How do you find great team members and agree on roles? What are the ways to maintain good work relations? How do you handle conflicts in the workplace? And what is the role of a leader? Find answers to these and many other questions below. 

Tribe, pack, or team

Throughout human history, the practice of cooperation in pursuit of a shared goal has been a common theme. Prehistoric people often united to solve problems jointly: kill a mammoth, do the field dressing, build a dwelling, and so on. So, it is fair to say that humanity owes its survival to the skills of teamwork. The same goes for animals: they often work together when they hunt, defend their territory, and raise their offsprings. 

A team is a group of people with common motives, interests, and ideals who work together to achieve a specific set of goals. The team members support each other and are collectively responsible for the outcomes.

The group succeeds if everyone expresses high desires and obtains the needed experience for achieving a goal. There are no doubts in your goal or abilities: all your motivation, energy, and attention are focused on achieving the results.

Credit: shutterstock.com
Credit: shutterstock.com

Is there a need for the leader?

It's important to believe in the achievement of your goal, but it's not enough. Firstly, you need a specific plan, and secondly, an authoritative leader who will explain why this plan is needed and how to follow it.

It’s crucial not only to correctly select candidates for specific roles (based on their competencies and experiences) but also to balance the workload among the members of your team. To put it simply, a plan is a step-by-step guide for each team member and the leader’s mission is to describe in detail all the functions, tasks, and specific expectations to their team.

Teams without leadership are unlikely to accomplish any results: lack of guidance creates chaos and indecision in the workplace and might destroy the work relations altogether. The same happens if leaders are not authoritative enough in the group and their decisions are discredited. As history shows, all significant events – both great and terrible – take place only thanks to teams and their leaders.

When young leaders have to set up a team, they can’t but face numerous questions: do teams need leaders? Which is more important, a leader or a team? And what is better: when a team looks for a leader or vice versa? Should you choose a leader among team members? There is no simple and straightforward answer to these questions. It all depends on your situation, project, team, and tasks.

Clearly, the more charismatic and influential the leader is, the more the team tends to agree with their decisions and follow their instructions. That, in turn, may create other problems. Striking leaders may overshadow their teams, and society will give them all credits for common achievements. Take, as an example, Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. Who will now recall other names behind the success of Apple and Microsoft?

Another problem occurs when authority turns into authoritarianism, and there are plenty of such examples in history as well.

Credit: shutterstock.com
Credit: shutterstock.com

Self-organization vs recruiting

There are two main types of teams. The first is self-organized groups of like-minded people (friends, colleagues, classmates, and so on). That’s how many startups are organized: the participants simply distribute their roles according to their competencies, talents, and personal desires. It may sound great but often it only works in the very early stages, when people are still full of enthusiasm, faith in themselves, each other, and common success. It often becomes disappointing later: it turns out that some do more than others, some lied about their skills, and others took on too much and failed, etc.

The second way to build a team is to recruit members for a specific project. In this case, relations within the group are already clearer and more transparent: everyone already has their own assigned roles, there is a list of job responsibilities and specific tasks, and functions are distributed in accordance with proven experience and professional skills. This makes the method more efficient, although it does not guarantee that teamwork will be efficient and well-coordinated.

It is very hard to manage relations between people: no one can guarantee whether they will get along and help each other or get caught up in conflicts and competition. And, unfortunately, business ethics will not help here.

Credit: shutterstock.com
Credit: shutterstock.com

How can you keep a team and improve work relations?

One of the biggest mistakes most new managers make is to judge everyone by their own standards. All people are different: their temperaments, backgrounds, and upbringing make them unique, and this fact can’t be ignored. Most often, simple misunderstanding becomes the main reason for people becoming unhappy with each other. Suddenly, team members realize that their expectations and values differ from that of their leaders. 

That’s why it’s crucial to discuss all details beforehand. To do this, you can make a list of five to seven keywords and ask all team members to write down how they understand these words. How do you define a well-done job? What does “a result” mean? How do you understand your tasks?

For example, people can understand “customer focus” differently: some will see it as the need to solve clients’ problems at all costs, others as a simple polite conversation with a client without much action. 

While the team is still small, it’s quite easy to monitor the relationships within the group. The main thing is not to miss the moment when employees begin to fight with each other and show the first signs of discontent. This is the so-called silent mode: no one is openly hostile to their colleagues but the working correspondence is full of passive-aggressive and sabotaging acts. If not noticed in time, this situation will only worsen. But, luckily, there are several ways to solve this issue. 

Credit: shutterstock.com
Credit: shutterstock.com

It’s possible to refactor/review the relationships within a team at an early stage. In the Agile methodology, it’s called “Star Map” or “Competence Map”. The point is, employees themselves must identify their strengths and weaknesses, as well as express a willingness. They have to say what they can teach others and what others can teach them. This will help leaders determine employees who no longer cope with their tasks, reconsider responsibilities, and set key areas for future development. Ideally, this approach may change work relations from conflict and rivalry to cooperation and mentoring.

Each person has a unique potential, and the leader’s task is to unleash this potential and direct it in a useful way, find roles for each team member in the structure and processes of the company – all this eventually creates an effective and well-knit team. If people will honestly reflect on their skills and capabilities, start to help each other, and share their knowledge, this will change the work relationships. 

The key in resolving conflicts is to take them out of silent mode. You can organize an informal meeting and provoke your team members into a direct showdown to let them voice all their claims and worries. 

In case the moment has passed and work relationships are completely ruined, you can go for a risky step: make them be dissatisfied with you. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, as the saying goes. However, you should be prepared that your employees will treat each other better but the employer-employee relationship will be severely damaged. This method can be used, for example, in project works, which do not imply long-term cooperation.

Unfortunately, all this can be applied only to small teams. In departments of over ten people, it’s getting harder to pay equal attention to everyone and keep track of all face-to-face interactions. Each team is unique, just like any person. Therefore, there is no single, 100% working management practice.

Each aspiring leader should keep in mind that people learn by trial and error. And while you’re managing a small team, it’s a great chance to practice various techniques and methods, which can later be of help with larger groups.

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