Putting a group of people in a room with a common goal and calling them a team is akin to throwing the contents of your refrigerator into a bowl and calling it dinner. You may end up with something edible, but odds are you won’t enjoy the meal or you’ll throw it out and start over.
Successful teams, like great meals, don’t just happen. They are the result of careful planning and resource management. Use these tips from the kitchen to ensure that your team is not following a recipe for disaster.
Know your customer. Many a home cook has tried a new recipe and watched the family eat bits and pieces, picking out what they like and leaving the rest. Feigned praise or outright complaints may ensue, and the cook, now discouraged from trying something new in the future, worries that the family’s needs have not been met. So too has many a team leader finished a project only to see their customer, their manager or their CEO pick it apart, separating out and discarding what is not to their liking. Before you begin any team project, make sure you know your customer and include his or her requirements and preferences in your planning. In other words, don’t serve filet mignon to a vegetarian.
What’s for dinner? Just as it’s the chef’s job to decide what will be cooked by his crew and to ensure they have the right ingredients, tools and equipment, it’s your job as team leader to identify the goals and objectives for your team and to ensure they have the resources to get the job done. Make a realistic assessment of the goal, the stated time frames and deadlines, and who outside the team needs to be included. If you don’t have all the right resources, make a shopping list and requisition what you need. If your request is denied, you’ll need to re-plan or modify the goals.
Show and tell. Most cookbooks have pictures (the more elementary the cookbook, the more frequent the pictures) because pictures inspire us to visualize the end result. Make sure you paint a picture for your team. Show them examples of what you’re talking about and tell them what you expect them to accomplish. Encourage and allow time for questions and suggestions, and refer often to the end result to keep your team moving in the right direction and motivated to reach your goals.
The spice of life. When a chef creates a menu, she includes different textures, colors and flavors. Her selections are not just complementary; each enhances the others. When you select team members, whether you are hiring a staff or choosing employees to be part of a work group, follow the chef’s lead. Combine individuals with different job and life experiences, different ethnicities and nationalities, and different opinions and perspectives. You’ll find that diverse team members will learn from, question and challenge each other. As a result, the end product will be more complete, clear and convincing.
Too many cooks. When it comes to teams, it’s best to have some structure and defined management. Establishing team leadership is key. You, or the person you select, will coordinate and organize the group, facilitate team meetings, work with the group to determine individual roles and responsibilities, and report on progress, obstacles and successes. When leadership is not clear, typically the team will self-select a leader, who may or may not be qualified. When popularity or competitiveness is an issue, the team may disagree on who should lead and may choose up sides. Just as too many cooks spoil the broth, unclear leadership can sabotage team success.
Just desserts. When your team completes a project, whether they succeed, fail or fall somewhere in between, they are due their just desserts. A successful team deserves recognition (and maybe rewards), and all teams deserve feedback. A debriefing session or postmortem is simply a retrospective analysis once the team has finished an assignment or completed a significant phase of a project. During the meeting, review the project soup to nuts and identify achievements, areas for improvement, and failures. Use the information to improve the next phase of the project or the next project.
A satisfying dining experience is one of life’s great pleasures. Such an experience is the result of preparation, resourcefulness and skilled execution. Successful team leadership doesn’t just happen either, but by following a few key principles, you can develop a team environment and savor the results for the long term.