Posted under Team Building on June 4, 2023 by Shari Harley. 0 Comments
Early in my career, I worked with a woman I didn’t get along with. We were on the same team and had the same job, but didn’t see eye to eye on how to approach work or solve problems. And when we didn’t agree, things got ugly. I have to admit to being afraid of her.
The odd thing is that socially, we did fine. When our team socialized outside of work, we had fun and got along well. That’s when I realized that there was no correlation between camaraderie and working well together.
Lots of teams go bowling, to baseball games, and out for happy hour as team building activities. And while team members may enjoy being together at these events and get to know each other personally, they don’t learn how to work well together and how to resolve conflict.
Go bowling or out for happy hour, just don’t expect people to work better together as a result of those activities. If you want to do impactful team building activities, give team members a chance to learn about each other and themselves, and make agreements of how team members will work together in the future. Create occasions for candid conversations.
When I lead corporate team building activities, I put people in small groups, give the group a box of Candor Questions for Team Building and time to answer the questions. People talk about things they should have talked about when they started working together. Team members learn about each other’s working style preferences and what each person needs from both the job and each other. But most importantly, team members have permission to talk about things they normally don’t, and begin to create a climate of candor, which is essential for any group of people working together. For a team to work well together, it must be safe to tell the truth. Teams need to talk about the things that impact them most – each other.
So go bowling and out for happy hour. But also create opportunities for team members to talk about the things that matter most — how they impact each other at work.
Frustrated by a control freak, micromanager, or a high-need-to-know type? Controlling behavior stems from a need that isn’t being met. Identify the need, meet it, and your life gets easier.
If someone wants more updates, information, or involvement than you’re comfortable with, the person has a need that isn’t being met. When you meet the need, the person will likely back off.
I ask the people who work for me to not make me ask for anything twice. Meaning, if I ask for an update the week before a speaking engagement, anticipate that I’ll want that information for all engagements. Confirm by asking me and then provide the data without being asked for all future engagements. Getting the information regularly without having to ask builds trust and credibility.
Here are six tips for working with control freaks:
1. If you don’t know, ask:
The person’s work-related goals. What are they working on this quarter and year?
What the person is concerned about at work? What are they worried about?
How do they like to communicate – in-person, email, phone, video, voicemail, or text?
How often do they want information, in what format, and with how much detail?
2. Provide more information than you think you need to, and then ensure the person wants that information in the future.
3. If you’re asked for information, ask why the person wants it, and if they want it in the future. Then provide the information before you’re asked.
4. If someone is overly involved in your work and you feel you have no freedom, state your observation and ask for information. That could sound like, “You’ve been involved with each major decision with this project. I’m used to working with less oversight. Do you have a concern about my approach?” Then you negotiate. Everything is a negotiation.
5. The approach in number four will likely put the other person on the defensive. A less confrontational approach is to discuss and agree upon levels of involvement and supervision when projects begin. That could sound something like, “What kind of involvement do you want to have in this project? What do you want to do? What do you want me to do? What kind of updates would you like, how often, and with how much detail?” It’s always easier to prevent a problem than to fix one.
6. Lastly, don’t take anything personally. Oversight and involvement may be a reflection of how someone feels about your performance, but it might not. When in doubt, ask.
Leaders with virtual and hybrid workforces are worried about losing their organization’s culture. Some organizations are calling employees back into the office to retain culture. Others are hosting in-person social events, retreats, and meetings to help employees reconnect and strengthen culture.
Getting together in person is nice but it isn’t always possible. And what happens when everyone goes home? Culture is built on a daily basis.
Organizational culture is an outcome of the decisions we make and how those decisions get made, how we treat people, and how we communicate and work together. If you want to strengthen your organization’s culture, do it every day.
To strengthen your culture, take small regular actions.
Start each meeting helping employees get to know each other better, from a work perspective.
I wrote a repair person, who worked in my house, a two-page, single spaced list of all the things that needed addressing. Then I followed up with seven text messages. I don’t want people to have to guess what they have to do. I want to be thorough. It feels like the right and helpful thing to do.
The problem? The repair person didn’t read my list. It was too long. I would have been better off saving my time and saying nothing if he wasn’t going to read the list anyway.
When people send me an email with five paragraphs, my eyes glaze over. I close the email promising to read it later, but don’t until the sender asks if I received their email. People are busy and have to choose where to invest time. When it comes to communication, often, less is more. The question is, how to be succinct and still be thorough? How do you make sure people know what’s expected without providing so much information that nothing gets read?
I’m going to admit, I struggle with this.
I’ve decided to create some communication rules for myself. I’m hoping they’ll be helpful to you as well.
Draft communications and save them as a draft. Read them again a few minutes later and ask, “Can I say this in half as many words? Is all of this information necessary?”
Think communications through rather than communicating impulsively. I’m someone who operates with a high sense of urgency. I suspect my sense of urgency has helped me to be successful personally and professionally, but it also has me send messages before I’ve thought everything through, which leads to seven text messages, rather than one.
Limit yourself to one or two messages. When you know you can send only one email or text message, you’ll likely be more thoughtful about the communications.
Draft succinct instructions and then ask the person what they’re planning to do. This is a delegation technique. Require the person to whom you’ve delegated to tell you what they know or don’t know. Then you know how to help.
I suspect that providing the right amount of detail will be something I’ll struggle with forever. The key take aways are this:
People often don’t read long communications. If you can say it in fewer words, do so. Shorter is better. Be complete, but don’t go overboard. Make sure things are said only one time. If you’re not sure someone read or understood what you said or wrote, ask them what they heard or read. Don’t ask, “Do you have any questions?” Or “Does that make sense?” Both are waste-of-time, non-questions.
It’s easy to forget about team building when you’re working virtually, or to think that team building can’t be don’t virtually, or to decide to wait to do team building until your whole team can get together in person. My advice; don’t wait.
Often the most meaningful aspects of work are the people we work with and the relationships we build. When you leave a job, you leave your laptop and take your friendships. You can build team work virtually, you just need to make the time.
Even if you’re type A and tightly wound (like I am), spend the first few minutes of meetings on small talk, just like you would if you were gathering in a physical conference room. Ask what people are doing for the holidays. Commiserate over vacations you’re missing and food you know you shouldn’t be eating.
Eat lunch together, virtually. Remember when people used to sit together in the office breakroom or cafeteria? Why not eat together via video? Team building doesn’t have to be elaborate. It can just be spending time together, talking about things other than work.
Humans need people contact and relationships. People are missing other people. Connections with our coworkers make us feel connected to our organizations.
Small talk and group lunches create camaraderie, but they don’t teach people how to work together. In addition to social activities, give people a chance to talk about working style preferences too. You don’t have to do personality assessments and long training programs to build teamwork. Just give people a chance to talk about how they like to work, on a regular basis.
Tell you team you want to help people get to know each other better so work gets done more easily. Start each team meeting with one of the questions below, then move on to your meeting agenda. Do this all year.
Here are a few team building questions you can use:
What are your pet peeves at work?
What time of day do you do your best work?
Do you leave your email, phone, or text alerts on at night? If I text you after hours, will you get a ping?
If I email you on weekends and evenings, do you think I expect a response? Would you prefer I send messages only during regular business hours?
What work do you like to do most?
What work do you like to do least?
What’s an area of our business you’d like to learn more about?
What’s something you’d like to learn to do that you don’t have a chance to do now?
Read a question to the group. Give everyone at the meeting the opportunity to answer the question about themselves. And remember, the meeting leader/facilitator speaks last. People will often follow the most senior person’s lead. You want people to answer authentically rather than providing what they think is the ‘right’ answer.
Team building doesn’t have to take a lot of time or money. Don’t wait until everyone is back in the office or for a future retreat. Help coworkers spend time together formally and informally, getting to know each other better now.
So much has changed in the last year and a half. And what you need to be happy at work may have changed too. The question is, do the people you work for and with know what you need now?
You aren’t likely to get what you don’t ask for, but most people don’t ask for very much. We assume that the people we work with will do the right thing without prompting. We’ll get the recognition and compensation we deserve at work because it’s the right thing to do. We’ll be included in important meetings and decisions regardless of from where we are working.
If you read this blog regularly, you already know that I’m a proponent of setting clear expectations and asking more questions before problems occur. Consider what you want and need, anticipate what can go wrong, and plan accordingly before problems happen. Doing that sounds great in theory, but how does it work in practice?
Here are five ways to increase your job satisfaction:
Increasing your job satisfaction tip one: Be honest with yourself about what you need to be happy at work. Rather than tell yourself you won’t get what you need or try to convince yourself that you shouldn’t need something, just admit your needs to yourself.
Increasing your job satisfaction tip two: Share your needs with people who can help you get those needs met. Don’t make people guess. Chances are they won’t guess at all or will guess wrong.
Increasing your job satisfaction tip three: Don’t assume things will go well and just wait and see what happens. Instead, set clear expectations at the beginning of new projects and working relationships.
Here’s how that could sound: “We’re going to be working together for the next six months. Let’s talk about how everyone likes to communicate, what people’s pet peeves are, and the kind of information each person wants to receive.”
Here’s another example of how that could sound: “I’m excited to work on this project with you. There are a few things to know about me that will help us work well together and deliver timely results. I ask a lot of questions. Let me know if this frustrates you. I’m not questioning you; I just have a need to understand why we do what we do. And I work best with a deadline. I am happy to be available off hours, but you probably won’t hear from me before 9 am. You will get messages and work from me at night and on the weekends. Just let me know if you’d prefer I schedule messages to go out during regular business hours.”
People might give you what you need if you ask, but they likely won’t if you don’t. Train others how to work with you.
Increasing your job satisfaction tip four: Agree to talk about things as they happen. Don’t wait until you’re about to explode to speak up.
That could sound like, “I want us to work well together, and things will go wrong. Can we agree that we’ll provide feedback as things happen so we can make timely adjustments?”
Increasing your job satisfaction tip five: Renegotiate when you need to. If you realize you need or want something that you didn’t ask for, go back and ask. It’s never too late.
Here’s how that could sound, “We touch base about once a month and I’m realizing that if we could talk for about 20 minutes once a week, I’d be able to get more done. Can we make that happen?”
Job satisfaction and happiness don’t just happen. The people you work with are not you and they don’t know what you need. Make a regular practice of identifying what you need, making those needs known, and then speaking up when things go awry. You won’t get what you don’t ask for, but you will get what you allow.
Perhaps you’re going back to work in person part or full time and you’re nervous. Will people sit closer than you’re comfortable sitting? Will people wear masks? Will someone ask you to wear a mask when you don’t think it’s necessary? Yes, yes, and yes. All of these things are likely to happen. And addressing each situation will be uncomfortable. The good news is, if all of these events are predictable, they’re also preventable.
The time to talk about how people will behave in the office, is before people return to the office. Preventing a breakdown is always easier than addressing one.
Managers, get your team members together via phone or video and outline the organization’s expectations around masks, physical distancing, etc. Be explicitly clear. “Everyone is expected to be courteous and use common sense.” is not clear. My definition of being courteous and using common sense is different from yours. Follow the meeting up with written expectations that reiterate what you outlined during the meeting.
Direct reports, speak candidly with your managers about what you need. If you’re not comfortable working in an open floor plan, talk about it before you go back to the office. If you’re not comfortable attending a meeting with others in a conference room, have the conversation before the first in-person meeting. It’s ok to have concerns, and it’s ok to talk about them.
Teams, get together via phone or video before you go back to the office and agree on the practices you will follow. For example, if your organization’s policy is to wear a mask and a team member’s mask is below their nose, everyone on the team has the right to ask the person to pull it up. If a team member feels people are sitting too close, it’s ok to ask for space.
My point isn’t which Covid safety practices to employ. My point is to have the conversations before you return to the office. Anticipate every possible outcome. Talk with friends and colleagues who are already working in person and ask for the pitfalls and breakdowns they’ve experienced. Set clear expectations with your manager, peers, and internal and external customers. Then agree to talk about breakdowns as they happen. If you can predict it, you can prevent it.
People are not us; they do things their way, not ours. This is so obvious. Yet violated expectations are consistently a source of lots of frustration and upset, both personally and professionally. “How could you not check your work before submitting information to a client?” “What do you mean you didn’t call that person back?” “You said what?!”
The most frequent request we get at Candid Culture is for feedback training. The call usually goes something like this, “The communication isn’t great at our company. Managers don’t give a lot of feedback. People don’t talk directly to each other when there are problems, they talk about each other. Can you help?”
Sure, we can help. But once we’re having this conversation people are already frustrated. Trust has been violated and relationships and reputations have been damaged. Instead of waiting for problems to occur, expect the unexpected. Set clear expectations before people don’t proofread reports, miss deadlines, and do other things you wouldn’t dream of doing.
How to avoid violated (often unstated) expectations? Ask more questions.
Here are seven questions you should ask every person you work with to set expectations. And if you do, your workplace will have fewer frustrations and violated expectations:
What’s most important that you’re working on right now? What are your goals this quarter?
What are we both working on that we can work on together? Or what should one of us stop working on?
How do you like to communicate? Phone, video, in-person, by appointment, or impromptu calls?
How do you like to receive information – email, voicemail, text message or instant messenger?
If I need information from you and I haven’t heard back from you, what should I do?
What are your pet peeves at work? How could I annoy you and not even know it?
How do you like to be interrupted? (You’re going to be interrupted. You might as well have a preference.)
Here’s the philosophy and practice: People aren’t you. Anticipate challenges, breakdowns, and violated expectations, and talk about them before they happen. Make requests. Ask questions.
It’s always easier to ask for what you want than to give feedback.
Starting a new job is like the first day of school. It’s scary. Who will I have lunch with? How do I make copies and get reimbursed for expenses? Who do I need a good working relationship with? Starting a new job virtually is even more challenging. Who are these people I work with and how do I reach them?
We need to help new employees acclimate to people and processes, and this introduction increases tenfold when starting a job virtually.
“People leave managers not jobs” is an old phrase. I’ll widen the net a bit – people leave companies, not jobs. People unhappy at one company often take a similar job at a different company. They like being an accountant, auditor, marketing manager, they just didn’t like working for __________ (fill in the blank) at __________ (fill in the blank).
Here are six practices for helping new, virtual employees acclimate and feel at home quickly:
Focus on relationships first and workplace goals second.
I onboard all new employees – virtual or in-person – with a handful of Team Building and Manage People Candor Questions. My first meeting with employees has nothing to do with goals or objectives. Instead, we talk about working-style preferences and pet peeves. We get to know each other and build trust. As Stephen Covey said in his book the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “Deposit into the emotional bank account.” And as William Ury said in his book on negotiation, Getting to Yes, “Go slow to go fast.”
2. Make it safe and easy to ask questions.
Few people like to admit they don’t know something. I’d rather have my new employees pick up the phone or email me with a question than spend 60-minutes of frustration searching for an answer.
Ask, “What questions do you have” each time you meet and wait longer than you think you should for the answer. People always have questions. Make room for them to ask.
3. Have multiple people train new employees.
Training a new employee develops the person doing the training and builds immediate relationships.
4. Set up a system for people to ‘interview’ others throughout the organization – a virtual meet and greet of sorts.
5. Have team meetings on video.
I know, I know, people are tired of video meetings. Make them short, sweet, and regular.
6. Meet one-on-one weekly with new employees.
I suggest weekly meetings for at least the first six months, and protect the meeting time. If one-on-one’s with employees get cancelled, reschedule immediately. Cancelling meetings with direct reports without rescheduling sends the message that the direct report isn’t important.
Working with people virtually isn’t that different from working with people in person. Pick up the phone. Use video. Talk with people weekly. Ask questions. Wait for answers. Make sure new employees ‘meet’ and are exposed to a lot of people throughout the organization. People leave companies, not jobs.
Giving feedback upwards is hard. Giving feedback downward is hard. Giving feedback to peers can be the hardest of all. We work closely with our peers. They’re often our friends. And still, we need to be able to speak freely when our coworkers violate our expectations.
The key to being able to give peers feedback (to give anyone feedback) is to agree that doing so is not only acceptable but expected. Before agreeing to give and receive feedback, peers need to set clear expectations of how they’ll work together and treat each other.
Telling people how you want to work with them is always easier than asking someone to change their behavior. But it often just doesn’t occur to us to tell our peers what we want and need from them. We’re busy. They’re busy. And don’t they already know what courteous workplace behavior looks like? Return all emails within a day or two, tell people if you’re running behind on a project and will miss a deadline, and call into meetings on time from a quiet workspace. Aren’t all of these behaviors fairly obvious? Do I really need to tell people these are my expectations? Uh….yes, you do.
If you don’t want employees dumping these challenges on their managers, help employees talk to each other.
Here are seven steps to help people who work together set expectations and hold each other accountable:
Schedule a meeting during which people working together can discuss what they need from each other to be satisfied and productive. Then facilitate a discussion during which the group creates 5 – 7 behavior guidelines each person agrees to follow.
Put the list of agreed-upon behaviors in a shared folder. Leave the guidelines there indefinitely.
Give each person in the group permission to talk to individuals who violate the guidelines. This is very, very important. For the most part, employees won’t tell a peer s/he is missing deadlines, gossiping, or is distracted during meetings. People will suffer in silence and avoid the offender rather than speak up about the behaviors that frustrate them.
Ask the group to grant each other permission to speak up when guidelines are violated. Giving each other permission to speak up will make future conversations possible – difficult but possible. Without permission and these agreed-upon behaviors in place, people will suffer in silence or talk about each other, not to each other.
Ask everyone in the workgroup to take feedback graciously, responding with “thank you for telling me,” rather than with defensiveness.
Two weeks after making the list of guidelines, get the group together on a call to review the list, and make any necessary changes to it. Discuss behaviors that were omitted, aren’t realistic, and are realistic but aren’t being followed.
Then follow up by facilitating a monthly conversation during which group members give honest feedback about which guidelines are being followed and which are not, and problem solve as a group. These conversations aren’t a chance to embarrass or call people out in front of a large group. If one person is violating a guideline, that conversation should happen individually. Group conversations keep the lines of communication open – which is essential to making working with others work.
You will need a strong facilitator for the group discussions. The facilitator must tease out people’s thoughts while making sure no one gets blasted in front of the group. Don’t let concerns, that you know exist, be brushed under the rug. Group members must openly and regularly discuss what is and isn’t working about their work environment, or frustrations will build, and unhappiness and dissension will ensue.
It’s not too late to put these practices in place, even with a group that has been working together for a long time. Just schedule the conversation and explain why you’re having it. People will be relieved and grateful.