How to make teams really work

October 25th, 2011 by Douglas McEncroe · No Comments · Leadership

I recently delivered a leadership programme in Stockholm in which we had people from fourteen different countries. Almost all of them had to manage what we call “Remote Teams” in which the members are spread all over the globe. We did an activity that required the participants to analyse deeply what really worked for them when it came to building these teams. The results were interesting.

Managers do manager things

Again and again the participants shared stories about how projects went off track even though they had spent time on getting clarity around the aspects that they believed were essential to making these teams work, like for example:

  • Clear objectives
  • Well-defined roles
  • Solid processes
  • Clear lines of communications
  • Easy ways to measure progress
  • Clear KPIs

And yet, the teams didn’t seem to function well and, as a result, the work suffered. The fact that the teams were remote teams, meaning that people weren’t with each other every day, plus the fact team members also had to serve on other teams, didn’t help, but these two factors were not the main cause of problems. The one thing that again and again managers had failed to invest enough time on was on building trust. Three important things to do if you want to build trust are:

  • Clear up why everyone is on this team
  • Get to know each other
  • Openly talk about what is important to each team member

Managers and Leaders

There are tools available to help managers work with their teams on these three things and yet most managers underestimate their importance and thus pay the price. Perhaps this is one of the differences between managers and leaders, leaders intrinsically understand the importance of building trust, they know that trust is the oil that makes the team engine work. It may not feel comfortable for managers to put these things on the table, to generate meaningful conversations between team members around these themes, it is not as concrete or as rational as, for example, setting objectives, but it is what builds trust, and teams that have trust go far.


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