It’s all about the people, folks

In many ways, leading virtual teams, project teams and roaming teams (for example, teams of ‘road warriors’ such as ambulance and police officers, sales representatives and repair service technicians) aren’t all that different from leading teams whose members work with you in the same space every day. All these teams have goals to achieve and members who want to feel they’re making a useful, and appreciated, contribution. They want to feel they’re making progress, not just towards achieving their work goals but also personally, in terms of learning and development, for example. And they want to feel a sense of camaraderie with those they work with.

Communication and cordial relationships are the first two foundations for success in all of these types of team. This should come as no surprise — people don’t respond well to being taken for granted. We all want to know we’re valued as individuals, not just for the results we produce, but also as people with families and homes and hobbies.

Without prying, get to know a little bit about each team member’s life outside of work so you can ‘pass the time of day’ in a relaxed and friendly way. Make time every day to check in with each team member and see how they’re going, both generally and work-wise. With roaming, virtual and project teams, you probably need to make a special effort to do that.

Most team members don’t want to connect just with their boss but also with each other; this happens naturally when people see each other every day, but it can be much harder to get to know your project, roaming and virtual teammates. That’s where you come in: finding ways to help the team members get to know a bit about each other’s lives and interests.  

As with any team, take care that subgroups, or cliques, don’t develop, particularly when your team is made up of people from different cultures, functions or locations. Friendships may develop but your goal is to help all team members bond and build up a team spirit.

The third foundation of leading virtual, roaming and project teams is clear expectations. It goes without saying that you need to make clear people’s roles and goals and matters such the formats and frequency of up-dates and how quickly to respond to queries and other communications. Make your expectations clear about non-task matters, too, such as the behaviours you expect during meetings and when it is and isn’t okay to contact each other outside of normal hours.

The ability to lead teams well is a core skill in modern workplaces. It doesn’t matter what sector or industry you’re in — consumer goods, education, finance, manufacturing, service or high tech, or even where your team members are located and how often you see them face-to-face, you still need to make your expectations clear, communicate openly and often, treat team members as individual people who make a worthwhile contribution and find ways to cement their relationships with each other as well as with you.

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Good numbers begin and end with effective workplace relationships

Miyuki Suzuki is a remarkable woman. Raised in Japan, Australia and the UK and educated in the UK, she has worked in a variety of roles in both Western and traditional Japanese organisations in Britain, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, the Middle East, New Zealand, North America and Singapore.

Now running Jetstar in Japan, she and her 100 staff have notched up remarkable successes, culminating in Jetstar’s inaugural flight taking off five and a half months ahead of schedule.

Suzuki delivers a weekly message to all her staff in both English and Japanese, updating them on what has been happening in the company and employee achievements, complete with photos. Her underlying message is ‘I am watching. I am recognising all your hard work.’

To rally her staff and ensure they’re all pointing in the same direction, Suzuki pays attention to people, their aspirations and what motivates them, and keeps an eye on group dynamics. ‘It takes a bit of time to do that’, she says. ‘Once you get that sorted out, team building is much easier.’

She also works out who shares the same values as her own; when you do that, you know who will support you and help you meet your goals. She also works out who will be her detractors so she can turn them into supporters.

‘Relationships make business success possible. If you ignore relationships and focus on the numbers, you won’t get anywhere.’ When you get the relationships right, you get to take off five and a half months early.

Source: Damon Kitney, ‘Taking Flight’, the deal, The Australian newspaper, July 2012.

Discussion questions

‘Look after the people and the numbers look after themselves’ is a common catch cry. How true is it, in your experience? Do your communications send the message ‘I am watching and recognising all your hard work’? Do you know what motivates your team members, which of team members, peers and senior managers share your values and who your potential detractors are?

Why you need to get to know your staff

As a leader, you can’t get to know the varied experiences, skills and talents of your team members without knowing a bit about them as people. Casual conversations help you learn about what makes them tick and discover their potential to contribute now and in the future. It helps you assign work designed to engage them, helps you to help them develop their strengths, and strengthens your working relationships.

Casual conversations among team members help them learn about each other, which builds and strengthens relationships and oils the wheels of goodwill and cooperation. It helps everyone reach common understandings and builds a strong culture.

People getting to know people doesn’t just make the world go ’round. It also makes workplaces, both actual and virtual, tick.

But where do you draw the line at casual, non-work-related conversations? You don’t want people chatting so much among themselves they don’t have time to do their work and you don’t want your chats with team members to prevent them from working either. Set the tone by keeping your chats brief, friendly and professional and make them two-way: listen as well as share.

The content — what you talk about — is important, too. Two over-arching rules apply:

  1. No gossip.
  2. Don’t get overly personal to the point of embarrassment.

Stick to those rules and keep your conversations short and sweet, and watch cooperation and morale blossom.

Discussion questions

How well do you know your team members as people? How much do they see you as a person as well as a boss?

How to generate interest in your meetings with spiffy agendas

Whether they’re actual or virtual, how would you like people to look forward to attending your meetings,come prepared and actively participate?

You’ve seen in Chapter 27 (pages 875 – 876) that using verbs to write results-oriented agendas helps people focus on what each item is intended to achieve. Another idea I’ve recently come across is to pose each agenda item as a question, for example: What progress have we made on designing the customer survey? What improvements could we make to increase our efficiency in processing orders? This engages peoples’ thought processes.

Another idea is to state who is leading each agenda item. For instance, you could write: Keith to bring us update on the progress have we made on designing the customer survey; Amy to lead us in brainstorming ideas for increasing our efficiency in processing orders.  This opens up meetings and makes them a bit more interesting.

Discussion questions

What interesting ways of writing agendas have you come across?

Does telecommuting kill creativity and teamwork?

I used to be indecisive but now I’m not so sure. For me, indecisiveness begins when I can see both sides of an issue.

Take the working from home bru-ha-ha that’s erupted since iconic tech company, Yahoo, announced ‘no more working from home’. The stated reason was that working from home is counterproductive, limits collaboration and communication and lowers quality and speed. People need the impromptu ‘water cooler meetings’ to bounce ideas off each other and spark new ideas.

This flies in the face of research showing that productivity increases for teleworkers, telecommuting is good for the environment because it saves so much petrol and carbon emissions and so on. (See pages 16 -18 of the text for more information on the benefits of woking from home.)

So which is it? Telecommuting is good? Or telecommuting is bad?

Here’s what I think. Both statements are true — in their way. Individual contributors whose roles allow it can productively work from home. Those whose work depends on working closely with others, for example creative teams, are probably better working together, at least some of the time.

Questions for discussion

What do you think? Does working from home increase productivity, or inhibit collaboration? 

Office ergonomics

Sitting correctly affects your productivity as well as your appearance and fatigue levels, not to mention pain levels. It also wards off back and other problems down the track.

Here are three sites that offer good information:

  1. This also has good information on lighting, breaks and so on and is good for helping people set up a home office.
  2. This shows you exactly how you should sit at your computer.
  3. This shows you four easy exercises you can do while seated at your desk, with an interesting twist that they’re based on yoga (and Pilates and any other exercise form, I suspect!) But they work, and that’s the main thing.

Discussion questions

How do your office ergonomics stack up? Have your team members set up their work stations correctly? What about their home offices, if they ever work from home?

To spy or not to spy

A story on news.com.au called ‘Google “spy” app lets bosses keep tabs on workers’ caught my eye recently. For $15 per employee per month, an employer can see exactly where employees are, in real time, when they’re not in the office. And there’s no hiding: employees appear as pins on a map, even when they’re inside buildings.

The spin is that the app helps ‘organise teams on the move’ and employees can turn off the device (if they’re game). But, like checking out employees and job candidates on social networking sites, one wonders whether this app has legal implications to do with peoples’ right to privacy.

With about 30 per cent of the total workforce working off site, not to mention office-based workers on their lunch hour and employees who call in sick, there are a lot of potential ‘pins on the map’.

Questions for discussion

What do you think? Would you use this app to monitor your team members? If so, under what circumstance? Where would you ‘draw the line’? What do you think are the ethics surrounding checking up on an employee’s whereabouts?