Elizabeth Shassere

@eshassere

The biggest favour a team can do for itself

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A few simple strategies that can save loads of hassle later

In my 20 years as a leader and a manager, I learned that setting out the values of your team is one of your most important and urgent actions. This is essentially about agreeing what is important to you all, and setting expectations of behaviour and performance.

One of the most impactful values is creating a shared view about how teammates should treat each other, including the leader. Set crystal clear expectations around this early, and you will build a strong and capable team that can weather almost anything. It will also save you loads of hassle later.

Where teams often run into trouble starts with how criticism and dissent is handled. This usually goes wrong one of two ways:

  • People often hate to criticise or disagree, especially with the leader. It makes them uncomfortable so they do everything they can to avoid it. This often then bubbles up into resentment and avoidance.
  • Some people don’t mind criticising or disagreeing at all- but they do it insensitively or in a way that creates a bad team atmosphere or is simply offensive and unproductive. This results in relationship breakdowns between team members.

Both of these scenarios usually happen over time, building up bad feelings and problems that become much bigger than perhaps they needed to. One of the worst effects of this is when people try to relieve some of that resentment and bad feeling by venting outside the team to anyone who will listen.

Not brave enough to tell that team member how poor you thought their work was? Angry at the way your leader took a decision? Venting to a colleague in the next team can make a person feel much better- for a moment.

When they realise their rant has made it around the office and they have undermined their own team, “I hear that leader makes crap decisions! Best to avoid working with their team if you can…” it’s too late to take a more constructive route to dealing with how they felt in the first place.

A leader can reduce the chances of this sort of thing happening and avoid its resulting fall out by working with their team on these 5 simple strategies:

  • Make it clear that dissent is acceptable and welcome as long as it is in the privacy of a team meeting or one to one. If anyone has a problem with the leader, a teammate, a decision, or action taken, it is fair to bring it up constructively (preferably with an alternative or a solution to follow) but privately.
  • Coach your team to learn to take constructive criticism on the chin. Do this by ensuring anyone with a criticism brings a suggestion of how to do it better, or a new solution, or an offer of help to get the job done well. This means everyone gets a chance to use the situation to improve and grow. The team comes to realise that offering and receiving constructive criticism and advice is a valuable aspect of a loyal and protective team.
  • Agree that everyone will speak highly of each other to external partners. Reputations are made and broken by offhand, incidental remarks about colleagues and managers. It is an extremely powerful tactic for becoming an effective and successful part of your company if team members help foster good reputations for each other outside of the team bubble. It is a point of integrity, too.
  • Make an unbreakable rule that outside of a private team environment, your loyalty is unquestionable. Exchanges can get heated, or slagging matches may kick off, but the minute you walk out of that room, you never tell tales or break confidences. If any team member does this, they give your power away as a team and make it harder to get stuff done.
  • Stress the importance of integrity; but be clear that it’s not the same as blind loyalty. Draw the line at lying, spreading untrue stories, or painting unrealistic pictures of capabilities or accomplishments just to ‘big up’ the team or protect wrongdoing. There is never an excuse for covering up corruption or legal breaches. When you’ve set out the values above, it is unlikely you’ll get to this point because you will have fostered a culture of transparency and openness. Teammates will feel able to call out bad behaviour long before there is a serious problem.

Leading and managing teams is not easy, but whether or not you get your team on board will make or break you. It isn’t hard, but it requires clear and consistent messaging to create the team you all want to be a part of.

I have written a book about how I learned how to be a better manager over 20 years of hard lessons. I share these in a simple guide so that you don’t have to learn the hard way. You can sign up here to receive news of the launch of it, my first book. I will be sharing free materials to everyone signed up here shortly.

I write about how I became the founder of a tech startup as a non-techie, over-40 female with no entrepreneurial experience, and all I am learning along the way. You can see more here: https://medium.com/@eshassere If you think this might be helpful for others on their entrepreneurial journey, please recommend and share.

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