Healing The Work Environment – Part V: What team leaders should focus on

14 min read

Until a while ago, I never had the opportunity of managing a team.

I was used to walk all by myself, like a lone wolf, but during the last year I had to learn running in a pack, and even more, to lead other wolfs.

Before going any further…

…as promised and showed in my previous Work Environment articles (part I, part II, part III, part IV), here are some opinions from the Monitive Awesomenauts.

Question: You suddenly woke up in a parallel universe, dominated by all sort of creatures, how do you think people, with a similar profession like your own, look like?

Luci: Well, first, there would be the mage. He’s quite old, wise, white beard, not very big, big glazing eyes, a great robe and a long rod. He turns thoughts into reality, creates worlds, buildings, bridges, ponds, sparkling small creatures and everything in between. Then, there’s the storm bringer. He’s tall, blue eyes, dirty silver grey clothes. He summons storms that rebuild mountains, this is why he’s sometimes called the terraformer.

Marcy: Some sort of flying creatures, dressed with some very happy colours on them. Elfish ears, with long and delicate arms. They would definitely sleep in trees, and carry all the time some magic powder, which sprinkled on someone it would term them into a cartoonish character.

Alina: Huge alien honeybees with enormous eyes. Why? So that they can fly over a field, see where the best flowers are, extract what they need, transform it to honey…put a ribbon and sell it. Don’t ask me if there is any gravity. I assumed there is.

Read the full interview. They’re a wild bunch!

HWE-5 - Intro

At first, I was excited and endorphins invaded my body…

…smiling all day long and assigning tasks to my colleagues, soon I was going to discover what’s it like to fail miserably at this, filling my mind with frustration and bad energy. But I didn’t want to give into those feelings and slowly started to improve my team leading abilities, and still do it to this day.

What I’ve found is that a team, its members and its leader, cannot function efficiently without proper communication, without honesty, without being open to learning and especially without being a part of a true family who shares the good and the bad in life.

Currently besides preparing the launch of Arktik (my very own startup) and also being in charge with the UI and UX at Monitive, I’m running two side projects very dear to me – putting all the pieces together for a niched social network (soon to be launched) and an online magazine, the very one on which you’re reading this article.

There isn’t a project I’m working on that doesn’t have the need of communication, but these last two (the social network and the online magazine) involve team members with me as their team leader. In those that follow, I’ll try to share my learnings, my experiences, in the hope that you can learn from my mistakes, avoiding them and jumping ahead into making your own and also sharing them so others as myself can learn from your life stories.

The process of learning will never hit a limit, there isn’t a barrier point on which one had arrived and after it’s crossed there isn’t anything left to be learned. The Exploration of Everything never ceases to exist, so dive deep into it… jump headfirst.

What I didn’t knew and hit me like a speeding train:

HWE-5 - Issue 1

Issue no. 1: No one cares about you

Not in the real sense at least. Individually, everybody is on its own – we are delivered into this world alone, without holding hands with someone else and when we go, we go by ourselves, alone, facing the pitch black.

People are self-centered, the entire universe resuming on their sole existence – what one wants, what one needs, what one does – without carrying (more or less) about how others feel as long as they are happy.

Solution 1: We are not machines

Everybody has the power to change, but you must give them a reason to do so. Would you follow a mad man, a dictator? Show them some love and you’ll receive it in return.

People can change, and most of them do. The act of carrying has the same attributes as a virus – it’s inherited from someone else and will get passed on to another.

HWE-5 - Issue 2

Issue 2: People don’t have patience

Our time in this world is limited, especially during present day. We constantly eat on the run, work on the run, meet others on the run, kiss on the run, make love on the run, even run on the run.

The age of speed is here, embrace the present … too late it’s gone! Goodbye, make room for somebody else… Don’t lose your moment!

Naturally, nobody likes their time to be wasted, especially when they don’t have enough to go around, and that’s why they don’t have patience!

Solution 2: Think more than once before expressing your ideas

Be sure that your ideas, your decisions are the real ones, without moving back and forward from one idea to another.

How would you feel if you’d ask someone on the street what time is it and that person would answer “It’s 2’o clock, no… it’s 3… actually sorry, it’s 2:30, uhm… wait…” wouldn’t you just get frustrated? Even more, would you depend on that answer?

So think hard before letting the words come out of your mouth, respect other people and their limited time.

HWE-5 - Issue 3

Issue 3: Your time isn’t just your time

Contrarily to the above statement, your time as a leader it isn’t just your own.

You must be there for your colleagues, when they need your expertise, your opinion, or to take a decision that’s outside their power of doing so. Your day can get segregated, through the well-know disruptive process of “sorry, do you have a minute?”

Solution 3: Don’t panic!

Even if you feel the urge to start yelling until everyone ears fall off, count inside your mind up to 3, to 5, to 10… or count until you’re relaxed. Then remind yourself that your team can’t help you if you won’t help it first.

Unless you’re a team leader inside a Nuclear Power Station, there isn’t (almost) anything that would need urgent attention. Develop a workflow, instruct team members to build lists with topics, and every one or two hours open your ‘store’ for business.

HWE-5 - Issue 4

Issue 4: A new wolf in the pack is hardly embraced by the others

Many can get jumpy and nervous after the addition of a new team member.

The puppy will act with fear, uncertainty and will always look for approval – this is not efficient. The veterans will try to dictate their place in the team. This can also be inefficient.

Solution 4: It’s never too soon for organizing a team building

The catch here is to come up with a good team building and not just do it because everybody is saying so or because it’s fashionable. There, I’ve said it! A business can get fashionable, just like an individual – sadly many do! Don’t go reading on the web what you should be doing and then applying your interpretations on your team.

Hire a professional and if you can’t afford it then study hard from an early stage how to develop a good team building and along with some (or even all) team members debate about how to mold the process. See ? Communication is the key!

The result of the entire process (the preparation and the actual team building) will force people to collaborate, to communicate, even to have fun. People will get to know each other (referring here to “new member – old member” relationship) and you’ll be surprised to notice that the outsider, who initially disturbed the balance in your team, has been embraced by the others and he or she actually improved your team’s arsenal.

Make a habit out of this, don’t just wait for the months to pass on and once in a while to organize team buildings. They can be done in many forms, over longer periods of times or even flash sessions – short and effective. Get creative, your team will appreciate it!

HWE-5 - Issue 5

Issue 5: When I say ‘white’ others understand ‘black’

Without a proper communication, honest, direct and polite, a team will become a conflict nest. Think about it! What was the longest period of time you lasted near someone with whom you couldn’t have a positive conversation ?

Solution 5: Over-communicate!

I have the tendency in repeating some ideas, but I feel the need of consistency when it comes to important aspects of both personal and professional life. And the communication process is one of these aspects.

Now, maybe you know what good communication means, maybe you think you know or maybe you don’t know. Just for the fun, allow me to present my point of view.

Communication is the act of transferring information from one place to another or from one person to another, simple as that, nothing fancy. But I think this definition is not entirely accurate. Of course if we’re referring to devices, then yes – the definition is correct. It’s not the same when people are involved.

To communicate with someone doesn’t just mean “getting thoughts moved from one brain into another”. Communication is also about receiving something in return from the other person – a response, an opinion, some feedback. It’s a constant back & forward process: “I talk, you listen! You talk, I listen!”

All good? Not quite yet. I can chat all day long with someone, talking and listening, blah blah… The secret ingredient that shouldn’t be left outside of this recipe is empathy. For one to listen, to really listen, he or she must understand what its conversation partner is talking about. A real understanding of transmitted ideas can happen only through empathy. Yes, of course and other main ingredients like knowledge, experience, honesty, respect, but I think this are already well known and heavily used goodies. Don’t forget: talk, listen, empathize, repeat!

HWE-5 - Issue 6

Issue 6: “I am the sultan. What I say goes!”

Well that’s just such a lame approach for one to have (and I must admit… I was one of those who did adopt it).

A team leader won’t necessarily possess this attitude for being put on a golden pedestal, but by having a lot to tackle and due to limited time resources it’s easier to emit an idea and impose it. That way he doesn’t need to answer all the annoying and disruptive questions. I’ve learned on my own that, in time, this is inefficient, frustration-generator, and reflects as lack of carrying for one’s team.

Solution 6: Share and trust!

As soon as possible, when you’ll be in the company of a family member or a friend tell him to do something, anything that comes in your mind – to jump, to yell, to go outside with a bucket on the head – and to do it then, in that moment, and most important… no questions asked! It’s not hard to predict their answer.

Would you blindly do something someone asked you to do it? I think not. It’s the same with teams. Team members put your faith in you, and you must put your faith in them. Your entire team is in a boat, lead by you, in the middle of a deep blue sea. When your expectations are high, your team will deliver, and won’t let you down, but always, always give them something in return… some in advance and some at the end.

HWE-5 - Issue 7

Issue 7: “Look at me… I’m a peacock!”

Yeah, you’re a peacock alright! Just… without the “pea”.

Not being willing to get your hands dirty won’t benefit anybody. You won’t live exciting experiences, you won’t learn anything new, and you won’t give your team a true leader to follow into the battle. Would you follow a lazy son of a bitch?

Solution 7: Get in the trench

Do your daily chores and, instead of jacking it off ‘til the end of the day, pull up your sleeves, get down from your podium, and join your team. Those working with or for you, could really use your expertise.
Personally, I’m finding the “trench tasks” more satisfying. And to conclude this solution… I can’t find any other words to fit better in here than the ones of my colleague – Marcela – who said (when referring to the online work environment): “… I think it’s full of people ‘running around’ yelling all the time ‘This is Sparta!’ without understanding that to be king first you must be a minion.”

HWE-5 - Conclusion

A good team leader should keep an open mind, and ask for feedback. If you received a positive feedback, ask yourself (and those who gave it to you) what have you done right and how you can continue doing that. If you received a negative feedback, try to find out what you should be stop doing and what other perks could you gain from the experiences that generated the negative opinions (there’s always something to learn).

Another aspect to consider, for having a full feedback package, would be to ask your colleagues and/or clients what should you start doing. There are many valuable resources over the Internet about “The art of feedback” and I couldn’t highlight enough the importance of this process.

When I’ve asked my team and clients for feedback… boy, I was in for a big surprise: people are not opened towards offering feedback. They learned along the way that saying something not good to somebody else could generate a negative effect that will hit them in the back. And yes, this is possible if people don’t know how to receive a constructive feedback.

What to do? Have a friendly chat with everyone in your team, it could be done in the office over a cup of coffee. It could be done over a delightful evening while going out with your colleagues, or develop a feedback process explained in details to your team. The important factor here is for everyone to understand the need of giving and receiving feedback. Without feedback there can be no improvement.

The team leader is, lastly but not least, a team member and all team members should rest assured that, in need, they can rely one on another. The team must rely on its leader and that he or she is prepared to take action where and when the other members need it.

The above are my humble observations during my still young position as a team leader.

You could and you should read more about this subject and see what the experts have to say. But no matter how much will you be reading about this, and no matter how good other people’s words will sound, you’ll definitely need to make your own experiences, make your mistakes, analyze them, deduct the need of change, improve yourself and help your team members to improve themselves. There’s no recipe that works better for you than the one you’ll be creating, along with your colleagues and your clients.

There are many approaches in building a team, but the one that works best for me is not trying to build a team, instead I’m trying to create a serene atmosphere, in which team members work in a relaxed manner, carrying one for another, communicating and having fun along the way… that’s a family, and I think will always work better than any other way.

Interesting read?

About Ciprian Irimies

Ciprian is an UX Ninja, but what really makes him stand out of a crowd is the desire to venture into the unknown, to boldly face new challenges and the lack of hair on his head.