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9 Team Tools for Today

Team dynamics are fluid. We may envision a high functioning team as a gentle brook, winding it's way smoothly around trees and stones. Sometimes we experience a team as a gushing rapids splashing against boulders with a never-ending roar! The Real Truth is that every team experiences, reacts and behaves in all manner of currents because variables (external, internal, personal and global) are constantly changing like . . . well like the weather. Unless you live in San Diego. I like to spend time in Inverness. In the Upper Penninsula of Michigan where I grew up we called it "experiencing the 4 seasons." Uh huh.

The Real Truth is, leaders have to constantly be checking the weather and other variables and pushing and pulling levers to lead their team through these changing, sometimes unexpected and often uncontrollable, factors. And, no team no matter how naturally aligned and competent, can be sustained by letting it run its course. Eventually, it will overflow it's banks. Or, become disengaged, resentful, or just dry up. Leaders need to constantly be managing the health of a team, through nuances as well as when there is an emergency alert. There's no hiding in the basement until the storm is over in leadership. If you think there is, you are not a leader, and no one is truly following you. The Real Truth hurts if you only periodically subscribe to it.

In my 30+ years as a manager and working with managers and leaders, here is what I found: it takes time and practice and effort and desire to be a leader. When I started my career, I was a pretty good manager. It took me 25 years to truly learn and exhibit real leadership capabilities . . . most of the time. These are the team leadership tools I've collected over that time:

  1. Who you show up as matters and is modelled by The Team. People are watching. You are paid to be a leader, not a 5th a grader.

  2. Do you have clairvoyance in your job descriptions? When people ask what is the most common root cause issue that I come across in my work, it is not competence, it's not resource availability, it's not even leadership. It's communication. Communicate and then communicate again, and then check to see what further communication is needed. Not joking, not intending to be trite. And, communicate with the audience needs in mind, not your ego's. No one takes enough time to communicate as much as necessary. Yes, these are long-aged platitudes, and the reason that they have been around so long is because, THEY ARE THE REAL TRUTH! Plan time for communication. Then double it.

  3. Either know what you are doing, or acknowledge that you don't. Fools are always discovered. Did Shakespeare say that? I loved my HS English teacher, HP (she never did say what the nickname was short for, but said it wasn't her initials, Helen Peters) , but could never understand half the King's English. God bless her for trying. Don't try to BS your way through. Teams respect you more for finding the solution, not trying to be it..

  4. Leadership is less about doing (i.e. tangible output) and more about strategizing, planning and facilitating. I worked with an organization that I think thought it was humble to say "we have leader doers." Yeah, maybe when you have 50 employees, but not 400! Leaders know how to make things happen, not by doing, but by influencing others, removing roadblocks, making prioritization decisions, and bringing solution generators together. If you think that attending meetings and delegating to others is how you impact the organization, there needs to be some payroll deductions back to the company. Hope is not a leadership strategy.

  5. Listen. Understand. Support. Care. Need to understand more? You may be in the wrong role.

  6. Foster teamwork by extinguishing "me" behaviors (we all have 'em!)

  7. Push the ducks in to the pond without you.

  8. Yours, theirs and ours. Or, role responsibilities, process clarity and cross-functional work integration. Yeah sure, your team members, your work partners and you have things that you do every day. Everyone knows the routine, what is expected of them, what needs to be achieved, right? Wrong. Please refer to paragraph one. Things are constantly changing with greater frequency and more nebulousness. You can't go over a job description once a year--which no one ever did anyway. Continuous conversations about role, process and goal/output are needed based upon different projects, new scenarios, and quite frankly, just life.

  9. Have fun with your team! Not just the occasional happy hour or axe throwing competition, but every day, every meeting.

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