Monday, May 14, 2012

Team Loyalty, Part 3: To Cultivate A Team Culture, Esteem Your Team

Welcome to the last in a 3-part Manager Mondays series about how to communicate on the job to build team loyalty . You can use the blog archive on the right to view the first two parts which were posted on April 30th and May 7th.

Workforce messaging is all about the end result, so before we go further, I'd like to revisit the Why behind building team loyalty.  What's the benefit to the boss? If a manager can get a person to perform his job well, without needing to spend extra energy on his emotional state, then why be bothered to cultivate a team culture?

That's a legitimate question -- except for the fact that it carries a false assumption.  It is this: success is not just about leading a group of individuals who each performs his or her job well.  For the maximum benefit to the mission, those individuals need to do their own jobs, and then some.  They need to make themselves available to each other for a host of informal support consultations and problem-solving opportunities.  They need to leverage each others' strengths, skills and experiences. They need to feel free to connect with each other in ways that you, the boss, don't even need to know about, in order to get the job done. 

A team culture is a "go beyond expectations" culture.  And it is worth cultivating.

Building Team Loyalty, Part Three >>> Message to encourage collaboration, not competition.

Let's go back to the Rangers hockey fans that I described in Part 1 of this series.  Their exuberance expressed three key loyalty factors:

  • identification with their team. 
  • enthusiasm for the mission. 
  • confidence in their mutual awesomeness. 

Notice that this loyalty is not celebrity-centered.  It is not a cult fueled by a cult leader.  It is a culture fueled by concepts.  The team identity and the corporate mission comprise two of those concepts.  The third is team member esteem: the belief in each others' value and contribution to the whole.

A real team culture breeds collaboration, with or without the boss present.  Would your team stand up for each other and help keep each others' projects going if you went missing in action for a month?  Yes, they would, if your messaging has laid the foundation for "mutual awesomeness."  On the other hand, if your messaging is always pitting one team member against the other in competition, you place limits on everyone's output, and you sow the seeds for unhealthy behaviors. 

My absolute favorite guru on this subject is Dr. Bret Simmons, business professor at University of Nevada, Reno, and author of the Positive Organizational Behavior blog.  In one of his posts on teamwork, Dr. Bret cites a study's findings that strengthening the bonds between team members and supervisors enhances not only their work experience, but also their performance.  This is because team members that feel loyal to each other are much more likely to  intentionally increase each others' performance by engaging in what Dr. Bret calls Organizational Citizenship Behavior.  This can exhibit itself in small ways, such as helping a colleague carry boxes to the loading dock, or in large ways, such as brainstorming an alternate project strategy.   However it happens, your team's willingness to serve each other means that your group's output is bigger than the sum of its parts.

So how can you as the supervisor message to cultivate a collaborative team culture?

Here are three ideas for starters:

1.  Talk up the individual strengths of your team.  Observe how each person thinks, works, and makes a difference to the mission.  Then, pepper your team meetings with acknowledgments of each one's unique contributions.  Recognition doesn't need to come with a plaque and a handshake.  Regularly cite behaviors that got results, or identify actions that you appreciated: "Paula, when you talked about research grants last week, that really got me thinking, and I followed up with a friend of mine at the university who's going to help us explore that approach.  I wouldn't have gone there if it hadn't been for your insight.  I value the way you bring fresh ideas to the table."

2.  Invite team members to cross project lines and consult with each other.  Very often, team members feel constrained by their modesty, or simply hemmed in by their own To Do lists, so they won't offer to help their colleagues. Give your team frequent verbal permission to offer each other help: "Chris, you were our lead person on the audit team last year.  Can you be Dan's point person as he works on this new audit?" 

3.  Encourage your team to contradict you for the good of the mission. Whoa, did that one come as a surprise?  As leaders, we don't like to be wrong.  And we like even less to be told that we are wrong.  But in his landmark book, Good To Great, Jim Collins describes top leaders (Level 5 Leaders) as people who "are ambitious first and foremost for the mission, the organization, the work -- not themselves -- and they have the fierce resolve to do whatever it takes to make good on that ambition.  A Level 5 Leader displays a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will."

Part of the humility of a good leader is the ability to admit non-omniscience.  You don't know everything.  Your team members will sometimes have better ideas than yours.  Saying things like "That's my viewpoint, but can anyone else see a different side to this?" will give your team three powerful esteem-building gifts:
a.  The power to voice their own potentially conflicting opinions;
b.  The experience of seeing you deal with those opinions in a just and open way;
c.  The satisfaction (and inherent responsibility) of knowing that whatever the outcome, their opinions are valued and welcomed.

In a strange way, when you speak from this place of humility, all of your surrounding messaging automatically becomes more valued by your team, and therefore more respected.

Esteem your team as one that is made up of people with unique gifting.  Visualize their worth, not just to your organization, but to the planet.  Give them credit. Give them respect.  Message so that they know you think they are awesome, and they will start being more awesome.  Message to give them permission to use each others' unique gifting, and you will see team performance, as well as team spirit, lift and soar.

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