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16 DECEMBER 2018

written by Mike

Two Cents on Teamwork

 

Everything is all about teamwork these days. Synergy, team get-togethers, motivational speeches and management courses are all about running a proficient and a happy team. A quick detour to LinkedIn is an excellent example of then, every hiring agency writes about the importance of the team and team culture.

I’m also guilty of that, in the past I wrote about how much better it is to work in the team versus being a solopreneur. How it helps to come up with better ideas and achieve the goals much faster. However, I’ve also learned, through a hard way, that being part of the team – as a member or supervisor – is a tough task.

It often goes like this – at the beginning of a new team in a startup or freshly created environment (or just a new team of people in an established company) it’s always about the direction and management.

It’s difficult enough to have strangers spend so much time together, and it’s especially tough to get them working towards the same goals. The first step is to get everyone aligned and pumped up. Get them excited to go to work every day.

But, let’s say that everyone is motivated. Excited about the project, the opportunity, money, status and what have you. They understand their place in the machine, and they start working hard. Weeks and months pass by, team members help each other out, the workload gets big but everyone is on board, the success seems to be just around the corner.

Then it happens. The business starts running well, and the project gets recognition. Customers, users and fans love the product, the company and the team. The hard work paid off, and the show starts running like a well-oiled machine. Everyone is still working hard, but there is no need for constant meetings, get-togethers or even helping each other out as much. It’s because everyone knows what they are doing, and they are doing it well.

After these few paragraphs you may think to yourself – so what? If everything is going so well, what seems to be a problem?

I had a bit of luck to be in this particular position a few times. When everything worked great, the consensus was that because people know what they are doing, management can take a step back. That’s right, there is no need for holding hands anymore, but without a proper feedback platform it is quite easy to start taking things for granted.

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When everything is going great, the business is thriving, sales are coming through the door, you get new likes, viewers and positive comments it is tempting to think that you figured it out. Finally, after all this time, you found the magic formula and repeating it will bring more success.

There is no need to overcomplicate anymore.

In my short experience, these are the times that you have to be even more aware than before – to plan for the unexpected, to tackle small issues, to communicate even more.

Unattended issues tend to appear when we least expect them when we think that everything is and will always go our way. Maintaining relationships is as important as starting them, it doesn’t matter if it’s at home or in your business.

If you are in a position of any power, make yourself available, encourage conversations and transparency. Make sure that everyone is aware of the feedback platform and safe space where they can speak their minds.

What I found is that it is easy to forget that. To think that everybody around you knows they are appreciated and valued, that the work speaks for itself.

It’s not as easy. There are as many approaches to management and teamwork as many people in the world and most of us need some validation, praise and feeling of significance. To know that others value what we do and appreciate it.

It can be as easy as setting up a weekly team meeting when you catch up on everything and anything that happened: not just work but any issues, as casual or as serious as they can be. Making sure that everyone has a chance to speak and is free to discuss anything.

Emails that merely say you appreciate your team’s hard work are essential too, making sure that the work makes the difference and without their input, the project wouldn’t be as successful.

The big issue is also that you have to back up your words and make sure you mean it. Only recently I had a chat with someone close to me who complained about their boss.

On the surface, they were asked for an opinion, input and comments and were praised for it. However only few days later it turned out that everything they said was disregarded and the management has gone with their own decision.

That’s fine too; however, it wasn’t explained why that happened, and for the rest of the week, the boss strategically avoided meeting with the said persons.

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It’s all about feeling that you mean something, that you are not just a replaceable cog in the machine. You can disagree, and civilised arguments should be welcomed as avoiding the issue almost never ends well.

I worked in environments that both respect and appreciate every input as well as in the top-down hierarchy when the hard work was expected, and only mistakes were pointed out.

I remember one time after working overtime for weeks and overstretching myself and the team to bring the big project to a close it was finally over. We were tired and drained, and when we had our end of the project review, the management picked on a couple of errors that we made utterly omitting all the hard work that went into finishing the project.

I don’t need constant praise and pats on my back, but even though this happened years ago, I still vividly remember that moment. My disappointment and feeling worthless stayed with me for months and ultimately led to leaving the team.

Each way of management has pros and cons, but I’m more motivated to press extra hard when I know that my input is appreciated and mistakes are learning opportunities. I would like to believe that most people are like that too.

I’m all for the tough love approach, and I hate tiptoeing around the issues, however transparency, understanding and respect do not exclude any of that.

People are afraid of speaking their mind, and they want to keep their jobs, they don’t want to cause trouble. Making sure that from the get-go they know that they can raise any issue they want will make problem-solving much more comfortable and faster, but without proper communication channels, it won’t work.

We don’t hear it often but success can often be a trigger for a downfall too, and it usually happens where you least expect it.

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