Your business might be made up of an organized, established, everyday team, or you might be assembling a project-oriented team to address a specific issue. Whatever the case, we all know that throwing people together on a team can produce mixed results. Productivity and effectiveness can vary widely based on skills, experience, personality, or simply placing the wrong person in the driver’s seat.
Whether your team is permanent or temporary, there are some basic, commonsense principles to apply. The way you handle team expectations can make or break any initiative.
Here are five tips you can use or modify to suit specific team needs.
1. Pick your communication tools carefully and use them effectively.
Nowadays, there are a number of communication tools designed to help teams share issues and progress. Effective and timely communication often makes the difference between project completion and seemingly endless delays. If you’re not currently using something to facilitate communication within teams, you might consider looking for a solution that works well in your particular context. Here are some options:
- Trello allows users to create “cards” that help organize a list of tasks to be completed. Each card may include a checklist to indicate progress. All of your team members have the ability to edit a card, which makes for easier collaboration.
- Asana limits the number of team members to 15. It features user-friendly “like” and “thumbs up” functions. The ability to view the popularity of an entry at a glance can bring enhanced clarity for decision-making. It can also cut down dramatically on the need for meetings.
- Slack functions as a chat room for teams. Team members can get quick responses from colleagues even when they are scattered across the globe. Businesses that implement Slack tend to notice a sharp drop-off in the need to send and receive emails.
- Basecamp syncs to Google Drive and Google Calendar and offers a cloud-based solution that tracks both productivity and time spent on specific projects. Companies that bill based on staff time tend to use Basecamp to evaluate ROI by project, customer, and assigned staff.
- Teamwork Projects works best by breaking down large tasks into bite-size chunks and assigning them out to individuals. Each subtask can be given specific milestones and deadlines.
2. Use a team calendar for organized project reporting.
Your team members are routinely walking around with more computing horsepower in their pocket than was necessary to put Apollo 11 on the moon. You should only leverage smartphone apps to keep team members on task without being intrusive. While these devices make it possible for your team members to work constantly, you also want to avoid burning them out.
Step one is to create a project calendar on a platform that provides easy access to all staff. Many apps offer a granular approach to permission setting such that various team members can merely comment while others can make deadline edits. When setting up your team calendar, make sure you select a resource that allows you to evaluate progress regularly.
3. Assign specific tasks to specific individuals.
The importance of giving team members both responsibility and ownership can hardly be overstated. When these are lacking, confusion reigns and employees are encouraged to play a perpetual game of Pass the Buck.
Making sure an individual knows and accepts responsibility for the completion of a specific task is an art. If you are too “soft” or otherwise unclear, this can serve as an invitation to not take deadlines and milestones seriously. Should you veer into the opposite ditch and become overly authoritarian, you stifle employees’ willingness to be creative.
If you notice specific tasks that are falling behind schedule, reach out to the responsible team member privately. It may be necessary to reassign that individual, but they will appreciate your not shaming them in a team meeting. Another benefit is that you will learn things in a one-on-one conversation that you will never hear in a group setting.
4. Make team responsibilities organized and abundantly clear.
Be clear on roles and responsibilities. If team members must come to you or another manager to address every problem that arises, you can expect the team to get bogged down in frequent delays. Head off this common issue by designating a team leader to handle team problems. Each task should have one identified person responsible for reporting back.
Resist micromanagement. Give team members the authority to create subchannels using your communications tool. Encourage efficiency by allowing people to communicate only with the people affected by a specific issue. Allowing subchannel chatter encourages people to take greater ownership and frees you from managing the minutiae of every task.
Establishing responsibilities in this manner will make your team more efficient, as people can keep working without stopping to ask permission for every move they make. Clarify which types of issues require your approval. The rest of the time, your team can take primary responsibility for the details.
5. Hold only necessary meetings and require actionable agendas.
Keep organized team meetings few and short. Experiment with allowing meetings to last no longer than 15 minutes. After all, the purpose of meetings is to decide upon a course of action. Far too many discussions end up devolving into purposeless chatter. Make it clear that each team member should leave every meeting with action items.
As many meetings now occur remotely, inform team members that being on time and well prepared are still requirements. Urge your meeting moderator to avoid statements such as, “We still have 10 minutes left. Is there anything else?” Such questions imply that the purpose of the meeting is to use up the time rather than create a to-do list.
Once you draw up the action items, dismiss everyone. Results-oriented discussions help make meetings painless.
Keep in mind that “Your mileage may vary.”
Every business is unique. Even upper-level franchise managers will tell you that “identical” locations can vary greatly from another simply due to issues of geography, culture, population, and climate. The organizational principles listed above may or may not work flawlessly in your setting, so feel free to experiment with the practices that draw the best response from your team.