At some point in any business you need to learn how your team functions best. There are undoubtedly going to be snags along the way, and some of your team will come up as weaker or stronger links in the chain. Getting rid of the weaker links might sound ideal, but a better option is usually to learn why those people are struggling, and how to bring out the best in them.
One of the best approaches is to engage in team-building exercises, especially ones which convey new purpose to group effort, and ones which bring out aspects of a person’s character while on the job. Here’s a few I’ve tried and found work best:
1. Ask your team what they actually want to do. This is best done in a one-on-one scenario, where you can talk to each of your team members and figure out their wants and needs. Keep an open mind and don’t censor them, and make sure to write down key points they’re fixed on. Sometimes it’s as easy as changing jobs with team members who would actually be more effective somewhere else. But don’t do it without considering the ramifications — you can’t leave holes in your project just because someone doesn’t like their job.
2. Get out and play a sport. Or stay indoors and play one. Table tennis, soccer, volleyball — any of these can be a good option if you want to get physical. Group sports are especially good because it can foster a real sense of camaraderie amongst team members. Find another team to play against regularly and you might even find additional benefits, like making friends with another company who does the same.
3. Play Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity with each other. I’m not even joking about the second one. These are great if your team members are having personality differences. The first is a little more “PC” if you prefer that kind of atmosphere, while the second is decidedly not, and can help people loosen up with one another. There’s nothing quite like being a bad person in front of others to make someone a little more forgiving. However, be aware that it’s not for the easily offended. Stick to Apples to Apples if your team has those sorts.
4. Play Dungeons & Dragons with each other (or another RPG). Getting your team together with a few beers, some pizza, and a nightly adventure is a sure-fire way to bring out their personalities. I advise keeping the campaign short and contained, but give them plenty of room to flex. A well-balanced game like D&D can show how people problem-solve, be it by forming a strong element of the party, or through resourceful thinking during battle. Some will be good in combat, others will be fast-talkers who whittle down the more intellectual challenges. Best of all, as a DM, you might learn a thing or two about what keeps them motivated.
5. Take yourself out of the picture. A bad habit that many bosses have (myself included) is to be too hands-on. It’s good to do quality control, but you also have to learn to trust your team. Explain the project, assign the work, and then step back. Do your part, but don’t interfere unless you really have to. Most people will solve problems on their own, and when they can’t, they’ll ask for help as long as they know you’re available.
All of the above are techniques I’ve had to use at one time or another, and all of them have worked. They won’t be effective for every scenario, and some teams aren’t going to commit to certain activities. Sports or D&D might not be your thing — that’s why options exist. The key here is to not get bogged down in being frustrated at your team. Look at what you can do to solve the issue creatively, rather than letting the problems build up.
Mark P. Tjan is a graphic designer and event planner working out of Toronto, ON, Canada. He enjoys giant robots, Gangnam Style, and sleep. Precious sleep. You can find out more about his work as a geek at http://teambravo.ca