Team Health Part 2
Influencing done right
In the first part of this mini-series I shared some pitfalls we can encounter as managers — especially when joining a new team:
A lot is going on in a managerial role. More responsibilities. More things to keep an eye on. More context switching.
The first focus for new managers is usually delivery. How can I make sure my team is performing? We worry about delivery because we will be evaluated against it.
And that is understandable — it is a big part of leading a team. The question is how to achieve it.
I would argue that anyone can enable quick sprints of high productivity. Creating a deadline. Directing people down to the smallest detail. Exerting pressure and instilling urgency.
But it is not sustainable. Once the deadline has passed, the urgency goes away. Or, if we are trying to get it going for too long, people burn out.
If we want to have a consistently high performing team, urgency and motivation need to come from within. As managers, we need to lay the foundations by creating a healthy team.
I then went over some areas that require attention before worrying about the team’s output:
- Safety and Trust
And that is where the previous article stopped. Just short of explaining what to do when things are not going as well as hoped. So let us pick things up right where we left off.
Imagine we have been working with a new team for a few weeks now. One eye on the team health list, one eye closely watching everything happening in and around the group. And, surprise surprise, we notice something not so great!
While everybody is getting along well enough, there is a clear split between those that participate in discussions and those that do not. And if the ‘quiet’ people say something, it is often not considered.
An obvious problem in the safety and trust category.
But what to do?
Of course, we want to fix this. And if possible fast. So we take the most direct approach: introduce new rules or processes.
For example, we can introduce a meeting rule that gives more reserved folks the first word. Or we can personally call out who should speak next. Or we can put weight behind the contributions of those that are usually not heard.
Those are awesome things to do. They have their place and there is a reason why they come up all the time in articles about inclusiveness and allyship.
But in our example, there are a couple of issues with this approach. While we care about fixing this issue, we should not make it our problem. Rules and processes are fine, however, we are taking some autonomy and freedom away from the team. We also do not address the root of the problem — that some team members are dominating — but are trying to contain it.
And while the rules and processes we introduce might work for a little while, there is no guarantee it will be a long-term solution. If we are unlucky things might even get worse, for example when people are fed up and frustrated with too many of them.
Influencing Done Right
Being direct has its place, but we need to be careful when to use it. And we need to be aware of the long-term effects.
Let us come back to our problem statement: Some folks in the team are dominating discussions and decisions. One of the outcomes is that others are not participating and not listened to.
So, instead of trying to limit the impact of offending behaviour, we can try and change the behaviour.
Sounds simple — but it is not. We do not want to tell the offenders what to do. We want to get them to change their behaviour themselves. We need them to understand what impact they have on others. Subtle difference, but an important one.
What does that mean for us managers? We need to become mentors and coaches.
Those are huge areas and I will not be able to cover these areas in any detail here. But I will share the approach I am working through when I am faced with a situation like this:
- Build a trusting relationship. Surprise! Well hopefully not. If you do not have good relationships with all the people on your team, this where you have to start.
- Understand their point of view. Once people trust you, they will open up. And you can take time and listen to them. Their ideas, their goals, their motivations.
- Share the impact of their actions. Now we are getting somewhere. It is time to come back to the issue at hand and get our offenders to see what effect they have on others. Not to tell them off, but to get them to see what you see.
- Action plan and feedback. After they know what is going on, it is time to figure out a plan (together) and check-in on a regular basis. And when required, give some feedback to adjust the course.
Yes, this takes longer than setting up a process or rule. Yes, it is more effort. But we are investing in the long-term health of the team. And that long-term health is not dependent on us being there and ensuring rules exist and processes are followed.
Joining a new team or becoming a new manager is (still) daunting and stressful. Even when we know what things to look out for, we have to find a way to influence change.
We could be directive and set up new processes and rules. But to ensure long-term impact, we have to focus on mentoring and coaching others so the behaviour changes from within.