A CNN survey on leadership suggested that most of us believe that good leaders help create good team relationships. Teams are important to our success and are positively or negatively impacted by leadership.
Many leaders ask me to help develop teams among their employees. The first question that I ask them is, "What would they be doing differently if they were interacting more as a team?" The leaders often say, they would communicate better among themselves to work out the conflicts that occur. They would feel more ownership for their work and work goals. They would understand and accept the need for change. The second question I ask is, "Would your employees tell me that you demonstrate those behaviors?" If the answer is yes, we are in good shape to proceed. If the answer is no, we have developmental work at the top to accomplish.
I have found that teams need a consistent foundation from which to grow. That foundation includes agreements on fair and effective ways to communicate with one another and with organizational leaders, processes for dealing with disagreements, and involvement in setting the team's goals.
When adults are engaged in discussions about how to communicate in a respectful way, they have little difficulty in agreeing and committing to those behaviors. I believe that every team should discuss and select ground rules, which will help the team accomplish its goals and create a positive atmosphere. These ground rules should be discussed periodically and the team progress evaluated based upon them. We can identify positive communication behaviors and choose one or two behaviors we can practice. Other team development discussions should focus on the effectiveness of nonverbal skills and listening skills.
When discussing the process to deal with conflict, team members must understand that we each approach conflict differently and that there are tools to help us address the conflict while maintaining the team relationships. One tool used to reduce conflict is focusing on the valid needs and interests of team members while also addressing the needs of the business. Another tool involves the construction and delivery of timely, respectful feedback. When team members are exposed to these and other conflict management tools, they are more effective during times of interpersonal conflict.
In order for team members to be committed to team goals, they must be involved in setting the goals. Team members often set higher goals for themselves than management would. First, I recommend that management identify the top five business requirements, which are important to the team's customers. Then, give the team historical data of how well the business has accomplished these goals. Next, give the team a structure to set new goals, design measurement mechanisms to track their progress on the goals, and communicate on the progress or lack of it.
Teams that redesign their communication and conflict interaction systems and have a part in goal-setting can be highly successful if the team's leadership truly supports the effort over time.
R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray's new book, "Tons of Stone above my head: Coal Mining Stories with Leadership Lessons," visit his Web site www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.