Managing people means building the strongest and most productive teams.
This means working off of trust relationships. Managing people under circumstances where there is fear or lack of trust leads to poor performance and under achieving teams. In an atmosphere lacking working relationships built on trust, people are frozen in fear of making mistakes, doing the wrong thing, being criticized or not appreciated. The ability of the manager’s team to execute and get things done suffers. Ironically, many times the manager themselves is unaware of the fear that people have where trust is non-existent.
To the extent that a given business unit has reasonably good people, with experience, training and some level of team work, but are underperforming, the likelihood is that there is some level of fear or lack of trust with the manager.
The first step for the manager is to simply assess the level of relationship they have with the individuals on their team. How much does the manager really know about the professional and personal lives of the team? Do people appear open with the manager? Are suggestions or issues being brought forth to the manager? Do members of the team communicate openly with each other? Does there appear to be positive morale and generally happy people “whistling while they work” so to speak?
The first place to start to build trust and eliminate any productivity robbing fear is to invest in relationship building one step at a time. Start with any team leaders or obvious role models among the group. Invite them to lunch or have coffee. Don’t talk directly about work. Just ask them how they are doing? Listen and inquire about what’s happening in their life. When comfortable in the conversation, ask them about their family or hobbies, etc. At the end of the meeting, ask them “what would be their number one suggestion for improving the team? Listen, ask for any clarification or examples but do not offer any immediate feedback or response. Simply say “thanks for your idea (suggestion, insight, etc.), I will give it some thought.”
After your meeting, make notes of what you learned about this individual and the ideas or suggestions they offered. Think about their idea and how it might help the team. If it has merit, circle back to the employee in a couple of days and let them know what your thoughts are about their suggestions. This is management at its best.
If you feel the idea can be of value to the team, ask the employee to think about how it can be introduced or implemented. If appropriate, at the next team meeting, mention that you approached this employee for ideas and you liked what they came up with, Ask the employee to present their idea to the team and then for team feedback. There are so many positives in this exercise.
First, it tells the team you are in fact interested in their ideas. It tells them that you do in fact welcome constructive ways to improve the team. It tells them you listen to suggestions. It tells them you think about their suggestions. It tells them you value the people who bring good ideas to the table. It also eliminates the fear that there are negative consequences for speaking up about issues or offering suggestions. This builds trust and reduces fear.
Now the manager can simply repeat these one-on-one meetings with every person on the team. Depending on the size of the team, a manager could do one or two of these one-off meetings a week and once the cycle is completed, start over again. In no time at all, there will be a marked improvement in the attitudes, contributions and productivity of the business unit.
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