Thank you to all who have visited the blog so far this month! So many countries! I appreciate it.
Back in February, I challenged one of my teams with an initiative. I required each of them to share 1 idea or 1 area of improvement within our department and/or company. I created a OneNote folder where they would share these things every week. They had to include their name for accountability purposes.
Some took to the challenge immediately and some really great things are in motion today to bring their ideas to life. Some thought they really didn’t have any ideas. But through our 1-on-1 sessions when I got them thinking and talking, ideas flowed.
“But that’s a pretty small thing,” one team member told me after sharing an idea. And I reminded them I wasn’t looking for a cure for cancer. Just simple ideas that would help create less friction or would help others understand a necessary process better or that would create a better customer experience is what we were looking for. Small steps in the right direction compound to have a significant impact in the long run.
Do you know that your team has more to contribute? Do you know they have experiences that are extremely valuable and can be leveraged? Do you believe that ideas should come from all areas of your organization, not just the executive levels?
Give your team a challenge, encourage their participation, and watch them grow. You will see collaboration. You will see people stretching beyond their comfort zone. You will hear some pretty great ideas that you’ve never considered before.
And your team member, you, and your organization will become better as a result.
So a manager you lead approaches you to say they need time off to deal with significant family issues. You can hear the tension in their voice. What do you do?
- Listen to them. Hear their emotion. Accept that emotion.
- Ask appropriate questions. “Are you worried about work?” “What can I do to help you and your family during this time?” Connect with your team member.
- Feel. Feel what they are feeling. If you are not an emotional person, that’s ok. Work hard to empathize with them. They need to know you understand (even in part) what they are going through.
- Think. Think of actionable things YOU can do to make them feel less guilty about work, take the load off of their shoulders and place the work load on you and their team members. It’s not a forever thing, but you can communicate and demonstrate “we are here for you” during this difficult time.
- Act. Set up a time to meet prior to their leave of absence to plan the course of action.
- Follow-up/Follow-through. Keep the communication going for the entire team. Touch base with this team member.
This is a crucial time to communicate how much you value your team member. Difficult times come – that’s life. But with some intention, care and concern, as well as humanity, you help your team member navigate through their current stormy waters.
If you have built trust within your team, this is a critical time to put that to the test. Allow vulnerability. Allow tears. Encourage communication and promise it. Be human.
For over 30 years, I have been privileged to lead great teams in various organizations. Together, we have pushed ourselves to continually become better. We have held each other accountable even if it became uncomfortable. We worked to have a one-mind approach to our success.
Over the years, I have learned some things about leading teams.
I connected better with my teams when I got to know them better personally. I truly care about the people I serve. I have listened as they shared about their children. I have seen them worry before certain tests were going to happen that would determine long-term care for a child.
I have attended weddings, visited them in the hospital, delivered meals to their homes, and attended their funerals. Caring makes leaders vulnerable, but it is such an authentic way to connect with teams.
Team members want to be coached. They want to improve when they know they are valued. Coaching can pinpoint areas needing improvement as well as celebrating with them when they overcome an obstacle. Coaching means asking great, probing questions to get to the core of issues.
Team members do not like uncertainty. I’ve learned to be available via email, Skype, phone, or personal meetings. The team has not taken advantage of this. But they know I’m open to invest time with them in order to keep our communication lines open. I’ve learned so much from my teams by encouraging open communication.
And I have learned to model open communication.
My teams have accomplished great things over the years. They banded together to make what seemed to be impossible possible. They have reached out to those in need in the community in order to make someone else’s children have a dream Christmas. They’ve shattered expectations in sales and service initiatives.
And in my coaching sessions, team meetings, and on performance reviews I celebrate them. They love the retelling of their story of success.
I have been a promoter of the organizations I have served. I have liked working there. But I have loved my teams. Watching them grow and develop, advance in their careers, and triumph in personal trials has been a privilege for me.
What have you learned about teams from your experience?
I’m sure you’ve been caught up in what seems to be an endless email string. It started off between two people and suddenly there is a host of folks chiming in. Or perhaps one of your team members forwards one to you and says something to the effect of, “see what’s going on?!”
If an issue, complaint, misunderstanding is heading down the email string path, stop it. Pick up the phone. Set up a Skype or Zoom meeting. Walk to their desk. Take them out for coffee or lunch. But stop the email string.
Communicate directly and clearly. The written word is powerful, but it all comes with inherent misunderstandings. Some read an email and pick up a certain “tone” in the words. Others read the same email and don’t. Others see an offensive approach while others don’t.
Jon Acuff in his book, Soundtracks, speaks of direct communication in a couple of ways that I have found to be helpful.
“Curiosity beats criticism.” “My predictions are positive.”
I have had team members and colleagues forward an email string. “See what they said to me?!” Curiosity can say, “Why are they communicating this way? What is the root cause of this issue? Have you talked with this person directly about this?” Encourage your team (and yourself) to lead with curiosity and not criticism. Seek to understand.
This then leads to Acuff’s other point. An email string can be wrought with assumptions. Approaching issues from the positive can begin to break down walls, cease accusations, and come to a common goal – clear communication that leads to results.
I challenge you (and me) to encourage direct communication. Far too much time and money is wasted on incendiary emails that contaminates the workplace. We’re better than that.
I’m reading Soundtracks by Jon Acuff. What I read early this morning was this:
CURIOSITY BEATS CRITICISM.
When faced with another “annoying” question from someone, be curious. Ask them questions:
- How can I communicate this to them more effectively?
- What am I missing?
- What resources are they missing?
When you see work being done that is not up to standard, be curious.
- What does your team member think of the quality of their work?
- How clearly did you communicate your expectations on this particular project?
It seems that far too often we default to criticism. This leads to discouragement and frustration in your team members. And when that happens, the team will not perform with excellence.
Try being curious. Ask more questions.
Trust in you, the leader, will go up. When trust increases, work tends to get done more efficiently and effectively. Job satisfaction rises, too.
Curiosity beats criticism. Try it!
This morning, I started reading a new book, Soundtracks by Jon Acuff. I have been studying how the brain works and how we act/react according to how we think. This book will be providing more insights into that area.
One quote caught my eye today.
“I imagine that everyone I work with is a business partner that I’m trying to help grow. I have 350 partners.”
Every day whether in person or working remotely, we interact with coworkers. Most of the time, these interactions go smoothly. Other times…not so much.
Acuff is pointing out in his book that our brains work off of existing “recordings”, thoughts that we believe (whether they are true or not) and then we act on them. Soundtracks is about replacing old “recordings” with new ones. Doing this brings meaning back to our encounters. It inspires us to move forward looking at life with a fresh perspective.
So today, as you log on in your home office or as you enter your office building (maybe for the first time in a year!), imagine that everyone you work with is a business partner that you are trying to help grow. If you get asked the same question multiple times a day, there is an opportunity to help your business partners grow. If you get caught up in an email string that takes a harsh turn, don’t respond with another email. Pick up the phone. Send out a Skype/Zoom invite. Walk to their desk if you are both onsite. And talk. Listen. Ask questions. Find ways to help them (and you) grow.
Break out of old patterns. Change the “recordings” of old soundtracks and replace them with better ones. You can do this. You can rewire your thinking. It is possible.