by Jan Richards
Team experiences can be awful. They can also be great.
The quality of your team’s experience is rarely an accident. Good teams require planning, attention, action, and sometimes intervention.
There are specific things you can do to prevent the worst team experiences from occurring.
One thing that’s really important to avoid the dreaded “misfiring band of misfits” experience (which happens more often than you might think) is to schedule and hold regular team check-ins.
It’s a simple but important way you can keep the group’s attention and efforts focused on their shared customer, and their shared customer goals.
The time it takes to plan and hold these team check-ins is minor compared to the time it will take the group to clean up after misdirection and mistakes, if they start competing, infighting, or going the wrong way.
Here are a few tips for how to have good team check-ins:
1. Start on the same page
Make sure everyone knows who your customers are for this work or project, and what they want from you.
Translate the customer goal – the team’s ultimate goal… or what should be their ultimate goal for this project – into smaller goals that are well-aligned with the master goal.
These can be assigned, along with due dates for them, to small groups or individual members of the team.
In addition, to make sure you’re talking about the same thing as you work, simple tools like a glossary of often-used terms can be valuable. This is especially true if the work is very specialized, and the team is a cross-functional one.
Plan how and when you will hold your regular team check-ins. If possible, hold at least the kickoff meeting in person.
Get all regular check-ins on everyone’s calendar – and keep them there.
2. Stay on the same page
Hold your regular team calls or meetings as planned.
Make sure the meetings or team calls are productive and efficient. Many teams find that if they use a standing agenda, the reporting, discussions and other work they need to do together with that time can be done more efficiently. People know what to expect.
Create team ground rules and use them. Start with a basic set of ground rules, adapt them as a team to make them your own, and then use them consistently.
Hold people accountable for using each others’ time effectively.
And throughout the process, stay focused on your shared customers and goals. This goes a long way to keep everyone on the same page.
3. Don’t assume you’re on the same page just because you started that way
For some reason, assumptions are easy to make.
Often assumptions arise innocently enough.
They may crop up as a way to try to speed up and simplify communications and the process of reaching conclusions and taking action.
But often simplification brushes right over something significant.
For example, you may see a problem start to emerge and assume that everyone else does, too.
But that may not be the case… it may have been just you who saw the signs of problems or danger.
Often, urgencies and emergencies or smaller problems (but problems, nonetheless) can be avoided with simple team follow-up and communication.
All it takes is taking the time and making the effort to clarify or verify a detail that turns out to be highly significant.
When in doubt, check.
4. Finish together
Start as a team.
Stay a team.
Finish as a team.
Don’t become an angry, bickering band of well-intentioned but misfiring participants who are filled with the awful feelings of, “Don’t ever make me work with these people again!”
Team experiences just don’t have to play out that way.
And whether you work together in the future or not, you’re probably going to learn some things on this and each team project that make future team experiences more effective.
Make this particular project or team a high-performing, and highly positive experience.
“Teams, a good experience?!” you ask?
They definitely can be… and may even be some of the highlights of your career and work life, when they’re created and managed very effectively. Regular team check-ins are an important part of that experience.
About the author
Jan Richards mentors and provides online training for leaders and teams who want to change or improve, but the desired change hasn’t happened yet, for any of many reasons. An experienced entrepreneur and business consultant, Jan has led many teams and businesses through major change and improvement projects. She is based in the always-rapidly changing Silicon Valley and San Francisco Bay area. Her clients include large and small companies, primarily in tech, biotech, financial services, and telecommunications. She has an MBA from UC Berkeley and a BS in journalism from Iowa State. She was a national examiner for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award for five years. Prior to starting her consulting business, Jan worked for seven years at Apple Computer where she worked on and led teams that improved key business processes in product development, manufacturing, distribution, finance and administration, and sales and marketing. To learn more, visit her website at http://jan-richards.com