at DY Patil School, Patna, India
Managing Director, Otermans Institute
Winner of Bengal's Pride Award, House of Lords UK 2019
What are the basics of team work? How can you work well in a team? Or even manage one? In this lesson from our 'lessons for humanity' series we will cover the basics for all of these questions. Before moving forward, I would like to remind you about open source working from our previous lesson because you can use the skills laid out in this lesson to manage your open source team that I hope you have created by now.
While it may seem fairly easy, both working in a team or managing it requires a distinct set of tools and skills. In this lesson we will outline the absolutely fundamental skills you will need, and focus on how you can learn, practice and even use these skills from home or the location where you are currently living in under the lockdown.
Communication is key! No matter how good you are at your work or how skillful you are in life, without proper communication you can never work in or manage a team. Communication involves not only expressing your points of view, but also engaging and contributing to meetings and providing your thoughts to the team even when there is no meeting. It is better to always say something than withhold it thinking it may not be useful or may sound stupid. Well, the only time you or the team will look stupid is if you make a blunder in the project, and you know that if you had put forward your thoughts previously you could have deterred it from happening. So, speak freely with your team and if you are managing a team, ensure that your communication is direct and transparent to all members. Finally, ensure that no member of the team is afraid or shy of expressing their ideas or thoughts to you or each other; you can do this by regularly interacting with all members and having regular team-bonding exercises and ice-breaker sessions.
These are essentially a set of tools you can use very easily and do in both on-line and off-line settings. Team-bonding exercises help bring all members of the team together, allow them to open up to one another which ensures better communication and most importantly allows them to trust each other. Ice-breakers, which in essence can also be used as the starting point of team-building workshops or activities, are designed to simply remove worry and shyness from the minds of the team members while interacting with each other.
Immediately below are some useful samples you can use or draw inspiration from. You can also always look for more tips and ideas on Google where they are available for free and in plenty. Remember there are almost no rules apart from creating a situation that can hurt the sentiments of the team members or them physically, so feel free to imagine and innovate.
1. Charades: Split the team in two groups. Each group has to come up with a funny team name. After this, give each group 4 objects (can be more or less depending on the size of your groups). One-by-one someone of the group has to come to the front and showcase to their group members the use for that specific object, but cannot speak about it. The rest of their group must guess what they are demonstrating. This exercise is most fun when the participant showcases the use of that object in a creative way and not by its normal use. This exercise builds communication skills within the team.
2. Turning negatives into positives: One person in the team shares something negative that happened in their life (personal or professional) with the rest of the team. It is important to note here that the organiser should ensure that all members feel comfortable sharing their personal stories. The team must come up with a way to describe the story by focusing on only its positive aspects. After this, the next person shares their own story. With this exercise, you build trust, honesty and empathy within the team.
1. A fact or a lie: You can either do this exercise as a whole team or in pairs. Each person thinks of two statements about themselves where 1 is true and 1 is a lie, but both are believable. Once everyone has two statements ready, you will go around the group and one-by-one request each person to say their two statements out loud. The other members have to guess which one is true and which one is a lie. This creates a comfortable atmosphere amongst your team members and they learn something new about everyone in the team.
2. Bingo: Each member of the team gets the same 3x3 bingo card (or bigger, depending on the size of your team). Everyone should mingle with each other and by having conversations and asking questions to each other, attempt to cross off their own bingo cards. Once someone has crossed off all 9 items, they shout Bingo! This person will then explain to the team members why they have Bingo and go over each item on the Bingo card along with their justification. You can see an example of a Bingo-card which should be made by the team leader before the activity.
We at Otermans Institute encourage promoting innovation and creativity amongst team members. Without this, a team will never be able to develop ideas and work at their optimum efficiency levels. Working in a team involves and includes navigating a collection of ideas and thoughts that enables capitalising of this collective resource. You can even have brainstorming sessions with your team where all ideas are expressed without fear of condemnation or being rejected. Then as a collective, the team can choose which ones to go with.
Having a concrete vision and a set of predetermined guidelines, as also mentioned in our open source lesson, makes it easier to reject ideas rather than to reject them based solely on the views of another team member. This encourages openness and reduces the chance of hurting someones ego. The other strategy can be that the leader or manager of the team separately and individually discusses the positives and negatives of the ideas put out by the respective team members. The resulting shortlist of ideas that come out after the individual meetings, can then be put out to the entire team highlighting the core vision of the team as the main decision making component used to make the idea list. Remember, providing a safe space for all team members to open up and express their ideas is key for the success of any project or goal of a team.
Tip: In a brainstorming session, use a ball that you throw at team members. Each time someone gets the ball, they should give an idea no matter what it is and then throw the ball to someone else. Doing this gets the team involved and draws out very good and innovative ideas. You can continue this ball exercise for the entire duration of a session or stop it after 5 people have done it, only throwing the ball again to someone who you have found has not contributed anything for the majority of the session's duration.
In order to create comprehensive team cohesion and accountability, every team should, from the onset where possible, look at effectively and efficiently setting out clear and defined roles for all team members. These roles can and should obviously switch depending on required tasks, the stage your project is at and depending on the previous results produced by members that help realign people's strengths and skills to best support the team and project. You as a manager or leader, or simply as the initiator of a project or team, should never settle for less and continue looking for members who can add value to the team. No team, like no result in real life, can be perfect!
For instance, if you remember the 'Occupy Wall Street' movement which gained some popularity in 2011. The movement's idea of not having a leader was initially well received, but it fizzled out because of a lack of central management and leadership.
Everyone has different skills and expertise. Not only should you consider this while defining roles as just mentioned, but you should also respect this as a fundamental value of being in or leading the team. Remember, no matter how good someone is at something, they and everyone else can make mistakes. So back them up if they falter and trust me you can expect the same from them without even having to ask if you set the trend. More importantly, this will create a very trustworthy environment in the team.
Learn also to share your skills in helping others reach their individual targets and to share your success with everyone in the team. The first is self-evident, you help others if you see that they are struggling with something or you know that a small amount of your involvement can make their work more efficient. The second can easily be done by celebrating your successes with the team and treating it as a joint success; a simple high five with everyone if working in the same place or a simple 'thank you for your support' message along with the news of your success over an email can go a long way.
When you work in a team, you have to approach it with a mindset of the needs of the team coming first, for that task of course, and you should ensure your own ego takes a back seat. Finally, remember if you know there is something coming your way that someone else is better at in the team, willfully explain it to the members and hand it to that person for a better and more efficient overall result. On the contrary, don't feel shy to step up and explain why you may be a better fit than another member for a task; after all it is for the benefit of everyone in the team and its vision. This can be even more important if you are managing or leading the team.
It would be unfair to not dive a bit more into management skills when talking about team work. Although I prefer the word leadership, management does have its own unique properties. Here are three important management tips you should take from this lesson:
Listen: You should listen, listen and listen. Yes, you got that right, listening is key in any form of management. If you do not get to know and understand the needs and requirements of your team, you can never kindle their full potential. Moreover, not listening may put you on a blind side, that can result in decisional blunders like giving artistic or designing tasks to someone who has not a single artistic bone in their body.
Separation of personal from team: Listening and a keeping a close eye on all members and the project can reveal a lot, especially small or major issues that need to be corrected. Here, it is key to keep personal issues of members separate from issues of the entire team, and to deal with them separately. For instance, if someone is having a creative block, instead of stalling the entire team, you should pull them out and delegate the responsibility to someone else until they are able to resume their task, or handle it yourself if your skills and time commitments allow it. You can always provide support without making them feel guilty and sometimes just giving someone time-off helps greatly. On a quick note, delegation is another very important aspect that touches various topics including team work, management, leadership, organisational behaviour and tons more. In its simplest form, it is the act of shifting your or someone else's tasks to another person.
Ask for opinions: Never finish any meeting or interaction without asking your team members for their opinions. Very crucial points or good ideas come out of it! Of course, it is your responsibility and management ability to make your team members feel comfortable to contribute whenever you ask them to.
A future lesson will cover management and leadership in more detail. So, look out for our new content!
Courtesy Harvard Business Review
Self: Prepare a kick-off meeting for your project. For this here are some tips that can get you started. As you are the leader or initiator of the project, you should come up with a list of roles and responsibilities that you think will greatly contribute to the project. The first meeting of your team should start with everyone briefly introducing themselves and you outlining the ideas of the project. This could then be followed by an ice-breaker and team-bonding activity as described above. However, you need to make sure you have planned these in advance so that you can introduce the activities to the team. One thing which always helps before the meeting takes place, is to send out, in advance, a few points highlighting what you will be discussing in the meeting.
Family: Build your family into a team for a task and hold a kick-off meeting.
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