Stabilizing a Team
On several occasions in my career, I have been brought into lead a team that was in various states of turmoil – from dysfunctional to downright chaos. The functioning of an organization is very dependent (some would say completely) on the functioning of the teams in the group. Before you can lead a team to success, you have to stabilize it. My key steps to establishing leadership and stabilizing a team are:
Establish clear Mission, Vision, and Values – No matter where people fit into an organization, they need to be able to connect what they do to the success of the broader organization. If you are the CEO, you have no excuse, but even if you are a leader in an organization that is not clear on its strategy, you can still be clear about the purpose your team serves and how it is intimately connected with the success of the overall organization. Establish (if necessary) a clear Mission, Vision, and Values statement for your team and repeat it, frequently, to all levels of your organization.
Set ground rules – Establish up front how you want your team members to treat each other and you. I have an open door policy and practice leadership by walking around, but if this doesn’t work for you, do what does, but be clear about it. Your team members will follow your lead, so if they have to run the gauntlet through your PA to get a meeting with you two weeks out, they will do the same to their reports and each other. The side effect is you will have very busy PA’s! Be clear and simple on how you want everyone to interact and then ‘walk the talk’ – lead by example.
Communication is key – In order for a team to function, they have to know what each other is doing. I believe most people have good intentions, but in the absence of communication they will do what they think is best or interesting to them, not necessarily what is best for the organization. Clear communication of what each team member (and their respective teams) is doing will help eliminate duplication of effort, teams at cross purposes, and reveal any competition that may exist. Set up a regular cadence of communication, not just with your top team, but down the organization, not just via cascade, but get out there and tell the story yourself to all levels of your organization.
Be clear on division of responsibilities – If people are clear on what they are meant to do, they are far less likely to waste energy or worse, duplicate efforts. I once had a CEO who liked to set three teams up to achieve the same outcome, without telling them of the existence of the others and generally without any direct authority to execute. This action generated a huge amount of wasted effort and only proved to show who had the best internal traction or political clout in this particularly large company. Be clear about what each member of your team is responsible for and what they are not.
Hold regular team meetings – These meetings can be in person, via video, or over the phone, but the more personal you make it, the better (considering travel expense, of course). Hold this meeting as often as necessary (I’ve done monthly, weekly, and even up to three times a week) and make it mandatory. Set the agenda in advance and stick to it, this is not a coffee chat. Stay to time, document the conversation, and track action points with owners between meetings.
Be consistent – Nothing confuses people more than inconsistency. How would you feel if every week you came into the office and the walls had moved? The same is true for your decisions and behavior. I once had to exchange glances with my boss’s PA to determine who I was going to meet on the other side of the door. If you are consistent, people will learn your behavior and adapt. I would rather be considered a tough but fair leader than to keep them guessing, this just wastes energy. Be consistent in your decisions, interactions, reactions and especially how you treat every team member.
Figure out who the popular kids are – When you take over an existing team, there is already a dynamic and often a hierarchy already established. Some will have been favorites of the previous leaders and there will be cliques. Don’t worry about this too much in the beginning, just figure out who is who. Once you have the lay of the land, you will know the back channels; they will be good and bad. You are unlikely to break these relationships up, use the unofficial network to promote your ideas and leadership style, but always be aware of how it will be reflected by these groups.
Sometimes you have to change people out – It is likely that not everyone will work out, especially if you are changing the dynamics of the team. Sometimes people figure this out and leave on their own, but sometimes you have to give them a push. Don’t be afraid to act or wait too long – a poisonous person in the team can undermine everything you are trying to achieve. That said, don’t go overboard. So many times I’ve seen a new leader come in and change out 100% of his direct reports – this most likely is a reflection of the leader and not the members of the team. If you exit a problem individual, even if it generates more work for the team temporarily, the team will respect your action. Observe, coach, and guide your team members to perform to their best, but if action looks necessary, take it and do so swiftly.
I would love to hear your thoughts.