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Team development doesn’t have to be hard work

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Lud Romano, managing director of Alive Communications, argues that team development doesn’t have to be hard work.


It is inevitable that many people will have to operate within a team at some point in their working lives, and being a good ‘team player’ is crucial. It doesn’t mean however, that individual personalities are dissolved in to one solution. First and foremost a manager or team leader must recognise each team member as an individual and understand exactly how they operate and what they bring to the party.

The initial, but essential, ground-work takes significant time and effort, as with building any fruitful relationship, but this is paid back tenfold when a manager can clearly see how the team functions, identify potential problems and know what buttons need pushing if and when it falters. If you really take the time to understand each individual you will get to know the ways in which loyalties can be built and best performances elicited. Words are cheap and clichés or empty promises are easily recognised and damaging. Managers have to prove their concern for individuals in their team rather than just giving lip-service.

If leaders understand and act on this, they are then able to lay down a situation where people genuinely like and respect them, and want to fulfil what is required of them. And this is essential. To mould and manage strong and successful individuals takes dedicated investment from a leader, just as a parent would invest themselves in their child. Looking at successful family relationships actually provides a lot of clues, as people respond in the same way to business nurture - as human beings! You cannot expect to influence people and instil respect if you don’t really understand them and don’t achieve the vital connection.

If you are able to demonstrate this level of understanding to each individual first, and then to your team as a whole, it will help lock people’s minds on to the business, and encourage accountability, motivation and a genuine desire for success.

From people’s perception, team development very much depends on the working environment; some situations being much more conducive than others. In many businesses there will be an established and operational team structure in place. However, effective, involved and dynamic management is needed for any team to continue to develop. One of the best ways to evolve a team is by holding short, regular, one-to-one meetings at which both the individual and the team is discussed in simple and relevant form.

A recent survey conducted by Alive revealed that 83 per cent of respondents felt that regular meetings could help them with their job. Although that said, badly managed meetings can have a detrimental effect on teams just as easily as none at all!

Good teams need and expect to be led, and whilst people’s ability for creativity must never be underestimated, the leader must take the upper hand in the big decisions, based on their intelligence about individual people. It is the leader who must introduce the ‘big idea’, from which the team can be built around rather than giving democratic access to all decisions. Yes participation inspires motivation and yes people should be invited to contribute ideas, but the important decisions need to be taken at the top.

A dangerous and common scenario for perceived team development is for a leader to impose a clichéd ‘team’ mentality on to people. If you are managing a group that recognises the benefit of pulling together as a team to get results, but consists of independently minded or geographically divided individuals, group hugs and affirmations is not the way forward.

Examples of these situations can be seen in the sales sector, where employees view themselves as ‘competing’ against each other, or people who work from home where team interaction is limited. Successfully integrating, motivating and developing your team, again comes back to the effort that leaders are prepared to put in to understand their people and to mould a model that really works for them.

Some managers assume that throwing money at the problem will achieve a solution, which is equally misguided. Whilst there are things to be said in favour of ‘away days’ - change of environment, relaxed atmosphere and so forth – a ‘one size fits all’ philosophy can be very detrimental.

Imposing activities on your team that people actually find unpleasant, can highlight how little you really understand them and be potentially alienating – who really wants to go orienteering with a group of colleagues on a rainy day in the middle of February? Equally any manager who thinks that a sunshine cruise in the Bahamas is going to do the trick is sadly mistaken. Who wouldn’t be happy and amenable cocktail in hand, lazing on a sun-lounger? This, as with any other half-baked monetary solution, is only ever going to be a quick fix.

In essence, team development relies on a canny leader who is aware of what is happening with the entire team as individuals, in order to shape the team as a whole. It doesn’t have to be a rocket science but you do have to develop good two-way lines of communication and prove that you understand your team and make them want to come to you. It is a simple truth that people are not going to be interested in or care about you if you cannot demonstrate that you are genuinely interested in or care about them.

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