I recently posted a blog with tips on what to do when a key player leaves your team. As sometimes happens on teams, you spend weeks or months, or even years building a highly effective team. Then, a key player leaves and is replaced by someone with a very different work style.
The approach that you were using to manage the project suddenly comes into question or worse yet, falls apart. In change projects, when jobs are threatened, it is normal for folks to be on edge. But how do you recover and move forward effectively? Here are five tips for improving team chemistry.
Stop sending emails and sit down and talk.
Once in awhile, I will send a long email when I know that few people will read it. It’s usually because I feel an ethical obligation to put some concepts in writing. When people are stressed, they aren’t at their best. Sometimes, hope springs eternal and I try as hard as I can to write something persuasive that will help.
Usually, I recommend that we stop working and try to get to know one another. It’s tempting when time is short to opt for work and skip the pleasantries. Remember that people are doing your project and people want to work with people they like. So, don’t skip the getting to know you step.
Ask yourself what kind of team culture you want.
There is a saying in business, sometimes attributed to Peter Drucker – “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” It doesn’t matter how sound your project strategy or plan is, if you don’t have a culture that works, your project is doomed.
We can categorize cultures in many ways, ranging from highly collaborative cultures to extreme command and control organizations. Ask yourself what is most likely to work on your project.
Are you trying to build a culture that is collaborative? It may sound smart, but collaborative cultures require a high level of trust. When jobs are threatened, people scramble to protect their own turf. Collaboration may not be feasible, though it still my preference.
Sometimes, people are just tired and don’t have the energy or willingness to spend more time on change initiatives.
Communications and office dynamics can tell you a lot about a group’s culture. Are people engaged, friendly, laughing, and joking in the hallways or stopping at offices in a very formal way? Are people clustered in groups working on ideas or sequestered in their work caves?
Written communications, even casual emails, carry a certain tone about them. They can be informal or formal, completely business or more inclusive of personal comments, such as thanks, or have a great weekend.
For emails, I tend to err on the informal, personal side, and when I get the formal, all-business communications from someone on my own team, it can feel adversarial to me. And yet, everyone understands the need for documentation and, in some cases, audit trails.
Culture change is ridiculously hard. For a great article on how Aetna successfully re-invented it’s corporate culture, read the 2012 Harvard Business Review article here. Figure out what kind of culture you want on your team, and take baby steps to get there.
Look for the good.
Everyone brings different skills, abilities, temperaments, and work styles to the table. None of us are perfect, and if we are doing any work at all, we’ll make mistakes.
Find the good instead of the bad. When we live in gratitude for the good things, it changes our mindset.
Get rid of problem people.
After you have found the good, don’t ignore significant negatives. Everyone has flaws and weaknesses. I’m not sure Jesus Christ could fill some of the job descriptions that I see on the Internet. Competencies matter. Attitude matters more. People can build competencies. Innate attitudes are hard to change.
Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, says “…to build a successful organization and team you must get the right people on the bus.” If you are trying to build a culture of collaboration and you have someone on your team who is intimidating, threatening, sloppy, or lazy, you simply must get rid of him or her.
Focus on the goal.
Remember when you sat down at the beginning of the project to understand why you were doing this work? I have always recommended that teams develop a compelling “why?” statement. When conversations get strained, tempers flare, people get tired, and deadlines loom, it is important to focus on the goal.
This is harder in some projects than others. Projects that are driven by legislative changes are particularly hard. Sometimes technology changes or mergers, acquisitions or reorganizations drive change initiatives.
When projects get broken into phases, and you are in an early phase, it can be hard to look too far ahead.
Ask yourself if what you are doing is moving you in the right direction. Sometimes, I see teams get so bogged down trying to deliver incremental value, according to a schedule, that they forget that there is a larger goal.
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