your team, others will, too, and that reflects on you. However, if you look at showing respect from that perspective, alone, you will come across as false and patronizing. The answer? Simple—respect your team. Every team member brings something to the table or that person wouldn't be there.
Teams: The Bigger Picture
"None of us is as smart as all of us."
Think big. Even if expansion is not your goal, think of expanding your notions of team. This inclusive attitude may create a shift in many of your working relationships—you may be working with people you don't consider your team, informally asking for advice, or soliciting customer feedback, or asking "outsiders" for help. A small conceptual shift on your part changes your language and how integral to your success you make people feel. Strong teams are supported by a solid network.
The Extended Team
Who is working with your team? Do you have clear communication channels? Does your team know who should have easy access to information? Brainstorm a list of everyone who is or could be connected with your efforts. Reach out, when appropriate, to learn their schedules and inform them of yours. If possible, hold periodic meetings to coordinate schedules.
Do you belong to organizations that extend your reach or offer additional opportunities? Consider joining an organization that supports your interests and will offer you networking possibilities. You can join, yourself, or you can ask that team members join to make contacts and network for you. Entrusting a team member to represent you both allows you to double your efforts and shows that team member that you have the utmost confidence in him or her. One way to include your whole team is to offer a rotating schedule for team members to represent your team or attend events.
Networking groups can help connect you with other teams or with the right individuals to assist your team. A variety of networking groups are available to you. Some offer exclusive rights, where your team will be the only one from your industry, giving you the best opportunity to be the team this group will contact when in need of your expertise. Others are exclusively from your industry to offer support, a sharing of ideas, and opportunities for collaborative efforts.
The Expanded Team
A team leader is inclusive. Remember to keep broadening your definition of a team. Everyone who works toward a common goal is part of a team. You may have departments and particular work groups, so there are many layers to a team. Think of your team as rippling out in concentric circles. For example, a sales team in a tech company stretches far beyond a team of salespeople (though they do, themselves, compose one team). The team extends to include everyone who contributes to or has an interest in the final product or bottom line: product developers, the marketing department, customer service, tech support, investors, customers, administrators, personnel, suppliers, even the cleaning staff (who create a clean working environment and rely on the money coming in from product sales).
Whom can you ask for advice beyond your immediate team? Consider assembling an advisory board made up of people from any useful background. The purpose of your advisory board determines how much of your company information is accessible to the board. If you are seeking financial advice, for instance, only full disclosure to board members will enable a worthwhile endeavor.
Advisory board meetings can be called at critical stages or set at regular intervals, such as monthly. They also may take place in person, by phone, or online (either in a forum where all members are online together or where they can submit ideas any time). Find a process that suits your board and your purposes. An ongoing online discussion board would reduce the need for formal meetings, but first set reasonable expectations for how often board members check in. Offer something to advisory board members in return for their efforts, even if it is only recognition and thanks. Give them credit for their efforts for and connection to your company.
Who else is on your team? Who else is affected by your success? Is there anyone else from whom you can ask advice? Also consider hiring professionals, even on a limited basis, to have an understanding of and a hand in your team. You should have contact with a lawyer, an accountant, and a representative at your bank. Have someone you can call in case of an unexpected event or emergency.
You might have an informal advisory board of consumers who offer feedback through an online forum. Bring your customers or potential customers onboard by asking their feedback. Getting client and consumer feedback has never been easier, especially with the Internet.
The tried and true methods for obtaining feedback are still in use, from paper forms to phone surveys. But consider high-tech options that may be more inviting and far-reaching, depending on who is part of your customer base. The Internet hosts a multitude of options: open your blog to comments, post a message board, e-mail customer surveys or post one on your Web site. You might want to offer a small incentive for filling out surveys. Above all, make clear that you read all messages and surveys and take consumer feedback and suggestions seriously. Some teams get their most innovative ideas (or at least the seeds for them) from customer input or requests.
What do people need? What do they want? What works? Doesn't work? Inspires customer loyalty? Turns customers off? Who knows better than your customers?
At the Center: Your Internal Team
Your internal team is the heart and soul of your operation. Never underestimate the brain power of your team. Whether or not you have a trusted advisory board, your team is still the center of your operation. A question posed to an advisory board can just as easily be posed to your team. If you have not yet given team members opportunities to shine, you may be surprised by just how strong your team's natural skills are. As you continue to strengthen your team, using the perfect phrases and mindsets, their problem-solving and idea-generating powers will continue to improve.
While this book focuses on your internal team or teams, keep in mind that your team is larger than that, and always be aware of places you or your team might reach out. Involve your internal team in this mindset. External team players are not your secret weapon; they are resources that can be cultivated and worked with by your team as well.
Building Your Team
"Teamwork is no accident. It is the by-product of good leadership."
Though you might have the talent to take almost any group of people and turn them into a team, guaranteeing a positive outcome requires choosing the right people and training them.
If your team is already assembled, you can start from any point and turn a group of individuals into a team. If, however, you are starting from scratch, find the team members who have not only the skills to achieve team goals but also the capacity and attitude to operate as part of a team. Beyond experience, consider the ability to learn, trustworthiness, and conflict resolution skills.
Finding the right people is essential; be familiar with the concepts and question types that follow in this section so that, even if your team is assembled, you are ready if you need to hire or recruit an additional team member. As you continue to build your team, be clear about what you are looking for. If you don't know what you're looking for, how will you find it?
Once you find the right person, you, as team leader, are responsible for nurturing team members and helping them to develop talents, skills, and abilities and teaching the team methods for establishing procedures and channels.
Recruiting and Hiring
The Team Mindset
* Ask more open than closed questions. Open questions lead to detailed answers rather than simple yes or no replies.
* Hypothetical questions are useful and can yield interesting answers, but keep in mind that you are more likely to get a response based on what the candidate thinks you want to hear than you are to find answers that reflect actual past or future performance.
* Behavioral questions (e.g., "What did you do"—or "How did you respond—when ...") demonstrate past behavior as an indicator of future performance.
* Identify skills.
* Discuss adaptability to change.
* Find indicators of how well the prospective team member handles pressure.
* Ask team-centered questions.
* Listen more than you speak.
* Give the prospective team member an opportunity to ask questions at the end.
* Pay attention to the quality and tone of the candidate's questions.
* "What was the most important thing you learned from your last team experience?"
* "What characteristics do you possess that you feel would be an asset to this team?"
* "What skills do you bring?"
* "On your last team, how did you see your role?"
* "What accomplishments are you most proud of in your career?"
* "Do you consider yourself a team player? Why?"
* "What complaints did you have about how your last team functioned?"
* "What leadership attributes do you possess?"
* "If a team member were in a crunch and asked you to help but your own schedule was tight, what would you do?"
* "If your team leader asked you to run a meeting, what steps would you take to ensure that everyone's ideas were heard?"
* "Were you ever in a situation that you felt under-qualified to handle? What did you do?"
* "Have you ever felt that a team member was behaving detrimentally to the team? What, if anything, did you say or do?"
* Have you ever acted as a team leader? What can you tell me about that experience?"
* "Are you comfortable working with a team leader or team members who work from home or other remote locations?"
* "What do you know about our team?"
* "What questions do you have for me?"
The Positive Mindset
The Team Mindset
* Negativity weighs heavily and makes it hard for people to move; accomplishment becomes unnecessarily harder.
* One negative team member can hurt the whole operation.
* Some negative people can be affected by a positive atmosphere.
* Some people will always find a negative spin. Negative attitudes develop for personal reasons and often take hard work on a personal level to overcome. Inspire and be positive, but keep your expectations reasonable.
* Maintain your positive posture, even in difficult times.
* Use positive language.
* Be cognizant of giving positive reinforcement and praise. When things are going smoothly, it's easy to take a team's good work for granted. People want their hard work to be recognized even if—especially if—it looks easy.
* Praise team members for their positive outlooks; encourage positive behavior.
* In difficult situations, you don't have to smile or cover up; be honest, but maintain the team's ability to look forward and find solutions.
* "We have no problems, only challenges."
* "Let's problem-solve together."
* "I know the timing is tight, but we can do it."
* "This has been a stressful time, but today is a new day. Let's make it a good one."
* "This is a great team and I know we can meet any challenge."
* "I understand you have reservations. Let's discuss them."
* "The team has decided to move forward with this plan, so I need everyone to be positive and work to make it happen."
Excerpted from Perfect Phrases for Building Strong Teams by Linda Eve Diamond. Copyright © 2007 by Linda Eve Diamond. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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