Six men and I sat atop four and a half million pounds of explosives waiting for the fuse to be lit to begin our flight on the Space Shuttle Discovery. We knew that for the next seven days our lives would depend on our acting synergistically. If anything went awry during the flight, if we didn’t work together, we might not make it home safely.
How did we come to that moment in time? We had been selected for the Astronaut Corps and this particular flight because we had proven track records of being good team players, both as leaders – and as followers – and had the requisite skills to accomplish a variety of space missions with varying payloads. Many of the skills I learned about teamwork are applicable to any group coming together to accomplish their goals. Here are some of the specifics.
Everyone has been a part of a team at one time or another whether it be on the playing field or at the office, or even in your own home. Can you recall a mediocre team, a terrible one or a lazy disorganized one? There are strategies to choose team players, to mold them into a great team, to define their goals, to motivate them for success, to deal with “outliers” and to learn from failure – and success.
CHOOSING AND DEVELOPING TEAM PLAYERS
When you are considering putting a potential team together or adding new members to a current team, the interview process is crucial. Do applicants have the requisite skills or must they be trained? You should consider whether each of these people has experience working well with similar teams. Can he or she give examples of types of projects those teams have worked on and how success was achieved? Also be sure your current team feel comfortable with this candidate.
MOLDING A GROUP OF PEOPLE INTO A TEAM
Not all groups of people can come together to form a great team. You’ll find natural leaders, potential leaders and excellent followers who will carry the ball down the field for the rest of your team. Each of them has a role to play. It is up to your leadership to learn the competencies and capabilities of each one of them and how to put them to the best use to accomplish the work that needs to be done.
DEFINING TEAM GOALS
Your team will only be effective if there are clear cut, well-defined goals which all of the team members understand and are willing to work toward. The role of your management or team leaders is to be able to state these goals precisely and make sure the team understands and is on board with achieving the goals. Your leadership should take responsibility for monitoring progress of the group and each individual. Should the goals of your team change, all team members much be briefed so there is clarity going forward.
RECOGNIZING WHAT MOTIVATES YOUR TEAM
It is imperative that you understand what motivates the people on your particular team. For some team members learning new skills, a sense of accomplishment or a feeling of success will be the best motivators. Others may value the opportunity for advancement or recognition. Financial rewards, raises or prizes may work in your company. Often the praise of their fellow members is sufficient. Have you considered a little friendly competition? Only by asking the team members will you find out.
DEALING WITH OUTLIERS
What if one of your company’s team members is not performing well or is ill-suited to the team, making the workplace uncomfortable and jeopardizing success? Can you show data that his or her performance is not up to the standards you have set and expect? What about negative reports from coworkers? A frank in-person discussion about these issues is crucial and it is imperative you solve the problem or let the person go so as not to poison the morale of the entire team.
PRACTICING AND LEARNING FROM FAILURE – AND SUCCESS
When things go wrong, it is imperative that you seek to learn all the causes and fix them right away. You must also be sure that team members learn from the failure so the same mistakes are not repeated. Never forget that learning from success will make your team and your outcomes better, too. Incorporate processes or procedures that worked well in the past and be sure to recognize those team members who made significant contributions to the achievement.
Teams of all sorts are ubiquitous. Whether at a work site, on a sports team, in a nonprofit organization, or in a hospital operating room (or in today’s world, virtually or in-person), teams are everywhere. Undoubtedly you have been a team member and perhaps had the opportunity to be selected or hired as a team leader. Great teams that produce superior results are built following the following simple principles that lead to outstanding teamwork. You must:
– choose and develop great team members
– mold them into the best team for your organization,
– define your organization’s goals,
– motivate the team appropriately,
– deal with problem team members,
– learn from success and failure
And you’ll find you have built a team that is out of this world!
About the Author:
Dr. Rhea Seddon is a renowned speaker, Astronaut and the author of “Go For Orbit”, a memoir about her adventures spending 30 days in space aboard the Space Shuttle. She is also a former surgeon, healthcare executive and entrepreneur. Dr. Seddon speaks to audiences of all kinds on the topics of teamwork, leadership and taking advantage of opportunities. Visit www.RheaSeddon.com.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. Kate and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised.
Zombies in the workplace are soul-sucking, money-draining, productivity-killing entities that chip away at an organization’s spirit and its engagement levels one convert at a time. These creatures often look like the rest of us, but deep down they’re cancerous beasts that can potentially drive a business to ruin.So what’s a manager to do? Recognize the problem, know its source, understand why action is essential, and then do the work required to create a zombie-free workplace.
KNOWING YOUR ZOMBIES
Although zombies come in many varieties, most resemble one or more of the following:
- Negative zombies – Often the easiest to spot, they complain, moan, and express their dissatisfaction regularly. Some will use humor to disguise their disgust, but they are nevertheless contagious and a threat to the uninfected.
- Minimum-contributor zombies – They do the basics but nothing more. You will never see them looking for work or volunteering for projects. Furthermore, many act as if they are doing you a favor when you ask them to perform a task they get paid for doing.
- Status-quo zombies – These change-averse creatures dig in their heels and fight the future. They are happy with everything the way it is and take no initiative to implement new ideas. The most dangerous of this variety will even resort to sabotage if they feel threatened.
- Shortcut zombies – They find ways to cut corners and circumvent processes. Their choices frequently expose the organization to unneeded risk. Worse still, when these zombies are in charge of training others, they pass on bad habits and poor practices.
IDENTIFYING THE SOURCE
To rid an organization of zombies, you must understand how you got them. Each zombie has a creation story. These are the most common:
- The ready-made zombie story: People who were really zombies when someone interviewed them, and they got the job anyway.
- The we-did-it-here zombie story: Unlike the ready-made zombies, these zombies were created after they joined the organization. They were discouraged, taught to fear, or worse.
- The retired-on-the-job zombie story: These zombies should be long retired, but because of a need to complete a certain number of years of employment before receiving some financial reward or other benefit, they’re still in the workplace and just going through the motions.
- The abandoned zombie: Abandoned zombies are employees who could perform well if they didn’t feel as if they were the only ones who cared. After struggling alone, these poor creatures eventually succumbed and now just try to survive.
MAKING THE CHOICE BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE
When left unchecked, zombies can take over a department, division, or even an entire organization with relative ease. For that reason, it is essential that organizations are focused and vigilant in their approach to zombie management. Organizations that fail to take the problem seriously may find that it’s too late. To escape havoc when zombies gain a foothold, good employees will often leave for safer territory. Then, by the time management recognizes its predicament, a lot of talent has walked out the door, and what remains is not sufficient to do great work.
Implementing an anti-zombie initiative is no easy task, but it can be done and done well if you take the process seriously and stay dedicated to invigorating your workforce.
Be candid about your numbers. High turnover is a strong sign that there is a zombie problem. High absenteeism, poor output, and substandard financial performance are other clues. Think about what you would see if your organization were-zombie free and what numbers would be associated with that vision. Next, compare those statistics to the current reality and set some performance goals.
Once you understand your global numbers, you should measure employee engagement. You can run a formal survey with a company that specializes in engagement or create one on your own. As with step one, the goal here is to get a sense of what’s working, what isn’t, and the breadth of your zombie problem.
Next, ask yourself what are you seeing and hearing that you don’t want to see, and what are you not seeing and hearing that you do? After you know where the gaps are, think about solutions to address those shortcomings. If your zombies belong to the status-quo category, for example, consider putting in a process whereby everyone is tasked with finding two ways to improve his or her work processes or outputs. No matter what you choose, be sure you have the stamina to stick with the zombie-eradication tactics you implement. Fewer activities done well will beat a lot of mediocre ones every time.
Be prepared to let go of those you can’t save. Despite best efforts, some zombies simply can’t be cured. If you’ve done all you can, and they’re still the walking dead or worse, it’s time to say goodbye. If the termination process in your organization is cumbersome and lengthy, at a minimum, you must protect the uninfected and recently cured from the zombie holdouts.
Recognize success and coach for deficiencies. Saving zombies happens one employee at a time. People who are clear about expectations, receive proper training, get coaching when they miss the mark, and feel appreciated when they get it right or go above and beyond, are highly unlikely to enter or venture back into zombie territory.
- Do managers “walk the talk” and model anti-zombie behavior?
- Do employees understand how their work is connected to the organization’s goals? Can they explain that connection in a sentence or less?
- Are employees held accountable for following established processes and procedures?
- Do managers confront negativity?
- Do managers encourage and reward initiative?
- Do they meet one-on-one with their direct reports on a regular basis?
- Does a strong zombie pre-employment screening interview process exist?
- When good people leave, does someone conduct an exit interview to see if zombies are the reason for the departure?
The answers to those questions should serve as a starting point for encouraging engagement and avoiding everything from a small zombie outbreak to a full-blown apocalypse. You can never be too prepared.