Setting the Stage for Success: Managers & Team Building

picture of a theatre stage

Setting the Stage

I attended a webinar by Human Capital Institute recently on the theme of manager accountability and performance management. I enjoyed the session and afterwards found myself thinking about the responsibilities of a manager that go beyond getting the task done and driving business results. In particular, the need for managers to build strong and effective teams.

As a manager, I love developing the potential of individuals and building teams. It’s not always smooth and at times, you need to blast through some obstacles but there is something about the challenge of finding a way to create an open environment where everyone can bring their best that sends me in search of excellence.

Here’s where my love of improvisation jumps off the stage and into the board room. Improv performers work together with a common set of rules in order to take whatever comes at them and create magic in the moment. Whether it is changing products, demanding customers or competitive moves, teams need to respond in the moment each and every day to be successful. Using the same communication and awareness techniques as performers do, teams can lead with yes, build trust and operate with clear intent so they can succeed. It’s up to the manager to set the stage for that success. I’ve found that the starting point of building a strong team is to establish a common set of principles or rules of engagement to support working together.

Teams Behaving Badly:

Not all teams start out in top shape and not all managers have the luxury of hiring from scratch and creating the corporate dream team. Managers need to tap into the potential of the individual they are given to work with and find the right way for them to work together for top performance. Bad behavior on teams can range from withholding information, discouraging new ideas, intra team competition and wasting huge amounts of time restating the obvious in an effort to “sound smart”.

Turn Around Time:

U Turn SignThe core issue is that the bad behavior has become the team’s standard way of working and needs to be turned around. In fact it’s quite likely that those who are engaging in the behavior may not even be aware of it.

Steps that I’ve found that help in creating a new, more effective way of working include:

Agree on the end state: The trick is to emphasize what everyone can agree on and wants to accomplish. Individually each person has his or her own goals which can get in the way of productive team interactions. Moving the focus to what everyone cares about collectively will help make the most of the time spent working together. Whether a team is brand new and learning about each other or have been working together for a long time, pausing and having this conversation is a great way to examine what’s important. In improv terms, this is being positive and open to abandoning your ideas in favor what’s best for a scene.

Overcome Blocks: Once everyone has common ground, work together to identify what might be getting in the way of success. If the team wants to successfully capture new markets then finding more time to collaborate with peers is a must so as a team, agree to cut out anything that gets in the way.

Commitment: This is about identifying the behaviors that need to change to support the team’s ongoing success. Honest observation with positive intent is a must and the manager needs to keep a close eye on this. If I were to say to a colleague “Hey Sue, you always repeat exactly what the boss just said, that’s useless. Stop wasting my time”. It’s probably not going to get Sue excited about my next big idea. An honest observation “I noticed we cover the same information multiple times during meetings. Since everyone is so busy, and we really want to focus on growth, what if we all agree to asking for clarification where we need it and then keeping our discussion focused on new ideas?” Up front the boss may need to call out these situations but over time, the team will find a way to hold each other accountable to the changes they want to make.

Speaking of accountability, it doesn’t always have to be always serious and heavy handed. A little humour goes a long way. One simple improv exercise called “Shoulda Said” can help. Using one of the bad behaviors from above, if someone starts regurgitating information rather than adding new ideas, anyone else in the group has permission to call “Shoulda Said”. That means the person speaking needs to come up with a new comment or pass on the conversation.

To excel, managers have to spend time building teams and taking hold of that responsibility. This needs time, work and a vision of what is possible. Using effective communication while applying a little bit of fun will drive up performance and shine the spotlight on the potential everyone has to offer when they work together.