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Thousands of love songs portray sad stories of the fire going out in a romantic relationship. Business teams face the same danger. Members of a team can become too familiar and stuck in patterns of doing the bare minimum when it comes to teamwork. Similar to the song "You Don't Bring Me Flowers Anymore," the feeling that occurs when the thrill is gone is usually felt by all involved. As a leader, you have the power to influence how connected your team remains over time. Follow these seven tips and you will lead your team around or even through the rough spots involved with staying connected.
1. Think Big: Help your team remember why they are together. As you face the day-to-day task of getting work done, the reason for all the effort often gets lost. In order to keep a team motivated, it is crucial that you have a higher purpose behind what you are doing. A leader must remind team members that together, they are moving toward this grand vision. If the captain of the ship does not seem concerned about where they are headed, why will the crew?
2. Think Small: Every interaction is either a deposit or a withdrawal. As important as the Big Picture is, it will mean little if the team shows little value to one another on a regular basis. As the leader, you must model the importance of valuing each other in daily interactions. Last-minute deadlines often interrupt common courtesies - however, those times provide even more reason to acknowledge each other when you have an opportunity. Bob will not be inspired by your vision if you don't even say hello when you see him in the halls.
3. Drive the Fun Bus: It is easy to stay connected when you are having fun! Not to say that you need to sharpen your stand-up comedy act, but be prepared to inject some fun into the team. High performing teams can burn out by focusing too much on producing. When you throw some fun into the mix, the team is able to recharge their batteries and keep going. A great way to add some fun is to do a relevant team building activity and discussion during your next meeting.
4. Be a Stage Mother: Educate the team on group stages. It is widely accepted that groups go through stages as they grow. There is the "forming" stage where everyone plays nice, not wanting to rock the boat. Next comes the "storming" stage when team members attempt to define what roles they will play in the group. Then, comes the "norming" stage which sees the group settle into a standard of working together. After norming, strong groups move into the "performing" stage. This is the stage we want from the beginning. Finally, the "adjourning" stage is when the group disbands, sometimes by choice, sometimes not by choice. Educating your team about the natural growth stages for all teams will allow them to adjust to the growing pains.
5. Promote Fights: Fighting sure beats resentment. Setting up a culture where resolving conflict is strongly encouraged will save the team from building long-term resentments. It is not necessary to have a Don King haircut and announce, "The Beating in the Meeting" - but you will benefit from promoting an atmosphere that does not avoid conflict. Although "fighting" is not fun and can be painful, resentment can destroy a cohesive team without anyone realizing it. If you notice tensions building, step in and encourage a healthy resolution to the situation. Deal with it now, or it may spread like a cancer on your entire team.
6. Create Connections: It only feels like they happen naturally. If you wait for them to happen, they might not. Schedule opportunities for team members to connect. This can be done as part of a regular meeting. It can be done by switching pairings for different assignments. There is a reason the armed services put soldiers through basic training - they develop individual soldiers and build connections between soldiers. Have you ever witnessed two old army buddies reunite? It's enough to bring a tear to your eye! A strong connection is powerful.
7. Role Play: Make sure everyone knows the role each person plays. Role ambiguity has ruined more teams than you can imagine. Not knowing what you are supposed to be doing is frustrating. Not knowing what other members should or should not be doing can be down right annoying. As the leader, make sure people know the part they play as individuals and group members. Clear roles will help you avoid hearing "how come Bob doesn't have to do this...?"
History is filled with many examples of great leaders keeping their team together during difficult situations. Ernest Shackleton's expedition into the Antarctic ended with his team successfully working together to survive. Their boat was crushed by ice and somehow the team worked together to brave the fiercest conditions imaginable. Shackleton's team remained connected because they followed the above seven steps. Surely you can use them to help your team face the challenges of your workplace.
About the Author
Kevin Kearns is President of Kearns Advantage, a leadership coaching company. Kearns Advantage has a proven track record of developing strong leaders. Kevin holds a Master of Science degree in Organization Development and is a member of the Coachville Graduate School of Coaching. Subscribe to Kevinís free leadership newsletter at www.kearnsadvantage.com.
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