There are many times that you’ll find yourself having to work with others. It might be a Uni or school group assignment, a business project with a number of other parties, or in a work situation where there is team. Some people flourish in these environments and others just cringe at the thought of having to work in a team situation.
Here are my 7+ practical tips on how to best make it happen:
1. Get the right team on the bus
Having the best team on board is ideal. If you are recruiting for your team, then no different from general recruitment, screen properly, take your time in interviewing, do relevant research and don’t just recruit based on skills or credentials. If the person has all the skill in the world, but they are just a massive pain in the rear to work with, then life will be painful. This is why reference checks should encompass a strong investigation of personality, manner and whether the person “plays well with others”.
2. Establish a Team Leader
Prior to the initial meeting if you haven’t already, establish the team leader. You must have a person who is overall responsible for the project. This is the person where the buck stops and who will take charge, motivate the team and ensure everything is done. For this role, they need to possess some personal attributes, including organisational skills, ability to problem solve, diplomacy but also strength of character and confidence. In essence, they should be a leader. This person should keep promises and honour requests and praise where praise is due and generally support the team in any way possible to achieve outcomes.
3. Make the right start – from a people perspective
Once you have your team, if you are the team leader, get to know your team. Talk to them. Find out what motivates them, why they want to be on this project and what specific skills that will be most useful. There is little point in allocating a task to a person where that is their weakness.
4. Have an initial meeting
At the first meeting, you need to introduce the team leader. At this stage, they should take point and guide the meeting onwards. If everyone doesn’t know each other, then getting each person to introduce themselves is a good idea. One of the first things you need to do is explain the problem or the desired outcome. Be specific about limitations such as resources, time, funds and what the ultimate goal is in respect of the project. Whilst the team leader may well have somewhat of a plan of attack in their mind, it’s good to open that to the floor and ask for ideas, thoughts or suggestions on how this can be achieved. By involving the team, it will achieve two things. Firstly, the team may very much have some exceptional ideas which will prove invaluable. Secondly, this involvement gives the team a degree of ownership of the project. They feel they are part of the team and part of the solution, not just a ‘sprog’ in the factory. Naturally, as people make suggestions write them down and thank them for their contribution. If it’s a silly idea, you won’t use it but never ever criticise an idea – otherwise, that will be the last anyone offers up.
5. Set the rules and set the mood
Early in any project you want to set the mood. For example, if you value innovation or initiative, say so. If you want cohesion within the team, communicate this. It may be ‘policy’ that no idea is ever ‘shot down’ or all team should support each other in front of the client.
When it comes to your expectations or other specific rules or requirements of the project, be sure to communicate these. Ideally, instructions (initially and ongoing) and outlines should be in writing; that way no one can say “Oh you wanted that this Friday?”
Be specific and be clear. Vagueness will be your enemy. If you ask for ‘a few ideas’ then don’t be annoyed that only 3 were furnished. If you want 9 or more suggestions, then say so. If you have a deadline of ‘soon’ then I can assure you that every single person in that room has a different definition of the word ‘soon’. Instead, specify Friday the 8th at 4pm.
6. Manage the project
The team leader should manage the project effectively. Whether they are using software or an app to do this or running the project in a more traditional way, they should still keep a track of tasks and where things are at. Ideally, the project will be broken down into components and each component allocated to a person with a deadline (and clear expectations of what is required).
The team leader should connect with every team member to ensure their part is on track and each step deadline is being achieved. This may be one on one, or a quick and effective group meeting, where each person briefly reports in on their progress. The Team Leader should NEVER assume anything, and in fact, all team members should not make assumptions. If unsure, ask!
7. Communication is paramount
If the project is falling behind and a client is involved, then the relevant representative should communicate with the client. Never wait for the client to initiate the question “what’s happening?” This discussion will not be about laying blame or lying, but rather about updating the client as to where things are at, perhaps briefly outlining the challenges have occurred but most importantly what is being done. What is the solution to this problem and confirmation that the matter is under control.
Likewise, if there is a client and questions arise, there should be one single ‘liaison officer’ in order to avoid duplicate questions, lost messages and general disorganisation (which isn’t a good look).
If things are going well and under control, it’s still a great idea to update the client and share that wonderful news. That way they know you are on track, rather than wondering ‘how is it all going?’
And to finish things up …
Once the project is over, as the team leader, remember to acknowledge your team – to the client and to the team (and possibly to the company overall). If they put in a huge effort, consider taking them all out to lunch, or a bonus or in the very least, a genuine and heartfelt thank you. It may be that the desired outcome was not achieved (perhaps a tender submitted but not awarded) then don’t withdraw rewards for hard work.
It’s always a great idea to have a debrief at the end of a project. If the project had huge problems within it and the team barely came out the other end alive, then it may even be worth engaging a professional consultant to consider how best things could be changed. If staff had an awful experience, they may be either scanning the ‘Positions Vacant’ job ads or will all but refuse to ever do a similar project again. If ‘damage control’ is needed, then sooner rather than later is best and if team see their concerns are being taken seriously, they will be more likely to give things ‘a second chance’.
If the project went well and the outcomes were favourable, there is often still some area which can be improved upon. Ensure suggestions are given positively or privately (perhaps an anonymous note). As a team leader, you can then take that constructive feedback to give consideration for next time. In life, we are always learning and there are frequently opportunities to improve.
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