Category: Building Teams

Build a Stronger Team Using Empathy

Build a Stronger Team Using Empathy

Empathy is one of our greatest interpersonal skills because it allows us to have better communication with our team members and increases our understanding of others. We know empathy can simply mean to ‘put ourselves in the other person’s shoes’, but it can also mean to take an active role in getting to know your team members and treating them with the respect they deserve.

Listening and Paying Attention to Your Team

We all know that there is a difference between hearing and listening, but yet we still seem to confuse the two when we communicate with our team. Listening is considered a skill, so like any other skill, it must be implemented and strengthened. Listening allows for you to understand what the team member is talking about and register what they are trying to communicate. Building better listening skills starts with learning to pay attention when team members speak and actively listening to what they are saying. Key tips to help accomplish this are to give your attention to the team member by facing them and making eye contact. Turn off any cell phones or pagers or remove any item from the area that can distract you and make you lose focus. You’ll find that you will catch more of what the person is saying and be able to retain more. Paying attention and building better listening skills can show support for the other person and build rapport with them.

Tips for better listening skills:

  • Remove any distractions
  • Make eye contact with the person speaking
  • Nod your head periodically
  • Ask for follow up details or information
  • Ask the person to repeat anything you may have missed

Don’t Judge Other Team Members

No matter how many times we hear the old phrase “Don’t judge people” or “It’s not our place to judge”, we more than likely find ourselves doing it anyway – we just don’t want to admit it. Whether subconsciously or not, we still find ourselves judging those around us, whether it is based on their clothes, job title, the way the talk or walk, gender, hair color, skin color, and etc. When another team member is speaking or completes a task, what do you think in your head? Do you automatically make comments on how their assignment was too easy or that the way they speak is subpar to the team. Of course you would never say this out loud or tell them directly, but in your mind you have already made up your mind about them.

Thoughts like this cause us to judge people more and more, which can create barriers between people and lose connections and chances to network over time. Every person has an “inside person” and an “outside person” – we see the outside person every day and try to form our own opinions without seeing everything first. Don’t forget that there is an “inside person” as well that has an entirely different side.

Shift Your View

Empathy is simply defined as putting yourself in another person’s shoes and seeing things from their point of view. When communicating with another team member, think about how it would feel to be in their shoes and do the things they have to do. How would you feel if you have to complete their assignment in the weekly meeting or if you have to conduct a speech in front of hundreds of people?

Shifting your view does not mean that you have to entirely give up your opinions and what you think. It involves taking a few minutes to stop and reflect on the actions and words of the other person and picturing yourself in their situation. Think about what it would be like to stand in their shoes in the conference room or in front of the new manager. By doing this, we can better understand why they may act or speak a certain way and what can drive them to do what they do. By showing empathy, you are able to connect with this team member and create an important relationship to have in the workplace.

Don’t Show Fake Emotions to Your Team

In social situations it is never a good idea to fake our emotions or how we feel toward others. Of course, this does not mean we have full permission to start tearing into people and ripping them to shreds if we didn’t like their recent speech. But if you are not entirely happy about something in the team or feel anxious about something else, it is not a good idea to fake a smile or laugh just to appear happy.

This ‘fakeness’ will more than likely be detected, which can offend others around you or even make them feel insecure. Instead, be honest about how you feel and show honest concern for your fellow team mates. Be tactful if delivering negative feedback and offers helpful tips for improvement or changes. Although they may not accept your true feelings at first, and may even seem angry about it, in the end they will appreciate the fact that you were honest with them and didn’t show a mask of fake emotions with them.

How to Succeed With a Virtual Team

How to Succeed with Virtual Teams

Succeeding with traditional face-to-face teams can be challenging enough, but succeeding with a virtual team can be just as hard, if not more so. Inspiring a team to create and meet goals, maintain motivation and work together are only a few obstacles when managing a team that you cannot see on a daily basis. But with effective communication and a little discipline, any virtual team can succeed.

Setting Clear Goals

Setting goals are one of the most elementary processes that can lead to success. After all, you don’t know where you’re going until you determine what you want! Clear goals are normally set for the team as a whole as well as each individual teammate. The manager works with the team to determine what they want to achieve over a set amount of time (i.e. increased sales, decreased absences) while the employee sets their own goals about what they want to achieve as a member of the team (i.e. decreased data errors, increased personal productivity). Setting goals with your virtual team can help them stay task-focused and can make them feel as though they are making a difference on the team.

Tips for setting goals:

  • Determine what you want to achieve
  • Define a path that can help you get there (there may be more than one)
  • Decide what you will do when you reach that goal

Create Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

A Standard Operating System is generally a company’s process or procedure that it follows in the workplace. Sometimes a company does not feel the need to document these procedures, since many people may already know it. But creating these procedures and correctly documenting them allows the manager to share them with other employees and create them as a type of guideline and resource. As a manager, review some of the procedure and processes that have worked for you in the past and try to create them into an SOP. Although it can be time consuming, it will be worth the benefits in the end. On a virtual team, these can be especially helpful for employees who may not have experience on the team yet.  They will come to you for help and will need to learn procedures if they are to contribute to the team.

Build a Team Culture

Your virtual team is your family. Every member should take the time to know each other and familiarize themselves with someone else’s situation. After all, every member of the team is a human being and deserves to be treated with respect and friendliness. If employees are not able to socialize locally, allow them to have a chat room on a private server or virtual community they can come and go in to speak with other employees on a non-business level. If possible, assign projects or assignments in pairs or small groups to encourage further mingling and socializing. When the employees feel as though they are part of a family, they see other teammates as family also and will create their own team culture they can fit into.

Related: Dealing with Culutural Differences in YourTeam

Provide Timely Feedback

Positive or negative, feedback is a great tool to help employees at work. On a virtual team, giving timely feedback is important to the team’s overall success. Employees need to know how they are doing on assignments and need to know if they need to change anything. Since the manager cannot randomly approach the employee to give feedback as they would in person, it is best to set up regular, scheduled sessions (such as by phone or chat) to alert the employee of any negative feedback that needs to be addressed or any positive feedback that should be shared. This will require the manager to get to know the employee personally so that the feedback sessions are not awkward or uncomfortable.

How to Deal With Cultural Differences in Your Team

How to deal with cultural differences in your team

Cultural issues in the workplace have been a hot topic for many years. They are more than just demographics and cannot always be detected right away. Even though team members may be from the same office or a similar location, each one has their own unique culture and following. It is important to embrace these differences and acknowledge the cultural issues that may be present. This can help the team build successful relationships with each other and prove more productive in the long run.

Respect and Embrace Differences

Diversity among a group is always a good thing, but under the wrong impressions it can ruin any team. Whether the difference is a type of culture, political opinions, or simply a difference in background, all these factors can change how a person interacts with another person and what kind of view they have.  When team members are diverse, it can keep the team from thinking on one path and stop the ‘one track mind’. It opens teammates up to new ideas and points of view, which in turn can create new concepts for projects and assignments. Together, they can learn to not only respect their differences among each other, but embrace them to create a whole new work style.

Be Aware of Different Work Styles

Sometimes different work styles on a team can be a good thing because they allow each employee to think on their own and work within a design that works best for them. Other times, it can be a real source of trouble if not properly addressed. Some employees may prefer to work alone even though they are needed on a team project. One employee may be a procrastinator and wait until the last minute to complete their assignment. The key is to learn to be flexible with one another and adjust how you approach each other. No two people work the same way, so any team, especially a virtual one, will need time to adjust to one another and learn what makes the other team member work so hard. When we know how they function, we can work in sync with them without a hitch…most of the time!

Know Your Team Members Cultural Background

On a virtual team, it can be hard to get to know your teammates personally since you are so limited in communication and socialization. Even if the members meet during some sort of meeting or conference, it can be hard to acknowledge a person’s cultural background. Some companies have an employee fill out a personal profile that can be shared with other employees, which allows them to better know the person even though they are not in the same office. When we can better understand a person’s cultural background, we can better understand why they do some of the things they do and can make them feel more comfortable on your team.

Examples:

Provide an “All About Me” survey to gather information about employees

Some information can remain private if desired, such as religion or political views

Acknowledge cultural instances, such as holidays and rituals

Dealing with Stereotypes

Stereotypes can ruin any team relationship or bond. The sweeping generalization a stereotype can cause people to become confused or view people in a negative light, even if it was unprovoked. Knowledge and understanding are the only tools we can use to deal with stereotypes. Get to know your employees and encourage them to get to know their coworkers. Learn more about the employee as a whole person instead of what their cultural background may have been labeled as. Through observation and interaction, the chances of anyone creating or following stereotypes in the virtual team decreases and employees are able to focus on the task at hand, and not each other.

How to Build Trust in a Virtual Team

How to Build Trust in a Virtual Team

Creating an open and honest environment in the team is a key factor to keeping team members happy and productive. In a virtual team, it is just as important to remain open with your team members and keep them in the immediate loop of information. Since they are not always in a central location, it is essential to keep them updated on current happenings in the company and in their department. When the team members feel included, they learn to trust you and will look to you when they have questions.

Related: Trust Outcome Based Team Building Activities

Trust Your Team and They Will Trust You

Trust is a key component in any relationship, personal or professional. Virtual teams can have additional problems with trust when they are not always in each other’s company. They can be unsure about what is being said or if they are doing as well as they should. As a team leader, it is important to show your trust in your team first. Show them that you trust them to complete their work and trust them with crucial information, such as potential job reassignments or even closures. When the team feels as though you trust them, they can, in turn, learn to trust you. They will instill their trust in you and confide in you when they have concerns or are worried. This trust not only builds a stronger relationship among the team members and team leader, but also the entire virtual team.

Beware of “Us vs. Them” Territorial Issues

Often times when management tries to solely run a team without regards to its members, the employees can begin to have that “Us against Them” mentality. They begin to believe that management is only looking out for management or does not value the opinion of the team members. This can cause further resentment from the team and can affect the whole team’s productivity. Remind your team that you are on their side and that you realize that the team works together to accomplish the same goal. Let them know that they are included in many of the decisions made (although not ALL of them), and that their presence on the team is valued. When a team member feels as though they are part of the working machine, they are less likely to feel like an opposing force.

Share Best Practices

A form of ‘best practice’ is loosely defined as a practice that has proved productive in the past and has results behind it to back it up. Sharing best practices with your virtual team can be a great move when faced with some of the same situations. Common forms of sharing these practices include sending them through email or forming some kind of instruction sheet. Some team members may need to be counseled in person or shown how to follow a process step by step. Sharing these practices shows trust among the team and trust that they can continue the chain of success.

Best practices:

  • Processes/procedures that have worked before
  • Can be shared a number of ways, including email, videos or personal instruction
  • Consult with the team regarding alterations/variations if needed

Follow up with the team to ensure comprehension.

How to Set Up a Virtual Team

How to Set Up a Virtual Team

One of the key challenges in managing a virtual team is creating one in the first place. The team leader must find team members that can work well under minimal supervision and can function with different types of technology. Don’t let geographical differences hinder the team you want to create.

Choose Self-Motivated People with Initiative

One aspect of working on a virtual team is the ability to be self-motivated and self-disciplined enough to finish the job without someone looking over your shoulder. When building your virtual team, choose team members that show self-motivation characteristics, such as making goals and having strategies for completing assignments. If looking to utilize current employees, look for employees who have had a proven record for getting assignments done and sticking to what they want to accomplish. If hiring from outside the company, look at the person’s resume and see what kind of success they have had and how they reached it.

Characteristics of a self-motivated person:

Face to Face Meetings at First (Kick-off Meeting)

Even though virtual team members will be working apart from each other, it is important to start the team in the same location, usually through some type of ‘kick-off’ meeting. At this first meeting, members are introduced to each other and usually exchange contact information. The manager would then usually introduce the goals, assignments, and future projects for the group. This is the time where employees can ask questions, discuss availability, and plan for what they will be doing during the course of the upcoming projects.

If geography is a problem for gathering everyone together, try to find a central location that is a fair distance from everyone involved. In some cases, team members may need to be present by phone or video to be a part of the meeting. Setting up a one-time video meeting or conference may be the only way to get some face time between all participants. Having that initial face time is very important to the overall success of the team.

Diversity Will Add Value

Any team leader wants a team that can all work hard and accomplish their goals, but in the same instance a team leader needs each team member to be different in their own way and utilize what they have to offer. Each team member is different and has a different set of skills that they excel at. They are able to provide different ideas and opinions that can be shared with others and create a new, unique perspective. When we bring a diverse group of employees together, they are not only able to use their diverse skills to complement each other, but they can ensure their part of the project is done to the best of their abilities, making the overall assignment a great success.

Benefits of a diverse work group:

  • Various ideas and perspectives
  • Each team member excels at their skill set
  • Contributes to the group as a whole

Experienced with Technology

One of the most important aspects of a virtual team member is the need to be experienced with various types of technology. Team members will be in different locations, but will still need to keep in contact. Many ways employees accomplish this is to communicate by phone, email, fax, or even video phone. A virtual team member must know how to operate different forms of technology in order to stay connected to other team members and management.

Assignments and projects are often sent by electronic files in a variety of programs and shared among the group to edit and sent along. If the team members do not have a high level of knowledge when it comes to technology, they may not be able to function well on a team that relies so much on it. Current knowledge as well as keeping up-to-date with new and emerging technologies is required for today’s teleworker.

Resolving Conflict in Your Team

Resolving Conflict in Your Team

Team leaders are often called in to help mediate conflicts within their team, or sometimes within other teams. Although many people dislike dealing with conflict, when it is managed properly, it can be a positive thing. With the proper tools, people are able to air their ideas and their issues, share information in a constructive manner, and work towards resolving their differences. All of this should result in a more productive, respectful, open workplace.

Using a Conflict Resolution Process

Having a pre-defined conflict resolution process is a valuable tool. This process will give any team leader an objective, neutral way to identify, explore, and resolve conflicts. We recommend using the OPEN technique.

On The Table – Identify positions, perceptions, interests, needs, concerns, goals, motivations
Put the Problem into Focus – What is the problem? What is not the problem? Make sure you identify the real root cause. Problems are often not what they seem!
Explore Your Options – Brainstorm Solutions. The objective here is quantity, not quality. Once you have some solutions, evaluate and come up with a short list.
Negotiate a Solution – Always aim for win-win.

After a solution has been negotiated, make sure to follow up and make sure that the conflict has indeed been resolved and that the proposed solution is working. If it is not working, it’s time to go back to the drawing board, perhaps with input from others (if appropriate).

Maintaining Fairness

During the conflict resolution process, it is very important that you remain objective and neutral to ensure that the process is fair to all. Key behaviors include:

  • Never taking sides, even if asked
  • Asking for, and encouraging, a response from all comments
  • Remaining objective and neutral, and avoiding subjective comments
  • Offering factual observations to both sides to help root out the key issues
  • Encouraging win-win solutions
  • Ensuring a balance of power is maintained, so that one side does not feel bullied or neglected

Seeking Help from Within the Team

At times, it may be appropriate to involve the entire team in conflict resolution. This often occurs when:

  • There is a conflict between all members of the team
  • There is a conflict between a few team members that is affecting the entire team

In these situations, it is important to have a face-to-face meeting of the entire team. Write the OPEN process on the flip chart. The team’s input should be greatest in the first three phases. In the negotiation phase, you (as the team leader) should ensure that the proposed solution will not negatively affect others or cause more conflict.

Seeking Help from Outside the Team

If the people in conflict are unable to resolve the problem with your assistance, and team assistance has not worked or is not appropriate, then it may be time to seek help from outside sources. This approach can also be used when you have a conflict of interest in the issue at hand.

Outside sources can include:

  • Other leaders
  • Mediators
  • Human resources personnel

No one with authority over the team (such as your manager) should be considered, as they may intimidate the people in conflict and take focus away from conflict resolution.

Modeling and Observational Learning in Teams

Modeling and Observational Learning in Teams

Modeling and observational learning are essential ingredients for social learning in teams. When the team members are inspired, have positive role models, and improve their self-efficacy, they are more likely to embrace learning and new experiences. Not only will social learning improve, you are likely to see an improvement in morale and productivity in the team as well.

Inspired by Leaders

Leadership inspires much of the company’s culture, for better or worse. There is an obligation to inspire others to perform well. The best way to accomplish this is to lead by example. When team members see specific behaviors and ideals modeled for them, they understand what is expected of their behavior. Modeling behavior also generates respect for leadership.

Ways to Inspire:

  • Present a positive attitude
  • Communicate clearly and openly
  • Avoid bias and preconceived ideas
  • Recognize and reward achievements
  • Encourage questions, and answer them

Boosting Self-Efficacy

Self-efficacy is the personal belief that one is capable of reaching a goal. This belief motivates learning and improves self-esteem. People with high self-efficacy are more likely to take action and achieve success. People with low self-efficacy are more likely to fail. While much of self-efficacy is personal perception, there are ways to boost it in others, and observation is a useful way in boosting self-efficacy. When you see someone else perform a task, you are motivated to try the task yourself. Team members are more likely to try something new the more that they see modeled. As they succeed in learning, their self-efficacy will improve.

Peer Role Models

Peer role models provide informal modeling and observational learning. Like any other role models, peer role models ought to exhibit traits and actions that should be repeated. Mentoring programs may be peer modeling programs, but peer modeling does not have to be an official work relationship. Peer modeling occurs anytime when one peer learns from another. Peers may provide a point of view that leaders cannot. Peers are effective at modeling:

  • Tasks
  • Ethics
  • Communication

Generating Engagement

Learning is not possible without engagement, and if team members are truly not engaged in the learning process, nothing will engage them. There are, however, ways to generate and improve upon engagement that already exists:

Motivation:

  • Rewards: Create an environment that encourages learning with intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.
  • Opportunities: Provide opportunities to grow and learn.
  • Tools: Provide the tools that people need.
  • Respect: Maintain a culture of respect.

Develop a Social Learning Team Culture

Develop a Social Learning Team Culture

It is not enough to simply create social learning programs. Social learning must be integrated into the culture of the team in order for it to be effective. This requires making connections, identifying star team members, encouraging questioning, and recognizing teaching moments. By creating a culture of learning, the team will continue to improve and grow.

Making the Connection

A culture of social learning requires team members to make the connection between working together and success, which is called collaborative learning. This culture of collaborative learning requires all members of the team to work together as equals. Encouraging people to learn from each other creates this type of learning environment. Sharing and learning is facilitated by providing opportunities for communication and working together, such as:

  • Formal meetings
  • Online sources
  • Informal meeting spaces
  • Team projects

Each team is unique and will have to determine the best ways to facilitate collaborative learning.

Tagging Star Team Members

Your team members are your best chance of increasing the success of social learning. When team members share their expertise, the entire organization will benefit from their insight. The first step to accomplishing this is identifying and tagging star team members. A star team member is anyone who goes above and beyond.

Traits of Star Team Members:

  • Trustworthy
  • Exhibit company values
  • Set standards
  • Problem solvers
  • Handle criticism

Once star team members are identified, they should be tagged to take on the role of a SME (Subject Matter Expert). SMEs are able to perform specialized tasks with expertise. The tasks can include: software, accounting, technology, etc. Tagging star team members for the role of SME requires discovering their expertise and determining if these areas of expertise can benefit the organization. If the team member, for example, is an expert in social media, he or she can benefit the company by sharing that knowledge.

Recognizing Teaching Moments

Teaching moments are often more effective than the traditional teaching methods because they are more organic learning opportunities. Taking advantage of teaching moments requires recognizing them. A teaching moment can occur at any time, and it is a chance to teach through demonstrating skills or sharing information. For example, someone who understands how a computer system works can coach a person he notices having problems with a program. Teaching moments occur every day, it is important to keep an eye out for moments when you can teach others. These moments are essential to social learning success.

Culture of Questioning

Nurturing a culture of the questioning is like nurturing a plant. If the culture is nurtured, the questions asked will grow, bloom, and produce new questions. Asking “why” when it is appropriate will actually contribute to the conversation and help generate new ideas. There are a few ways to help instill a culture of questioning in your team:

  • Team members should admit when they do not know things.
  • Taking risks should be rewarded.
  • Encourage team members to ask effective questions.
  • Teach team members how to question and generate ideas.

Building a Diverse Social Learning Team

Building a Diverse Social Learing Team

There are always pros and cons to social learning. The diversity and differences that make a team strong will also cause friction in social settings. Effective teams will address these issues as they develop and manage to keep the communication civil. Knowing how to create a diverse and respectful  social learning team will make the experience more efficient.

Diversity Builds Knowledge

When creating social groups, it is important to make sure that they are diverse. Compiling a diverse team takes time. It is necessary to choose people with diverse cultures, skills, backgrounds, and strengths. These differences will make the team stronger. Only choosing like-minded people will weaken the team and stifle creativity. Diversity builds knowledge and challenges the team to grow. When choosing a diverse team, you need to focus on the skills that will benefit the team. For example, a  team could benefit from mixing people with academic understanding of a subject and others who have real world application. It is also beneficial to blend people from different levels within the same organization.

Social Interaction

Social settings and interactions require basic social skills. This may seem like common knowledge, but you will have to remind people to behave and assess their social skills. There are basic social skills that people need to master in order to make sure that the social interactions in the group go smoothly. Basic social skills include:

  • Listen to other people.
  • Express positive thoughts or feelings in a civil manner.
  • Express negative thoughts or feelings in a civil manner.
  • Make requests.
  • Appreciate people and thank them.

If anyone lacks these basic social skills, social interactions in the team will suffer. Social skills training can improve social interactions for people who need to improve their social skills.

People Are Different

Everyone is unique. This can be both beneficial and cause problems to team dynamics. The positive aspects include:

The cons of having a diverse group include:

  • Personality clashes
  • Competition for promotions
  • Competition for work

Acknowledging that there are cultural and personality differences between people and preparing for these differences will help create a functional learning team.

Dealing with Difficult People

In any social situation, you will have no choice but to deal with difficult people. People are difficult on different levels. Some may not be invested in the learning process and others will actively push back against the team dynamic.

People who passively resist social learning may refuse to participate in discussions or leave tasks incomplete. The best way to handle passive people is to address the reason behind their behavior. It is important not to push people too hard to participate. You should offer assistance as needed.

Some people aggressively resist social learning. They push back by causing trouble and trying to take over the team. Problems include verbal attacks and disruptive behavior. It is important not to take the attacks personally and to make sure that the person acting out is told that the behavior is not appropriate. If the individual become too aggressive, he or she may need to be removed from the team dynamic.