It’s very easy for managers to look at what people do well and put them together in a team based purely on that. This wouldn’t necessarily mean disaster will inevitably strike, but there are certainly better ways to build productive and happy teams.
Not all work chat has to be work related
Almost everyone at one point in their life has had a boss that is ultra-strict on any chatter that isn’t related to the task at hand. It’s easy to see where that boss is coming from – they are likely stressed out as they have deadlines and goals to hit, and need everyone to do their best.
But a bit of non-work communication is a sign that a team is getting on well together as people, not just as colleagues, which, we think, should be a priority. When we’re employing a new team member, in the front-end development team for example, we’ll have them chat to the whole dev team, one at a time. This way, the rest of the team can provide feedback on not just whether they’ll be good at their job, but whether they think they’ll get on with everyone.
Allowing team members to form friendships that aren’t just based on work is certainly not something a manager should be forbidding. Chatting about the last season of Game of Thrones in between completing tasks proves that they can spend a whole day working on a project together without arguments, and that they have good taste when it comes to TV shows.
Try not to brainstorm as an entire group
Several problems can arise when you get the whole team together to brainstorm ideas for a project. The most obvious is that it can be a breeding ground for arguments, or, at the very least, there’s a lot of noise but not a lot of progress.
A better solution would be to pick your most creative team members, and have them brainstorm in a smaller group. The likelihood is, they’ll come up with just as many ideas, if not more because they can actually hear each other speak, and bounce off each other more.
You can ask other team members for their opinion on certain ideas, or ask them to make suggestions based on their specific expertise to create a more balanced list of ideas after the initial brainstorming.
Another way of brainstorming without all the noise, is to use an online messaging app. We love Slack for this, as we can just set up a channel for a project, add the people involved to it, and let people just type as many ideas as they can think of. This way, every idea is definitely recorded in the conversation history, and there’s no physical possibility of people interrupting each other.
If you are going to go for the big brainstorming session (and hey, why not – sometimes they can be fun), at least try to set some rules. You could write a list of rules such as, “don’t criticise others ideas” and “don’t talk if someone else is talking”. It seems like stuff you’d do in school but it does work! Remember that you don’t just have to settle on one idea too – sometimes, the best solutions combine multiple ideas.
Don’t focus on that one person who seems to be amazing
Many teams have one person in it who is either really confident, really experienced, or just really, really smart. But, regardless of whether they’re the team leader, the manager, or just a team member that everyone looks up to, the focus should not be on them.
Without trying to dull the shine of amazing people (they are, at the end of the day, amazing), they tend not to be half as good without their team behind them. Don’t allow other members to be demoralised by thinking they’ll never be as good as that person, or that they don’t contribute as much, because it just isn’t true.
Ideas should be taken from everyone in the group and everyone should contribute equally, or at least as much as they can or want to. But, above all, the group shouldn’t just go along with whatever the one amazing person has said, as they’re not always right. Too many time, brilliant ideas are thrown around, only to just go with what the one person said right at the beginning.
Have someone who thinks big and someone who thinks small
Project managers are great, and having someone who oversees the whole project is an absolute must. However, you should also have someone who combs though the smaller details too. The two roles complement each other massively, and will ensure (mostly) that nothing passes under the radar.
Here’s a quick analogy to explain ourselves: the big thinker (project manager) runs ahead, smashing through walls and bushes to create a path for the project. The small thinker follows behind, tidying up the path so that the project can trundle on smoothly.
The big thinker has a list of tasks that need to be completed, knows who will be doing what, when deadlines are etc. The small thinker goes deeper into those tasks and picks up on all the smaller tasks that will need completing in order for the bigger task to be completed.
Strong friendships in work are awesome, there’s no disputing that. But, assign people who are the best of friends to the same projects all the time and you’re going to end up with self-formed sub groups while others are left out.
Try putting teams together based on people’s differences, rather than what they have in common. This way, you’re more likely to build a team that all have unique, individual talents that complement each other and make for an interesting project. We certainly like to mix up the teams in the office on various projects – not only does it mean that everyone ends up working with everyone, promoting a friendly atmosphere, but it makes for more exciting work too.
Don’t force quiet people to be loud (and vice versa)
You should certainly mix louder people with more quiet people in teams. The shy, quiet team members will often come out of their shell a bit more with the help of the loud, boisterous people, and louder people can learn to be more humble and better listeners.
But nothing should be forced. In schools, teachers will often shush a loud pupil and ask a quiet pupil to speak up. We won’t comment on whether this is good or bad within a school setting (because we don’t know) but in the office with adults this is not a good idea.
Telling a louder individual to shut up could result in feelings being hurt and losing out on a great idea. Telling a quiet individual to speak up can result in a terrified person being faced with 20 pairs of eyes, waiting for an amazing idea to come out of their mouth.
A better way of encouraging everyone to contribute is to tell everyone to think of their best ideas and ask everyone to share theirs, one at a time. No one has to share anything, and there isn’t a limit (to a certain extent) to how much anyone can share. This just means that no one feels shut down, and no one feels like they’re being forced to speak.