The English word team dates back at least into the 1550’s, when it was commonly used to refer to animals that work together under a yoke, as in oxen yoked together. Perhaps that does not readily awaken vivid memories of life on the farm. Nonetheless, that two massive animals bound to one another need work together as a team is easily understood. What could be accomplished if each of the oxen pulls in a different direction? Although forced together, if they do not work together, we might be inclined to drop the word team completely. So, is your team pulling in the same direction?
Teams of people need motivation
People need motivation, hence teams of people need motivation – and they better have the same motivation or they will not pull in the same direction. In fact, they may pull themselves apart. Of course, that common motivation may seem as simple as having the same end goal. Certainly, having the same goal and the same purpose lays the groundwork for cooperation. However, people are not oxen, nor as simple. While cattle may be satisfied with “getting there”, people have their own ideas about “how to get there”. People have their own ideas about what is a priority, and they naturally tend to believe that their own idea is the right idea. This is where a team could lose its direction. If each individual becomes too involved in their own agenda, there is a loss of a motivation that unites the efforts of the team.
That said, team is not defined by a rigid conformity to sameness, or homogeny. Different viewpoints, ideas and even priorities are valuable. Each can make a contribution to the team. If we start muzzling or ignoring ideas, we’re back to forcing people together, but nothing to do with a team. Since people naturally value their own ideas and opinions, they are, in a sense, a vulnerable expression of the person. Therefore these ideas and priorities become a certain hallowed ground that the one in charge (manager, team director, crew leader, boss or whatever title) must also value, or the individuals that compose the team will have no sense of working together – only of being told what to do. There must be a sense of appreciation for what each individual offers and contributes.
What do your employee’s value and prioritise?
Do you know what your colleagues consider a priority? Do they prioritise the stability of the business or growth? Seek greater collaboration? Or rather feel a need for more independence and freedom for developing creative ideas? Perhaps one considers an analysis of the business, be it in terms of numbers or strategy, to be paramount to finding the right direction, whereas another may feel that there is too much analysis as it is and taking action in a practical sense is what is of primary concern.
Whether it’s a corporate office of 100 employees or a boutique shop of 10, if there is not agreement on basic initiatives and priorities you and your colleagues could be pulling yourselves in different directions. As a manager you may know what needs to be done, and sometimes wonder why it’s not getting done. Frustration might make it appealing to go with the easy solution, often the knee-jerk reaction, and simply tell your fellow employees what needs to be done, tell them the priority and to do it.
Of course getting everyone on the same page has to happen, and sometimes the one managing and taking the lead needs to clarify any misconceptions. But perhaps there is more to it than confusion, or a lack of cooperation. Do you also sense the importance of understanding what your employee’s value and prioritise? You can be sure that those who work for you sense whether or not you do.
Give your colleagues the opportunity to state their ideas
As a manager, if you give your colleagues the avenue to voice their ideas and have them freely heard, you’ve won half the battle. Without the opportunity they not only may feel that you don’t know their concerns and priorities, they may feel that you’re out of touch, and as a result they may not trust the priorities you establish. By really listening to your colleague’s point of view you dignify them and, without a word, express to them the value you place on their opinions. Again, a variety of ideas is a valuable resource when trying to make decisions and take the lead; you may see a need for adjustment according to what you hear. But even if in the end you feel the priorities of the team lie elsewhere, your colleagues will invest much more readily in your leadership and final decision knowing that their own thoughts have been expressed, were heard and were valued. They will sense that you understand what issues are of concern, and ought to be considered. They won’t just begrudgingly do what you told them to do because you say its right – they will be motivated and primed to get behind the same objective and work for the same interests.
It could be by means of a huddle, or a group meeting, where the opportunity to express concerns about the prioritisation of team objectives and focus is opened up. As you develop the discussion and show respect for the ideas expressed, a synergy emerges that naturally leads to a common motivation as a result of feeling like part of a real team. Team takes on meaning. Likewise on a one-on-one level, encourage your colleagues to express themselves, and really hear them out. Help them to sense you really know what they are concerned about, by being approachable and appreciating their ideas. By never belittling the ideas of other employees, even in private conversations, you engender respect and an environment of cooperation, of really working together. You promote confidence in your management.
Gaining the full confidence of your team members is not automatic; but it is the only real way to assure that your team is more than just a bunch of people thrown together, collecting a pay check from the same company. In the end, there may be a need to make clear what priorities ought to have the attention of the team, and how to go about meeting those priorities.
As manager, the responsibility of seeing to it that the focus of the employees is in the right place falls squarely on your shoulders. To that end, knowing what has the focus and attention of your colleagues is essential. Then, even if it is evident that some are off track from the primary objectives, avoid shutting them down harshly. Instead of forcing them to do as told, preserve their dignity, and allow them to willing get on board with a well expressed agenda and set of priorities.
Going back even further, the English word team was adopted from a word that basically meant “pull.” Later came the idea of animals yoked together pulling the same load. From there we get the sense of not just each one for himself, but being motivated by a common purpose and priority; pulling together as a team.