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I’ve just been assigned as a leader of a new team. My supervisor suggested doing some team-building activities, as well as an assessment. How should I get started? Elaine Varelas advises

Being a leader of a new team is an exciting time, and it can be a challenge. Elaine Varelas advises on how to create a cohesive group and what you can do to facilitate a collaborative and high-performing team.

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Q: I’m a leader of a new team. My supervisor suggested we do some team-building exercises as a way to develop collaboration on the team. She also suggested we take a group assessment to see how to learn and understand each other better. What sort of exercises should I use? And what are some assessments I should consider?

A: Congratulations on moving into a team leader role. Leading people is challenging. It can be rewarding when things are going well and when they aren’t, you will question every part of your leadership ability. But your supervisor has the right idea: team-building exercises and assessments can be a great way to develop collaboration, as well as relationships between those in the group. One of the best authors on team development is Patrick Lencioni. He has written two great books on the subject, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and The Motive. In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Lencioni outlines that the most effective teams start with trust. If a team doesn’t have a trusting relationship, then they won’t be capable of taking the next steps in the pyramid he outlines. Core to his theory are fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results. This entire pyramid of behavior is important to address in order to create a highly effective team.

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An easy tool you can implement in your team meetings is asking questions to help people learn more about their colleagues. These questions are not supposed to be threatening. Instead, they should create a dialogue between team members, such as asking about a favorite food or favorite movie or having them talk about something that is not on their resume, such as a hidden skill. These conversations and questions should be around things that can be lighthearted and can give people a multidimensional picture of who their colleagues are. This process costs nothing, but it could have a positive impact on your team by showing commonality and skillsets people are interested in.

With team assessments, each person is assessed and given their own style preference and the team as a whole is examined to reveal information about strengths, weaknesses, and development opportunities for the team. Some of these assessments include The Five Dysfunctions of a Team assessment (which can examine your team and where they are on the pyramid), DiSC, and the Tracom Social Styles assessment. In these assessments, an expert certified in the tools can provide insights into where strengths and developmental opportunities may be. A good example of an assessment used in practice was when we coached a team responsible for new product development. As we did the individual assessments, a common theme came up throughout the team: it was composed of non-risk takers. This gave us some clear insight as to why the team was challenged. Product development comes with risk, and what became apparent to this team was they needed to develop a skillset for risk or add members with a different approach. Team assessments can show team capability to tasks they are assigned and how they can accomplish set goals. It can also highlight obstacles or pitfalls for the team and whether the skillsets they have are broad enough to accomplish an assignment.

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As a leader of a new team, you are in the position to start everything off right. Communication is the biggest challenge facing teams and it can easily lead to their derailment. Setting ground rules for the group should be the first thing you do as a leader. These ground rules could include things such as: every meeting will have an agenda, team members should respond to people within 24 or 48 hours of being asked a question, and each team member should have a clear understanding of their responsibilities as an individual contributor, as well as their responsibilities to the team.

Additionally, in this new world of hybrid and remote work, some of your team agreements might be that you will all be on video during meetings. You should also recognize that communications might need to be more completely documented if you are a hybrid team. Make sure you have some sort of agreement in which the way tools are used. For example, how urgent needs are handled (calls or text but never email, ending calls at ten of the hour, and/or if after-hours calls are off limits). These ground rules help develop the beginnings of a shared culture and standard of behavior, leading to a high-performing team (which is your goal). Your supervisor is leading you down a very strong path by letting you know that leadership is a skill with tools attached. And it can help you be successful in your new role.

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