Google Project Aristotle: How to build more effective teams
Teams turns strategy into reality. In this article we focus on the inner workings of a team and what it takes to thrive as a business with healthy, happy and highly effective teams.
As much as 32 percent of involuntary employee turnover is attributed to poor leadership skills. In a recent HBR article, it set out to understand the effect poor leaders have on the employees in an organisation. Just as group behaviours in a social context influence individuals in a group, so can this “social contagion” be observed in employees in a workplace environment. Knowing what the financial impact of having disengaged employees has on the workplace, it's no surprise that companies now are investing substantial amounts of money into developing their managers and creating a work environment whereby employees can openly give feedback to their managers whenever the need arises.
But the problem often arises with the inability of a company to recognise good leaders from bad ones. There are a plethora of diagnostic tests, profiles, evaluations, and assessments that offer insight into leadership ability. However, these efforts are often overly analytical, very theoretical, and subject to bias. But “poor leadership” is a difficult challenge to solve. Companies do not fully understand or grasp the causal effects of bad management. Often cited traits of a bad manager are a lack of communication, micromanagement, and unclear expectations. Solving these traits can lead to better overall engagement and productivity.
When a manager fails to communicate to their employees exactly what is expected of them, it leads to misunderstanding and misalignment of company strategy. Communication stems from all levels of interaction between the employee and the manager, and often the employee is left in the dark. Poor leaders spend long periods of time away from their desks, ignore staff emails and avoid any form of social interaction with their subordinates. Leadership is not about telling others what to do, but rather maximising the full potential of their people’s skills. Communication is intertwined with leadership, both good and bad. It’s become so apparent that there is a universal need for leaders to develop strong, transparent, motivating communication. Yet it remains an issue with expensive ramifications in employee turnover, morale, and corporate potential.
Communication, however, is a difficult trait to master. When leaders effectively communicate, they are mindful of their audiences’ need to move critical issues and agendas forward. They take the time to embrace diversity of thought and encourage others to put forth innovative ideas. Good leaders know how each individual can best contribute based on their strengths. The ability to clearly communicate roles and responsibilities across the team is key. Recently, HP CEO, Meg Whitman shed some light on the communication challenges companies often have. “You can improve your company’s infrastructure and roll out multiple plans from HQ, but you won't make any progress unless you are able to win the hearts and the minds of your people. It's critical that people connect to the plan and are empowered to drive change out in the field.” The fundamental flaw with communication is not that there are not enough professional development programs leaders can take, but rather that managers simply do not buy into the intrinsic value better communication brings to the workplace. Often, they hold tight the idea that execution trumps all else, and spending their time and effort on developing their communication skills falls to the back bench.
Unclear expectations is a causal effect of ineffective communication. When a manager fails to communicate clear expectations, it leads to employees feeling frustrated and disengaged. Failing to make expectations clear hinders the ability of the employee to successfully complete a task. Poor leaders who cannot communicate what their expectations and goals are lead to inefficiencies and a lack of direction. When a leader frequently announces cliche declarations such as “let's focus on key priorities” and “let's make sure our customers come first”, they immediately assume that every employee is on the same page as them. They fail to realise that everyone does not share the same definitions of vision, loyalty, accountability, teamwork, focus and priority as they do. Rather than asking for clarification, the real job of leadership is to inspire the organisation to take responsibility for creating a better workplace. Effectively communicating expectations is a critical management trait leaders must possess. When leaders take the time to explain what they mean, both explicitly (by carefully defining what their visions, intentions, and directions are) and implicitly (through behaviour), they can help employees align their personal goals with team and company goals.
Micromanagement is the process whereby a manager virtually takes over the role the employee is employed to do. This leads to productivity issues and can drastically lower employee morale. Paying attention to the details and making sure the work is getting done is important, however learning to trust the employees who are hired to take on certain responsibilities is even more important to the long term success of the business. Micromanagement may result in short term results, but only serves to the detriment of the manager in question. Managers who tend to micromanage, dilute their own productivity and often lack the capacity to get the things managers should be focusing on, done. What’s more, the process of micromanagement stunts any form of employee development and creates an environment where employees rely heavily on the presence of their managers. When this occurs, it tends to go one of two ways. Those team members with the big idea, quality skills and knowledge will remove themselves from any micromanagement situation, while those on the other side of the coin will become office dead weights. Waiting for the manager to tell them what to do.
The workforce then becomes completely void of their own initiative. A study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology observed that people, who believed they were being watched, performed at a lower level than those who weren't. What’s more, another study found that highly educated employees work more when given autonomy over their own work. When employees are pressured by their managers to work more, they feel less inspired. However, when they are allowed to set their their own goals with their manager, they often accept the workload because it's their choice.
When leaders are able to communicate effectively, their team members know and understand what is expected of them. Employees who have leaders who trust them, and believe in them do not need to be micromanaged to complete a specific task or reach a specific goal. Rather, leaders who focus on the vision and purpose of the organisation, and who are able to portray exactly what this vision and purpose means to every one of the employees in the organisation, benefit from more engaged and happy employees.
According to a Forbes article, leaders are facing new challenges in the workplace. The digitization and adaptation of technology in the workplace, the Millennial generation and the high turnover rate of employees, all impact the way a leader leads. No longer is it simply about a title. Leaders should embrace leadership development for themselves, their employees and their business. Today, leaders must learn to invest in good talented people, appreciate the organization's talent pool and encourage team members to keep a lookout for ways to improve the company by deepening the talent pipeline. What's more, leaders must be completely open to giving and receiving feedback from their colleagues and employees. Using tools, such as Impraise, managers can easily identify where their talents may lie, where they need to improve and the best ways to go about it. Employees who regularly engage with their manager, experience a much greater relationship between their leaders and themselves. Having an environment whereby leaders and employees have a symbiotic relationship leads to much more agile and innovative work environments. Leaders, who care about the wellbeing and the professional development of their employees, are able to deal with roadblocks in the workplace quicker and on a continuous basis.
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