Monday, April 30, 2012

Manager Mondays: Team Loyalty, Part 1: It Matters More Than Ever

Welcome to Manager Mondays, a weekly feature that explores strategies for effective workforce messaging.  Today's topic is the first in a three-part series about how to build team identity -- even in situations where traditional teams no longer seem to exist.

In the old days, company departments were centralized in one physical  location and somewhat insulated from other departments. Today's office is more of a mash-up.   The trend toward open design might mean that accountants sit interspersed with content developers and software designers.  As a  New York Times article recently reported,  " [T]wo-thirds of American office space is now configured in some sort of open arrangement. But even as these designs save employers space and money, they can make office workers feel like so many cattle."  

That's if the workers are even there at all.  People might clock most of their man hours remotely from the road, from satellite offices, or from home.  Managers might be in the same room as their direct reports only two or three times a year -- if ever.

In addition to physical separation, there's task specialization.   In their book, organizational communications experts Peg Neuhauser, Ray Bender and Kirk Stromberg talk about the new workplace, where department employees may only rarely work together.  Instead, they find themselves assigned to six or eight projects at a time to accomplish the portion of the work that falls within their department's scope. In each of those projects, they're working with a different mix of people.  These temporary task forces usually last only until the project is finished; as they disband, members jump into other projects with other colleagues.

If you are a manager, how do you encourage team loyalty in a business world where team boundaries are blurred, and teams are constantly changing?  How do you ensure that your direct reports present a unified "brand image" as they interconnect with others in the company?

Last Thursday in Manhattan, I noticed that a good percentage of the surrounding sea of street humanity was wearing identical dark blue jerseys.  (As I side note, I just want to mention that no self-respecting New Yorker likes to call them jerseys. What an unfortunate term for a perfectly good part of a hockey uniform!)  Game 7 of the first-round NHL playoffs was about to start, and at the entrance to Madison Square Garden, jersey-clad fans were popping out of every cab, emerging from every subway stairwell, and converging on the arena like zombies in a horror movie -- only noisier.  No introductions were necessary as spontaneous group chants  broke out:  "Let's Go, Rangers, clap, clap, clap-clap-clap!" Soon-to-be-hoarse young male voices randomly shouted player's names: "Mc- DON-AAA-A-AGH!!"  Earnest strategy debates took place among the senior hockey aficionados grouped under the diamond-vision screen marquee. (See the two guys in the center of the photo above, wearing their Rangers jerseys over their business attire? They were talking statistics and probabilities as only Wall Streeters can.)

The Fans Of Game 7 were only unified for that one night, but the holy tenets of fan behavior were in play, so for the next few hours, strangers acted like a cross between best friends and Marines storming a beach.  (To victory, I might add.  Next stop, Stanley Cup...!!!) 

Ahem. To sum up this case in point: on that one occasion, New Yorkers spanning all ages, ethnicities, and income brackets had come together, forming a temporary tribe of supporters for their hockey titans.  Together, they were exhibiting:
  • identification with their team. (Blue jerseys everywhere.)  
  • enthusiasm for the mission. (Beat the Ottawa Senators!)
  • confidence in their mutual awesomeness. (After all, they were all on the same side!)
Organizational leaders, take note:  your followers need to be exhibiting these same three characteristics, in order to perform with zest and achieve their best.

How is your messaging cultivating the classic behaviors of team loyalty?

Here's the first of three strategies that you as manager can adopt to make it easier for your troops to engage and work with a kaleidoscope of characters and still feel, and act,  like part of a team -- your team.  (Watch for the other two parts of this series in weeks to come here on the Remarkable Messaging blog site.)

>  Building Team Loyalty, Part One:  Articulate Your Group's Purpose and Distinct Assets.  

What do you as a department bring to the table?  What's the subject matter expertise that everyone else is looking to you to provide?  What does "going the extra mile" look like in your world? When have you felt most proud of your team's contributions?  Don't assume that your folks know the answers to these questions.  Start looking for chances to highlight these concepts in your everyday interactions.  There are three good ways to do this:

a.  Insert a vision-casting introduction -- Before you get your next department meeting underway, or in your first sentence of your next group email, state what your department is all about:  "As you all know, our group exists to _________________."  Then do it again, at the next meeting or in the next email:  "In our group, we're all about ____________."  Then do it again.  And AGAIN.  Prefacing your communications with your team distinctives will seem repetitive and silly to you, but  bear in mind that the average message needs to be conveyed seven times before it sinks in. Just do it.

b.  Include a closing "purpose" thank you line.  -- When you end a group communication, make it a habit to relate the information you've just conveyed to your overall group purpose:  "Thanks for your efforts to resolve this issue as we all seek to close performance gaps so we can continue to provide our company with excellent ______________."

c.  Adopt team slogans or symbols.  As you make it a habit to put your group's purpose front and center, you'll start to hear your team members talking about it as well.  That's pay dirt!  Pounce on anything they say that supports the group purpose, and repeat their own quotes back to them in meetings: "As George put it the other day...."  Whenever possible, turn your team's own words into slogans that drive everyone's understanding of your worth and contribution.

I was in a group once where the boss kept mentioning that we were often the ones who uncovered a big problem that other departments had missed -- or, as she put it, "the elephant in the room."  We kept talking about new problems as elephants, and eventually we adopted the elephant as our team symbol.  It was a positive reinforcement of our team's value and purpose.

Bottom line: you want your tribe to know, and be proud of, who they are -- wherever they are.  So message accordingly.

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