Making the Most of a Small Team
As I build my team, especially now when it is small, I find that I need to consciously balance the team needs (productivity) with the individual needs (personal/professional growth). This balance depends on motivation.
The programs I run for my clients focus on individual learning and development, but they require the participants to deliver a real product – a viable proposal to generate revenue or cut costs – that gets special attention from the most senior executives in the organization. So, it’s no surprise that the participants are motivated to do substantial work on top of their regular jobs.
The surprise is that participants often tell me that while their initial motivation came from the prospect of standing on a stage pitching an idea to the CEO at the end of the program, what got them to the finish line and drove them to high performance was their team. Specifically, they felt responsible for helping their teammates learn, develop, and perform their best.
I remind myself of this frequently as I build out my own team. It applies not only in high stakes, high stress undertakings, but also in the everyday work of every business, and every team.
As Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at Duke University has shown in his TED Talk, motivation to work comes from performing a challenging task (which is a given on small teams as I discussed last week) and receiving acknowledgement for the work done. The acknowledgement doesn’t have to be formal or substantial. Even a cursory glance is much better than nothing. But when it is more than a glance, when it’s collaboration, that’s when learning happens. It’s when questions get asked and answered; it’s when people observe how others approach problems.
In a small team, you would think this would come naturally. But in fact, it can easily happen less than it should.
Collaboration on things that can be handled by a single individual can seem inefficient, slow, and unnecessary. This is compounded when you have a small team who work virtually, and even more when your team includes subcontractors working by the hour. Every minute that someone can get something done on his or her own is a minute that another team member can be working on something else.
Without consciously attending to it, the balance between independent work and shared work can swing too far one way or the other.
The innovation teams I coach often reach a point where one team member who has specialized expertise or a relationship with a key stakeholder puts his head down to crank out the prototype or starts meeting individually with the stakeholder. It’s done with only the best intentions toward efficiency, but this can have an adverse effect on the end product, on the rest of the team’s motivation, and on the learning and development that takes place. But collaboration doesn’t need to be less efficient.
The best teams keep up a regular flow of communication that includes not just what they are doing, but also how and why.
Next week: Specific types of collaboration, and what works best on a small team
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