Kick-Starting Your Team

Last Updated Aug 28, 2007 3:12 PM EDT

The true test of a team is how it weathers the hard times: failure to complete a task, lackluster performance, times when upper management isn't living up to its promises. The team leadership must take responsibility for making sure the team is ready to face adversity. Here are some ways to approach challenges that might confront you.

Fragmentation â€" There comes a time in the life of any team when functioning as a cohesive unit becomes a challenge. Team members might not be working well together or could be having trouble delegating parts of the task. One method for encouraging effective working relationships is assigning side projects that require team members to work together on a straightforward and interesting assignment, like planning a group outing or creating a team newsletter. It will get team members used to looking to one another for help and may even foster some goodwill among your team.

Lack of motivation â€" If your team seems lethargic, unimaginative or unmotivated, the solution to the problem might be simpler than you think. Usually, motivation problems stem from not feeling a sense of ownership or control of one's destiny. You might try choosing a bright team member or members to stake with some authority. Put them in charge of a task and let them know that they are being trusted with the outcome. It's also sometimes helpful to adjust your goals or break up your task so that success is more easily visualized. A third means to motivate your team is to recognize good behaviors that are not necessarily tied to the end product. Does a team member put in long hours without complaint or excel at keeping everyone in good spirits? Let them know you recognize and appreciate these contributions.

Lack of productivity â€" An unproductive team is often held up because of a lack of communication. Team members often do not have access to the information or knowledge they need to complete their task. But rather than asking for help and deferring to a teammate, they plod ahead. If a situation like this hasn't been taken care of in the informal organization of the team, now might be a good time to establish a subject matter expert within, or even apart from, the team. Whether you have a knowledgeable team member give a presentation to the rest of the team on, say, effective research tactics, or simply ask that person send the information to the rest of the team by email, you might give the team a crucial resource and your validation for using it. Just make sure you recognize the person for their extra efforts and ensure that they don't become overtaxed.