Creative teams can be comprised of a wide variety of individuals in today's complex work environment posing unique challenges for the leader of the group. Often the team members come from vastly different backgrounds, have wide age ranges, differing personalities and a variety of professional traits and habits. Rarely are teams created all at once and as managers, many times we will inherit an existing team and immediately be the outsider. This can be difficult for us as new leads to manage, however it also provides the opportunity for us to enhance the team dynamic and adapt it to the needs of the greater organization.
There are a number of tactics and strategies you can leverage in your efforts to improve your team. Focusing on educating the team about who you are, what your philosophy is and even what the goal of the team is is a critical first step. For instance, you might find that most of your team members have a very narrow view of the purpose of the team or perhaps they are intent on following the old guard and the culture that was previously established. Add to this the fact that change for most people is extremely confronting and difficult and you'll have a good idea of the importance for you to be sensitive to your team members as you craft your new culture. When you first set up or become part of a team consider some of these change management practices:
Initially, hold frequent team meetings - The team needs to see you and hear your thoughts about the team and its purpose as much as possible in order for establish a clear and effective dynamic. At minimum, have one team meeting a month, although at first you might want to consider bi-weekly or even weekly meetings. Keep the meetings focused on critical business and operational issues.
Conduct 1 on 1 meetings with team members - The team needs to see you and hear from you as much as possible in a larger setting with their peers. However, they might also want to express some concerns or ideas that they do not feel comfortable talking about in front of the larger group. 1 on 1 meetings can facilitate those types of conversations and are also a great opportunity for you to get to know team members better. As you learn more about them, you might be surprised to find that they possess hidden useful professional skills and acumen and offer up helpful insights that were not initially obvious.
Have focused offsite meetings - Offsite meetings provide opportunities for your team to get together in a neutral location and focus on problems areas, team building, and team education without distractions. A free lunch doesn't hurt the morale of the team either.
Once you have your team well grounded on your expectations and thoughts on how the team should operate and where their focus should be, you need to assess the team for operational and skills gaps and opportunities for improvement. Identifying gaps in individual team members does not need to be perceived or addressed as a problem. Objectively, it's a critical practice in building and enhancing the team - not a punitive action. So the big question is - how can you go through this process and have it land well with your team? Obviously, most people do not like to be told that they do not do something well and there are opportunities for improvement. How do you start that conversation and how do you make it positive?
- Setup the meeting in a 1 on 1 - you want this to be a private conversation.
- Lead with something positive. Let them know they have been doing great work or that they did a great job on a particular project. Something that lets them know they are valued.
- When you speak to the problem, be sure you have examples and use a neutral tone.
- Talk through ways to address the problem and underscore your commitment to supporting them in their efforts to improve.
- Make sure that you end the meeting on a positive note. For instance, if you were speaking about email communication you could say something to effect of, "I am looking forward to working with you over the next few months in this area. I'm confident we can make this happen. This is something that will improve your effectiveness and help support the rest of the team."
By identifying and addressing weaknesses on your team you will be taking a critical step towards building a team that works well with your style and forwards your vision for the team. One caveat - there may be other areas you may be inclined to change that actually don't affect the performance of your team. If they are more about your personal preferences you have an opportunity to enhance your leadership acumen by adapting yourself to your team. Whether the people on your team are close to your age or decades apart, whether they're quiet and introverted or gregarious and expressive should have no impact on how you function as a manager. You should also be sensitive to how people address and react to you as their manager. Some team members may have a hard time listening to you because they question your expertise or are more used to their previous manager's style or they may feel that you aren't sensitive to their concerns because of your gender or age. Patience and modeling your style while respecting theirs will go a long way towards establishing good rapport.
Personality traits and professional attitudes on the other hand can either support or block your team's progress. Identify team members' personality traits and professional attitudes early and assess how they can both help and hurt the group. You'll most likely discover that team members possess both strengths and weaknesses (for instance a passive-aggressive individual may possess great presentation capabilities) making them a great fit for one task and terrible fit for another.
Finally, as managers we have an opportunity to carefully consider how the team members we have are going to work together and how they are going to work with our clients. This will allow us to design teams that support our clients and project the style we want to show as leaders and as a team.
Leadership, especially when working with teams comprised of individuals with unique traits and backgrounds, is as much an art as a science. Self awareness, humility, candor and objectivity married with a bit of salesmanship and psychology are necessary to establishing a healthy high-performing team. Hopefully, some of the tactics included in this post will support you in your efforts to be a leader capable of creating such a team.