Author: Rebecca Schalm

Unsticking Your Team’s Potential

The ‘team’ is probably the most complex and irritating relationship in an organization.

As individuals, we seem to be able to work with most people one-on-one, perhaps in groups of threes, and also as an entity of hundreds and even thousands. Where we struggle most is when there is a medium-sized group of us clustered together in a room, meeting once a month, with the purpose of, at least theoretically, doing something together.

Teams have the most trouble when there is a power differential (i.e., there is an appointed leader), and when their purpose is more strategic than operational (i.e., they make decisions vs. work on products). Most advice to teams is aimed at the leader, and what he or she can do to build a better team. Below are three membership dysfunctions that can get in the way of team effectiveness and suggestions on how team members themselves can help.

1) Team members believe the problem with the way the group is working (or rather, not working) is someone else’s fault.

Let me be clear on this point: responsibility for effective team functioning and dynamics sits squarely with the leader. However, he or she does not bear the responsibility alone. Each and every person who sits around the table is responsible for how they contribute to the dynamic. I sometimes ask people ‘what is one thing you could do differently that would help the team work together more effectively?’ and then throw up my hands in despair when I get a blank stare. The way a team member can make the team experience more positive is to reflect, answer that question, and then set about making a personal change in how they interact with their peers and leader.

2) Team members expect their leader to manage the team in a way that is consistent with the way they personally prefer to be led.

Those who want to be consulted and have decisions emerge through participative consensus-making have a difficult time with a team leader who manages in a more decisive and directive way. Team members who like direction, structure, and discipline have a tough time with leaders whose style is relaxed, opinion-seeking and open-ended.

A solution to this problem is to relax your expectations that your boss will always adjust his or her style to accommodate your preferences. While some leaders are adept at understanding and adapting to the needs of the group and the situation, not all are. The problem becomes more complex when you stop and realize everyone sitting around the table prefers something a little bit different: there is no way to make everyone happy all at the same time. Recognizing this and your leader’s limitations (and strengths) can help to elicit more empathy, and perhaps motivate you to adjust and temper your own expectations.

3) Team members expect their peers to defer to them as experts on functional issues and regard them as smarter than average on everything else.

One of the most common complaints I hear from people is that no one asks their opinion or listens when they offer it. The trouble is I hear this from every member of the team, suggesting that not only are they not being heard, they are also not listening to others.

There are two ways to address this problem. The first is to spend more time talking to each other one-on-one so you have time to fully express yourself, get a reaction from others, and evolve your thinking before you tackle the entire team with your good ideas.

The second is to be prudent around what opinions you express, how, and when. Does the team really need your personal opinion on everything? Is your input so different or so critical that it will change the direction of the conversation? Is it core to the issue or just an interesting aside? The more relevant and poignant your input, the more likely people are to stop and listen.

Teams are as unique as individual relationships. Sometimes they work like magic. Sometimes they stumble along clumsily. Most shift back and forth between these extremes. It should always be our goal to lead an effective team when we are in the position to do so. And it should always be our goal to be a member of an effective team when we are not.

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Dr. Rebecca Schalm, who has a Ph.D in Industrial/Organizational Psychology, is Human Resources columnist with Troy Media Corporation and a practice leader with RHR International Company, a company that offers psychology related services for organizations worldwide.

Six Mistakes to Avoid when You Start a New Job

I just wrapped up a year-long research project investigating what happens when leaders take on new roles or responsibilities in their company.

For the last few years ‘onboarding’ – the process of acquiring, accommodating, assimilating and accelerating new team members, whether they come from outside or inside the company – has been a hot topic but it has focused almost exclusively on employees who join from the outside. But there has been a lot more internal movement than external hiring in the past year. Just because someone already knows a company, does it make their transition easy? We didn’t think so, and neither do the statistics.

Surveys by DDI (2006) and The Institute for Executive Development (2008) report 25% of people who move into a new job will fail. You don’t want to be one of those statistics. Paying attention to six common mistakes will help you make a smooth, successful transition.

Mistake #1: Assume you know what is expected of you

One of the biggest complaints we heard from new leaders was a lack of clarity around the role and their boss’s expectations. A key reason for this is that there simply isn’t enough candid conversation, before or after the move. Would you take a job at a different company without thoroughly investigating it and spending time with your new boss discussing her expectations? Put the assumptions aside and start asking questions – even if you think they are dumb. How does your boss see the role? What does he expect you to accomplish? How will that be measured? What do other people expect from you?

Mistake #2: Assume you have relationships with the right people

When people join a new company they invest a lot of energy building relationships with stakeholders. They know that these are critical to getting things done. When you move inside your company, you might assume you already know everyone. The reality is relationships are a lot more complicated than that – you take your history with you. If you have been promoted, people who used to be your superiors are now your peers. People who used to be peers are now subordinates. Not everyone is going to be happy with this arrangement, and not everyone will make it easy. A good strategy is to sit down and map out your stakeholders and realistically assess the history and strength of your relationship. You need to re-contract all of your pre-existing relationships, and you may need to build some bridges.

Mistake #3: Assume the culture is the same

Every function, every team, every level in a company has its own culture. Your job is to understand how it is different from what you are used to, and what you need to do to adjust to it. For people who are promoted, operating at a new level of team dynamics and politics often comes as a shock. The sooner you figure out nuances around group culture and norms, the faster you will be able to fit in.

Mistake #4: Forget to earn the credibility of others

When people come from the outside they spend their first 90 days working on an early win. They know it is critical to demonstrate why they were hired. What internal transfers sometimes forget is that their colleagues are waiting for them to prove themselves, too. People want to know why you got that promotion or were assigned to that high-profile project. It is not enough to rely on your history. You need to prove yourself.

Mistake #5: Take too long to figure out what you don’t know

When you’ve just been picked for a new job it can be tough to admit what you don’t know. After all, you’ve been around. People are expecting you to know, aren’t they? The likelihood that you are going to walk in and not know everything is pretty high. Figure out what that is sooner rather than later and don’t be afraid to ask the dumb questions.

Mistake #6: Ignore your development gaps

Every new job demands new things from you, things you may not have done before. You may need to delegate more, think more strategically, influence more effectively. Leaders often assume they are ready for a new job. We found that in the beginning, 75% believe they are adequately prepared and have the capabilities to be successful. By Month 10, this drops to 40%. It is more popular these days to talk about strengths, and you need to leverage them. But don’t ignore your development gaps. Address them before they become derailers.

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Dr. Rebecca Schalm, who has a Ph.D in Industrial/Organizational Psychology, is Human Resources columnist with Troy Media Corporation and a practice leader with RHR International Company, a company that offers psychology related services for organizations worldwide.