Effective teams don't just happen. It's up to the manager or team leader to set the stage for success and guide work teams towards a positive outcome.
Whether the team is a small business working toward a company mission or a team of just a few employees within a small business, the group needs to be driven by a deeply rooted sense of mission – a shared objective that is seen as more important than individual agendas. It is this goal that binds a team together and keeps it cohesive even when obstacles or internal disagreements arise.
As a team leader, your job isn't to supervise or manage the project. Your main responsibility is to facilitate the team process. You establish the primary objective, but it's helpful to involve participants in developing a charter or statement of strategic intent that outlines secondary goals for how the team will carry out its charge. The charter functions much like a mission statement – the group can look to it for guidance if they start to lose direction. Taking time upfront to ensure everyone understands the mission and agrees on how it will be achieved can pay off with enhanced productivity later on.
Besides not knowing the overall goal, another common problem with teams is that the responsibilities of individual members or subsets are not always well defined. This can lead to inertia as participants wait for additional guidance, or the more dominant team members simply take charge. Both scenarios defeat the purpose of having a team. The ideal situation, of course, is for everyone to participate equally so that each person is just as invested as the next. To ensure everyone has an opportunity to contribute, the team leader or manager may need to draw out certain individuals and ask for their input, especially in meetings, or steer particular aspects of a project their way.
Because teams often bring people from different company functions together, it's not uncommon for quieter or less-experienced members to be overshadowed by more assertive ones. While it's OK if top performers take on more responsibility than others or participate more in team meetings, managers should make sure this doesn't cause other team members to feel squeezed out. Conversely, you also don't want your star employees to feel overburdened.
Team leaders in small businesses should be aware of the following do’s and don’ts. Do:
- Listen to everyone
- Play devil's advocate
- Propose solutions
- Prepare a meeting agenda and stay on track
- Ask open-ended questions
- Criticize others' ideas
- Be overly demanding
- Enforce your ideas
- Be a dictator