Saturday, February 6, 2016

How to turn a group of strangers into a community

Last year has been a tough year for my team. A few colleagues left us for greener pastures, and the remainder of the group struggled with the workload that we had to cover. 

This year, we are going to rebuild the team, one person by one person. 

As the leader of this small group, I feel that I have the personal responsibility to ensure that we have this group up and running as soon as possible. If you think about it positively, this is also a (mostly) fresh chance for me to build up a new team all over again. So how do I make the best use of this opportunity to build the best performing team? 

What is a dream team, anyway?

For me, I think that a dream team is:

  • Close – We spend lots of time together, so we have lots of shared memories. We are good friends who laugh together, and understand each other well.
  • Positive and Energetic – We understand that our work is difficult, but we also understand that there is meaning behind the work. As such, even through the tough times, we are positive and energetic all the time.
  • Able to Value-add to one another – All of us have different skillsets, knowledge and temperament. However, as a team, we value-add to one another. Maybe one person loves numbers crunching and all the “techie” stuff, and another person is good at presentations and “salesmanship”. Let us all work together in the areas that we are best at, and help one another out as well. 

In practice, how do you achieve that?

  • All business all the time makes you a weak employee. This is something that I read in the book “The Best Place to Work” by Ron Friedman. As Friedman said, workplace friendships don’t happen when you’re buried in a spreadsheet. They emerge in the spaces between work, before and after a meeting. To build workplace friendships, we have to chat about non-work things during our working hours. Strangely enough, this is one area that I am really weak at. I am a true “worker’s bee”, and am very happy to talk about work all the time. However, to build my dream team, I will work on this weakness of mine, and deliberately open up myself to share more about personal stuff.
  • Create lots of time together. Lunches are an obvious opportunity. However, I have a colleague who is a “hermit crab”, who either doesn’t lunch out or eat at odd times of the day. Another colleague has a lunch clique with another division as his wife works there. So lunch ends up not being a good time. Still, I will try to get the team to lunch together more often. Another thing I realized is that sometimes, it is good for a colleague who is not directly involved in a project to join in a meeting for the project. In that way, we get to understand what the other team mates are doing.
  • Use humour and positive language. Again, this is an area which I struggle. I think I am getting better at loosening up at work. Still, I have to deliberately remind myself to use the power of humour. As Mark Twain said, “Humour is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our irritation and resentments slip away, and a sunny spirit takes their place.” Be the person who lights up the room! 

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