Managing the boxes, and the space in between

As a leader, it is incumbent upon me to manage my team in every way. The word team has lots of different meanings for people. Some definitions require a team to be a temporary, project based group. Others do not make the distinction. I do not think it matters. In my mind, a team is a group of people who work together regularly for a common goal, and is not limited by time, space, or organizational boundary.

There are the five phases of development that teams go through, whether it is a short term assignment or a long term functional group. Those phases are Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, and Adjourning.  Any change to that team “resets” the status quo, and sends the team through those phases again to some degree. This could be due to staff changes, a reorganization, attrition, major shifts in work assignments, or a host of other reasons. It is my job to guide my team through those phases of team development, and emerge on the other side as a better, stronger team.

Staffing changes are one of the most devastating changes to the team balance. Losing someone the team depends on in any way upsets the balance, changing the work and the way it is done for each individual member. Adding new players to the mix changes the political landscape, and a grab for power is only natural. A newly forming department is a chance to move up the organizational ladder. The team will be storming until a steady state is achieved.

Shifts in leadership give the team an entirely new tone, and this is driven not only by those at the top, but the relationships he or she fosters around him. How does the leader treat their team members? How well do they get along with partners outside the team? Does the leader delegate all phases of work, or are they in the trenches with their team, achieving their goals together? All this affects what people think about when commuting to the workplace.

Changes to the type and volume of work also disrupt team balance. A large project is a chance to prove yourself. New technologies are an opportunity to distinguish yourself apart from other developers. When too much work is assigned, team members struggle to balance out the overload evenly to minimize their personal stress levels.

My job is to manage each person on the team through these inflection points. Are there things that interest them that they are assigned to do? Are they challenged in their position enough, but not too much? Is there a planned career path? Are there defined ways for them to show success, and allowed to fail (with the ability to recover) for personal improvement? Do they enjoy coming into work every day?

Sometimes it is not managing the work in front of someone that is important, but the things around them. Are they finding ways to improve performance of themselves and those around them? How well does the team work with other teams? Are they disconnected, does the output of one team become the input of another, or is the process shared? Are meetings limited to the boundaries of your team? Are the successes shared across teams? Are the areas for improvement owned across teams as well? Are we measuring our work so that we can show success, improvement, and areas to work on next? Do you define your team as people only in your department, or has the definition of your “team” been broadened to include other teams you work with regularly?

These are the things that occupy my mind lately. Projects will constantly come and go. It is the team, it’s members, and how they work together that will make the work and it’s results better.

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