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Building on the Strengths of Your Work "Family"

What have you learned from the past year about your teams, and what lessons can you apply moving forward?

by Mark Lanfear
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The end of a calendar year is always a good time to reflect on the last 12 months and use what we’ve learned to create a roadmap for the coming year. During the holiday season, we naturally tend to focus on those closest to us. But we need to remember that the people we work with, our teams, are in many ways like families, too. This is the time of year when family issues and “team” issues are most apparent. So in the spirit of the holidays, let’s do our best to resolve them and start 2016 off right.

If you’ve read my editorials, you know I’m a Detroiter. I certainly had a great time growing up here and consider myself a big family guy. And I’ve often heard people say “Day-twa” is a great place to raise kids. Perhaps it’s because folks around here seem to be supportive and work together well. While we have our share of traditional households, there are plenty of blended households, too. (When I was a kid, I used to watch “The Brady Bunch” reruns, and if you want an example of successfully mashing up and managing different personalities under one roof, well, ol’ Mike and Carol Brady sure provided it.)

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In that way, work life mimics family life, doesn’t it? A variety of different people blended together in one place to work. We squabble and argue…and hopefully find ways to get along.

So what have you learned from the past year about your teams, and what lessons can you apply moving forward? Obviously, it depends on your particular situation. But it’s worth taking inventory. And while I can’t recommend individual solutions, I can use some of the Strategic Workforce Planning perspective gained here with my Kelly “family” to help you recognize some potential warning signs and how to go about heading them off.

What should you look for? Assuming you know your team’s personalities well enough, do you feel like any are playing it safe, politically speaking, or not being authentic? Do you get the sense there is a general lack of trust?

Do your team meetings end with no real sense of conflict or passionate debate over issues? Do you sense a lack of commitment to get on board, or a lack of buy-in? Are team members not holding each other accountable?

And maybe, most serious of all, are your teams delivering results on time, or even at all?

There’s a lot of ground to cover. But if you’re seeing or sensing any or all of this happening, it’s time to take action to rectify the situation before bad habits get ingrained, or your business “family” underperforms or even starts to break up.

How do you change the dynamics? A good place to start is by evaluating the individual strengths of your team members. I’m a big fan of the Strengthsfinder and Strengthsfinder 2.0 books. First introduced by Gallup in 2001, they provide ways to “help people uncover their talents,” developing strengths as opposed to fixing shortcomings. Fascinating reads and, as advertised, filled with strategies for developing and improving the strengths of individuals at work. If you’re looking for insights on people and personalities, I highly recommend checking these books out.

It’s also important to encourage transparency and responsibility. I come from a big oldstyle Italian group; we learned to work things out on our own because our leaders (parents) didn’t always have time to supervise us. Giving team members the opportunity to be individually and collectively accountable and responsible is truly important for building trust and getting them invested in their own (and your) success.

Likewise, establish ground rules and always encourage fair play. Set assignment “curfews.” Your team members need to know what their boundaries are in order to operate effectively. And let them know you have their backs. Great families are always there for each other, in good times and bad. They share—and win—together.

Finally, provide incentives for the right behaviors. Reward those who do things right and spread the joy around as much as you can. A little sugar makes everything sweeter.

Over the last few years I’ve done quite a bit of work overseas, and haven’t always been home for the holidays. Luckily for me, team members like Roberto and Nico have welcomed me like a cousin dropping in for dinner at those times, and celebrated with me and for me. They know it’s important to me and they go out of their way to make me feel at home. Better believe I think of them as family. As you’ve heard me say before, “it’s not where you live, it’s what lives in you”—that’s especially true when inspiring your team.

Now that 2015 is coming to a close, let’s make 2016 a year to remember. And please let me know what you think. Get in touch @MarkLanfear1.