"The team should define and agree upon a decision-making process early."
I recommend considering these factors when building a team:
Membership - Managers may not have authority to select all members. However, to the extent possible, managers should strive to have a small team (ideally one representative per function/group) and a team whose members have diverse backgrounds and thinking styles. I recommend avoiding “bad actors”, people with good technical skills but known to be poor team players. In my experience, the technical skills never compensate for the negative impact to a team.
Clear Mission and Goals – Ideally the team has a management sponsor who identifies the reason for team formation. From here, the team should work together to define a mission statement, followed by a set of clear, measurable, and time-bound goals.
Norms – The team should define early how members should treat one another. Common norms might center on punctuality, listening, and commitment, as examples.
Decision Making – The team should define and agree upon a decision-making process early. Personally, I favor identifying an “A” who is Accountable for the decision, after appropriate input is considered.
Communication – How will the team communicate internally, outside the team, or with management? This should be defined upfront.
"Helping team members to achieve their career goals can be a great way to earn trust..."
An important part of building an effective team is hiring the right people for your team. When hiring people for your team, think about the gaps in your current team. These include personality gaps, experience gaps, problem solving approach gaps, as well as the more obvious skill set gaps. It is important to think about current gaps as well as future gaps. Future gaps could be different because current employees have developed new skills, decided to take their careers in a different direction, or the work your team does changes to meet the evolving needs of your organization.
Another important part of building an effective team is making it a cohesive group. The great thing about team building is that there are many ways to approach it. However, nearly all of them involve building relationships within a team by making sure you know each member personally. This includes where they would like to take their careers in the future and what skill sets they need to learn to accomplish their goals. In some cases, team members may be happy at their current level and enjoy learning new things within an existing role. Other times team members may be content to rely on years of experience to do similar things daily with great efficacy. More frequently team members may want to shift roles or obtain greater responsibilities. Helping team members to achieve their career goals can be a great way to earn trust, which ultimately builds effective teams.
“Create an environment that is supportive, encouraging, and inspiring.”
First and foremost, communication is critical. If a manager is not an effective communicator, possessing a high performing or even average performing team may be nearly impossible.
Building an effective team depends on your definition of “effective.” If the goal is simply output, the level of involvement would depend on the employee and their role. However, one should never focus on this as the number one goal to build an effective team. Regardless of an employee’s level/role, the goal of management should be to create an environment that is supportive, encouraging, and inspiring.
My management style has only ever had 2 main focuses: 1) are you happy? 2) what do you need? It does seem oversimplified, but those simple questions have many layers that not only address individual needs (they vary from person to person, and one should adapt), but also job satisfaction and overall needs to carry out job duties as expected. If employees are content and feel supported, this typically leads to a high performing team.
"One key is attracting individuals who respect each other’s strengths and interests..."
This is a classic question for and goal of all managers. For me, it involves multiple teams working on very different Technology Readiness Level (TRL) programs, some TRL 3-4 and others TRL 0-1. The needs of each team member are very different for these different programs. Chemical Physicists and Physicists studying fundamental properties of materials require a very different skill set from Materials Scientists and Engineers working on technology development applications. One key is attracting individuals who respect each other’s strengths and interests and can communicate effectively with one another. Having individuals on the teams from all experience levels from undergraduate interns, postdocs, junior scientists/engineers, and senior scientists/engineers makes for more effective time utilization by principal investigators.
This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.
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