Maybe you’ve been tasked with taking over an existing team, or maybe you’re expected to build one from the ground up.
Either way, as the new manager, you must motivate the group to achieve certain goals. Daunting as that prospect seems, good leaders should begin to build rapport among team members from the first day and continue to foster camaraderie throughout their time together. Team building is never a one-and-done exercise. Good managers persistently refine and strengthen as part of their ongoing managerial duties.
But team building isn’t just about icebreakers and ropes courses. Building a team means creating an environment of mutual support, common goals, clear communication and a shared sense of purpose.
Let’s take a look at the essentials of team building for new managers.
1. Establish a team charter
Very early on, your team should know its purpose. This means that, as the new leader, you must know what upper management expects from your team and — once you understand those objectives and benchmarks — clearly convey them to your team.
Your performance will be measured against those targets, so establish specific team goals. “Increase sales” is too vague. Instead, say, “Increase sales from inbound channels by 10% over the next six months.”
Incorporate these goals in a team charter that details the team’s purpose. This blueprint provides team members with a clear set of expectations for each individual as well as the group. Then, map out a step-by-step guide for reaching those goals and how the results will be measured.
The structure of the charter depends on the development stage of the team. A newly formed team, for instance, concentrates more on developing processes and ensuring each team member masters his or her respective tasks. As the team ramps up, the emphasis shifts to increasing productivity. When the team approaches peak performance, your focus swings to pushing operations to an even higher goal.
Whatever form the charter takes, ensure each team member understands it and buys into its concepts. A team charter is never set in stone. You can tweak it as circumstances dictate (perhaps a change in organizational priorities), or as you receive input from team members. Soliciting that input is the next important building block for your team.
2. Meet with each team member
One-on-one meetings with each team member builds trust — and, more importantly, also provides insight into the strengths and roadblocks the employee may encounter on a daily basis.
During these meetings, act as the learner, not the lecturer. Elicit as much as you can about the team member’s skills and professional role. It’s better to hear this from the team member directly than merely looking at his or her job description or past employee evaluations. Here are a few topics to address:
- Their understanding of their role.
- What they see as the priorities of the job.
- What they believe they are good at.
- What their career goals are.
- What skills they want to develop.
Those questions can naturally lead into a discussion about training opportunities, whether the employee is in need of technical expertise or broader managerial or soft skills. Employees expressing an interest in expanding their abilities are more receptive to training opportunities, so take advantage of that inclination.
It’s better to over-communicate than not, especially at the start. “If you don’t take the time upfront to figure out how to get the team working well, problems are always going to come up,” Mary Shapiro, the Diane Kagen Trust Professor for Leadership Development at Simmons College told the Harvard Business Review. “You either pay up front or you pay later.”
As you speak to team members in those early days, certain themes may emerge. You may hear frustration with a specific procedure they say hampers their productivity. Perhaps someone feels a languishing project should take priority over another initiative. Take immediate action to remove those roadblocks or clarify why the project will have to wait. This will help boost your productivity and help with employee retention. You can also gather feedback through an anonymous survey to encourage staff to be as forthcoming as possible.
3. Host group meetings
Group meetings build a sense of trust and transparency between you and your team. Reinforce your commitment to an open dialogue within the team, and provide them with insight into your decision-making process.
Bruce Tulgan, founder and chairman of management consulting firm RainmakerThinking, Inc, discusses three questions new managers can ask in an introductory meeting with team members:
- What should change about how our team operates?
- What should not change?
- If you were suddenly the team manager, what would your first, second and third priorities be?
Those questions reflect your willingness to listen to team members, receive their input and take their opinions about enhancing processes into account.
After that initial meeting, conduct regular conferences that highlight specific business challenges. Encourage all team members to suggest solutions and guide the group to a consensus. Set some ground rules, such as being punctual and respectful of all perspectives. Establish an agenda for the meeting so you aren’t sidetracked, and set a time limit.
By immediately removing barriers the team has identified, you score an “early win” that accelerates the team building process. Other benefits flow from that action as well. “It motivates people,” Shapiro says in the Harvard Business Review, “and can win you goodwill you might need later if the going gets tough.”
In addition to those more formal meetings, host casual gatherings where team members talk about their interests and what’s happening in their lives outside of work. Since many teams work remotely these days, these meeting can be accomplished as virtual coffee breaks via Skype or Google Hangouts. Knowing your team members as people, not just employees, creates a stronger team bond.
4. Learn to build your team and your leadership skills
Leadership and team building skills are acquired through online instruction, as well as informal exercises. However, team building exercises encompass more than weekend corporate retreats or afternoon outings.
Games and activities are great ways to promote teamwork and camaraderie. But such exercises are only effective when centered on specific skills such as improving creativity, problem-solving or communication between team members. In other words, these activities shouldn’t be a fun day at the office, but opportunities to enhance the bond and skill sets among team members.
At the same time, practical instruction in leadership and team building can be accomplished through online courses. Learn how to manage different personalities and motivate a team to its goals with short, on-point video tutorials
Another important aspect of being a team leader is seeing projects through to completion. Project management skills are a necessity and can be learned through a series of online courses that detail project management principles.
These online lessons require a relatively short time of commitment but pay off tremendously in making you a better team leader.
Want to educate yourself and your team?
The GoSkills LMS makes it easy for both managers and employees to develop their abilities and learn new skills. Customize learning for every employee with just a few clicks, quickly create groups and assign specific courses to them, and monitor their progress at a glance with easy to understand reporting and analytics.
Try the GoSkills Training Platform for free today and help your team grow their mentoring and management skills.