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No simple recipe exists for building, motivating and leading an effective team. Every project is different, as is every group of people, and it’s impossible to prepare for every eventuality that might arise. That’s why it’s important for team leaders to be quick on their feet and able to choose effective techniques for handling whatever situation and personalities they might come up against.
Building the Team
The first step to building an effective team is to clearly define its purpose. For example, suppose a company wants to create a task force to handle direct marketing. A clear understanding of the specific objectives of the marketing campaign as well as relevant deadlines helps team creators bring together the right number of employees to handle the task and helps ensure team members have suitable, complementary strengths.
Motivating the Team
A paycheck will ensure a minimum level of participation, but an effective team leader wants participants to be proactive and excited about the project. Many techniques can motivate teamwork, such as the time-tested tradition of performance-based bonuses. But often, more subtle means of motivation serve just as well. Soliciting input from team members gives them a sense of involvement, while praise for a job well done contributes to job satisfaction. The key is to make each member of the team feel like a valuable contributor, not just a foot soldier.
More often than not, strong personalities dominate a team. For example, cliques might form, hampering progress or an outspoken co-worker might criticize others, sidelining shy team members. One effective technique for overcoming such obstacles is to set up a brainstorming session that follows strict rules, according to the book “Serious Incident Prevention” by Thomas Burns. Notify the participants there will be no criticism of ideas and that everyone will take a turn. Go around the room, recording as many ideas as possible and then allow open discussion. No matter which ideas end up being taken seriously, at least each participant had an opportunity to contribute to the discussion.
Guiding the Team
A team leader has two important functions. First, a leader must facilitate the team members to ensure they can do their best work. Certain participants might need extra guidance or training, and there could be scheduling considerations if unexpected personal problems arise. The second important function is to ensure the team is making adequate progress toward its objective. One effective technique is to post a timeline, checking off tasks as they're completed. A visual display helps the team see what it has accomplished and what remains to be done. Frequent communication, whether through group or individual meetings, is also vital to ensure everyone is on the same page and working efficiently.
Stan Mack is a business writer specializing in finance, business ethics and human resources. His work has appeared in the online editions of the "Houston Chronicle" and "USA Today," among other outlets. Mack studied philosophy and economics at the University of Memphis.
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