Leaders Know the Temperature of the Team

Leading is about driving results but it is also about taking the team’s temperature and understanding three things:
– Do they need the temperature turned up?
– Do they need the temperature turned down?
– Do they need to be on a glide-path for a while?
There is no science to the art of temperature taking, but  we can draw on personal experiences to help reset the temperature. Thinking back over your professional life you may have experienced some of the same dynamics that teams exhibit. Let’s correlate personal experiences to team experiences.

Personal experience 1. You are in a brand new job; first day at work. You were on-boarded with the basics but now is the day of reckoning. You are anxious, stressed, want to be perfect out of the blocks. Your first instinct is to be self-assured but the impulse to not screw up drives your behaviors. You are overly cautious with your decisions and interactions. The process of over analyzing and second guessing results in slow reactions and mistakes. How does this personal experience translate to a team’s reaction and interaction with a new team leader or a new initiative? Does the team exhibit some of the same behaviors as you did in the new job? What is the temperature of the team and what does the leader do to get better results?

This team needs to have three things happen:

  • The leader needs to remove the natural instinct of caution. She/he needs to create a climate of safety and forgiveness.
  • The leader needs to also stress the reasons this team was established, why their unique skills and experiences are critical for the success and to let them work without fear.
  • For this tactic to succeed, each team member must clearly understand the covenant they have with the team and the leader. That covenant is, if a mistake is made it must brought to the team immediately. Not for criticism or discipline but to allow a team effort to mitigate the mistake and not have it linger or cause lasting damage to the success of the project. The temperature of the team needs to be moderated so the imagined stresses and anxieties are removed.

Personal experience 2. You observe a personality clash between team members and several team dysfunctions coming out of this clash. First there are a lot of “bitch” sessions between team members. Second there appears to be “hallway conversations” on all decisions. Basically, the team is not working or playing well with each other. The only possible outcome of this situation is a poor result. How can this personal experience be used by you as a leader? How did you observe thus dysfunction getting resolved? What is the temperature of the team and what do you do to resolve this situation?

There are two ways to fix this kind of dysfunction.

  • First is to have a “we’re going to fix this now” meeting with the whole team. The leader can do this in some situations but it may take an independent arbitrator. In this meeting, all parties to the dysfunction are brought together in one place and the elephant is put on the table. But, before you just throw the elephant on the table rules have to be agreed upon. These rules are simple – tell the truth regardless of how ugly it is, don’t take it personal but accept everything as constructive criticism, don’t get defensive or be offensive with your comments and these next two are the most important; assume everyone is in the room because they want the best outcome for the team and that all intentions are honorable – the only agenda is to create a functional team and a successful project.
  • The second way applies when one or more people have a personal agenda that cannot be set aside or they are unable to accept constructive criticism or the righteous intentions of all team members. When this person becomes a poison to the corrective process they need to be removed from the team.

This team needs a temporary glide path until they become cohesive as a team and team trust is established.

Personal experience 3. You’ve been in a role for a while and have become complacent with the challenge. You find yourself on autopilot just going through the paces but not adding new value to your role or the organization. The right brain is finding outlets in arenas outside of your job. Your left brain is not challenged. How does this personal experience translate to a team’s reaction and interaction when projects are very lengthy or less challenging? Does the team exhibit some of the same behaviors as you did in this job that has become stale? How did you get out of this funk? What is the temperature of the team and what does the leader do to get better results? How does this personal experience relate to a team challenge?

A team that has gotten into a funk it is because the team has lost sight of the challenge and/or the importance of the team purpose. This is the result of two things, bad or unengaged leadership. A leaders job is keeping the team on task, challenged and executing expertly. The leader needs to inspire action, engagement and execution every day. A leadership mantra to consider adopting is, “Working with me you can expect to learn, grow and stretch everyday.” This mantra requires both the leader and the team to drive for execution and success everyday. Setting firm timelines, expectations of execution and clearly defining the vision and purpose will help a team live with this mantra. Once the commitment is made the team is authorized to challenge, support and encourage each other and the leader is authorized to inspect, motivate and demand improvement. Employees that know they are learning, growing and stretching every day know their work matters and they are contributing to organizational success. When this happens there is no room for a funk. The temperature needs to be turned up.

Personal experience 4. You just completed a major project. Your focus, attention and effort were off the charts. You are exhausted but feeling pride in what you accomplished. But, you need a break. How does this personal experience translate to a team’s reaction and interaction with team experience? Does the team exhibit some of the same behaviors as you did after completing a complex project successfully? What is the temperature of the team and what does the leader do in this situation?

Hey, we all need breaks. This isn’t a nice to have, it is a need to have. Companies provide vacation to allow employees to recharge. Teams need recharge time also. This is the one time you turn the temperature down. But do so with full disclosure and boundaries. This is a temporary idle not a stop. When you celebrate the success of expert execution, tell them the reward criteria and set the stage for the “next big thing”. High performing teams are that way because they thrive on challenge and on the anticipation of the next big thing challenge. Yeah, the temperature is turned down, but left on simmer.

Reading and responding to the team temperature is a skill that all leaders must continually improve on. Trust me, you will never get it right every time. That is what mea culpas are for.

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