How a simple process set my new team to a great start

You’re promoted to be a manager and get to lead your first team! Congratulations! Or maybe you already manage but a re-org just happened, and you have a new team now! Bottom line – you have a new team and new goals — either way, you need to take action.

Start with WHY

Why? When you tune a machine it produces the best products with the highest efficiency. Your team is the same! They need to have mutual goals and to know how to work together efficiently as a team to meet the goal. An effective team is a team has:

  • Positive culture
  • Great relationship between team members and between team members and the manager
  • Mutual goals.

Great relationship and culture require trust and communication skills. Culture and relationships are created, they are guided. What will happen if you don’t invest in culture and relationship? Are you willing to trust fate?

The best way I know to start is to invest time in a team building event. I didn’t do team building when I was a young manager. No one even told me such a thing exists. I had a good set of people, they all came from a similar background so running the team wasn’t too hard. Slowly, slowly the team culture was built, and we learned to communicate. I learned slowly what it means to be a manager and what my role as one is. I was lucky. In the second team I managed, I wasn’t so lucky. The team members I managed were way more senior and experienced than me. My first days were difficult as I was struggling to understand what the right direction is, and getting criticized for making the wrong decisions by the technical people. Even between the team members, the atmosphere wasn’t good. I had to take action. I had to set expectations with my team.

We took a day outside the office and gathered for a fresh breakfast at one of the team member’s house. We followed the steps you will read about below. We set goals, and we set expectations. We committed to following the guidelines we built together. We promised to hold each other accountable, including me. The team performance skyrocketed over the next six months!

Let me share with you what worked for me. There are many ways to do team building. The following is just one of them.

Planning

Before you set the meeting, you need to define the outcome of such an event. Outcomes might be, to build the relationships and trust between the team members, it can be to align everyone on the team’s goal and create a road map to reach the goal, it can be to define a culture and set expectations on behavior, and it can just be a nice morning out of work.

It can also be all of the above. Choose what your end goal is and make sure to have a deep understanding of WHY it is important for you and the team.

Some people might be new to the team. Which means trust does not exist yet. They feel a little embarrassed, and they don’t feel that they belong, and they will be very cautious with their answers and commitment to participate in the activities.

The location

A key thing in team building is the location – If possible don’t do it at work. Disconnect from the day to day issues, interference, and walk-ins. This activity is very important – respect it. If you can host it in your house, you will not just have a place outside of work for free, but you will also come out as an open person who is willing to contribute and be vulnerable. That will encourage them to do the same at work. So pick a place where you can talk quietly for at least 3-4 hours without interruptions. Have coffee, snacks, and water available; you can even plan a potluck where everyone brings something for lunch, creating a craft lunch together. If you get department budget, you can invest in either a luxury breakfast or a great takeout lunch. You want to impress and make them feel welcome? Cook breakfast for them! I bought my favorite croissants.

Grounding

Investing in grounding is crucial. People arrive at your event with their day to day problems. Maybe they have a sick child, maybe they had a huge fight with their spouse last night and not sure where the relationship goes. You need to overcome the internal feelings, the inside chatter. You need to take their mind off the day to day problems and focus on what is going on in the room, to focus on achieving the day’s goals. For this purpose, we use grounding activities.  Grounding can be a silly and fun activity like throwing a ball between members and trying not to drop it, into more value-based exercises, I use this site https://www.icebreakers.ws/, and you can always google more.

My favorite exercise is the one which each team member thinks of a role model they have. Real or imaginary. Then list which values they represent that they admire. You can share between the members as these are this member’s core values! Understanding these and sharing them connects people on a deep level. Sharing values show that we are much more than what we show or what others see at work. It shows we can connect on a deeper level with one another.

Warning

All the steps from now on are taken with the full participation of your team. Do not tell them what you think and then ask them what they think. Let them be a part of the creation. You can have something in mind but say it last. The power in this process is creating something TOGETHER. The team doesn’t belong to you. You are all part of it.

We want to “prepare” as we need to control the process. You might be afraid that “If I don’t prepare something, there will be nothing!” We need to trust our employees, be curious, let them express their ideas, let them engage and impact the process. That will empower them!

Mission statement

Every team needs a mission statement and/or vision. Ask the team “What are we all about?” Why does this team exist? What our customers expect us to do? How do you know you succeeded? These questions will help you build a good WHY statement. For example “We are all about quality. We provide the most extensive QA service, so our customers sleep well at night”. Google mission statement and see more examples.

Every goal you set for the team from now on should align with the mission statement you developed in this stage.

How do we get there

Once we have a mission statement which is general, it is time to work on the how. You work in the following areas – long and short-term goals, culture, conversations, support, customer interaction, peer support, growth opportunities, communications and you can add more.

Work on each topic separately and discuss with your team how it should look like to meet your mission statement.

You can ask questions and get proposals from the team members. If people are clueless, ask for examples from their history. When did they feel it went pretty well? Try to analyze why it went well and what can they learn from the experience.

For example – peer support – ask:

  • How can we support one another?
  • What are our core values here?
  • What behavior do you expect?
  • How should we respond if we are busy and can’t help?

Superpowers

In Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly effective people, the 6th habit is Synergy. Synergy means the habit of creative cooperation. But we can’t be creative if we are all the same! We all have our unique skills and capabilities.  Knowing what they are, allows you as a manager and the team members to use these skills effectively.

A great outcome of a team building event is to identify these skills. Ask your team:

  • What is easy for you to do?
  • What type of task do you enjoy doing?
  • When did you succeed in the past? What helped you achieve it?

Each person should come with 2-3 superpowers even if they are not related to work. Usually, we don’t know how to use our superpowers at work, but opportunity tends to reveal itself once we call that superpower by name out in the open.

Share ideas between the team members how you can use this superpower effectively.

Relationship and communications

Getting clear on how we communicate is key to team success. Part of it is setting expectations between the team members and with you as the manager.

Ask your team to list what they expect from you and what they expect from their peers. Write everything on a board. Then it’s your turn to write. What do you expect from them? Discuss it and agree on the right behaviors that will model this.

Build a test case of a stressful situation – do role-playing to see how you can solve the situation using the behaviors you came up with before.

Actions

Actions should be tangible, measurable — the type of action that you can check six months from now and say – I did it. Summarize everything you did. Try to come out with at least 3 actions that will yield tangible results for the team. Write the vision or mission statement and hang it in a visible place where your clients and team can see it every day.

Summary

Setting expectations with a team building event can save you a lot of time and effort while building the foundations to a super powerful and effective team! Invest in the people that make you successful! 

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