We’ve all been there. On a team, of course.
Whether you’ve been tasked with planning the annual employee banquet or installed as an officer of a non-profit’s board, there’s a clear expectation that you contribute much more than just your name to a roster—you must work. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long to see who’s actually working and who seems to be missing in action.
In a dream world, everyone works cooperatively and collaboratively, but the reality can often be different. Sometimes this is a reflection of a leadership vacuum, but usually, it’s just the norm.
When deadlines loom, ensuring an even distribution of effort requires equal parts diplomacy and business skills. If you’re new to the position or not the highest on the totem pole, there are ways to navigate toward true teamwork and bring to life the adage, “many hands make for easy work.”
Find the goal; find the quarterback; find the chef
Teams need direction as well as a clearly defined goal, but it’s also important to understand who makes the best quarterback and who’s best suited to cooking up the best concession stand burgers.
Leadership styles are as varied as learning styles, so if you’re on a team responsible for a task, be sure to populate the team with diverse players who have both skills and aptitude. It may seem logical to put the finance officer in charge of ticket sales. But knowing numbers doesn’t guarantee she possesses the powers of persuasion necessary to get a corporation to cough up thousands of dollars for a charity dinner. And just because you’re not in the c-suite doesn’t mean you can’t identify and encourage others from using their talents. Peer-to-peer coaching is perceived as more nurturing than input from supervisors and results in more positive outcomes.
Measure what can be measured
Performance is an often vague term used in organizations to measure value, but its application to perceived effort can cause resentment among coworkers. Few of us possess the same experience or managerial vantage to fully appreciate another person’s effort, yet we often feel qualified to judge them. Stick to measuring that which can be measured such as deadline dates, financials, and the completion of tasks. Most organizations use annual strategic plans to measure progress, but something as simple as a to-do list can help keep people on task.
Leadership isn’t just for leaders
Understanding your position and its responsibilities in the work ecosystem is vital to understanding written and unwritten expectations. Being competent is more than having the right skills, it’s about demonstrating an eagerness to understand and solve problems. These leadership traits transcend job descriptions and when tactfully employed can catch the eye of higher-ups who might reward your initiative with greater decision making ability. If people like and respect you, they tend to better cooperate and collaborate.
Talk to communicate
One of the top complaints cited by employees in any business poll is lack of communication. Not all businesses are equipped to have nattering staff around the water cooler but that doesn’t mean you can’t ensure timely updates when working on a project.
First, stick to the script. Let the team’s objective be the primary reason to communicate. Depending on company policies, email briefs and texts are quick and to the point. An off-site brainstorming session or two can create a more relaxed atmosphere for colleagues to problem solve, create, learn, and build consensus. Enlist the support of others to assist in the development and distribution of communications. Give immediate praise to your teammates even if it’s as modest as a high-five over the cube wall. Listen to others’ concerns and find a solution that works for the team and its project. Most of all, be vigilant of those that chronically gossip or gripe, since they rarely seek anything more than an audience. If you find yourself with this sort of teammate and efforts to improve the situation have failed, be prepared to involve the chain of command.
Eternal students eternally learn
Work collaboration, like life, is not always fair, but it is invaluable to helping establish your own professional ethos. Career focused experiences allow for learning and the occasional do-over.
Working with people at our jobs enhances our talents to communicate and resolve conflict with a different level of intimacy that we might not otherwise experience. Sometimes we will do a disproportionate amount of work and other times someone else will. That’s why it’s important to evaluate team initiatives through the lens of cumulative work and not a singular or short term project.
No matter how much technology assists us in business, the human factor will persist. Working together and learning to negotiate organizational priorities and the distribution of work will not only help us achieve our missions but ultimately reflect our interconnectedness to each other.
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