Over the weekend I spoke to a friend who recently accepted an individual contributor role in the healthcare industry. He’s been on the job for 9.5 months and his description of the team of five and their manager is a story that many of us have experienced.
Managers and senior leadership either don’t see the value in making time for non-business related events, or worse yet, completely ignore the fact that team cohesion is a hallmark of high performance. You don’t have to go far to find data that supports the notion that people who work well together as a unit perform at higher levels compared to those who don’t.
Take for example the story my friend shared about a colleague who told him that their senior leader, Frank, had repeatedly promised a birthday lunch for her but it was repeatedly cancelled. I can tell you that while senior leaders may see this as not business critical (and it isn’t), it was certainly important to the employee. The senior leader was once overheard jokingly saying, “well, I didn’t get a welcome lunch when I started years ago..” As a new leader, it doesn’t matter what your boss did for you. Find out what matters to your people. Think of it this way – how much discretionary effort do you think she’ll put forth if this continues to happen?
My friend also noted that his team had not eaten one meal together since he started there. Not one! Everyone is too busy, works long hours, and most eat at their desks. This is also a team that has an important mandate to deliver, and continues to face staffing challenges (shocking, I know..).
As a new leader – if you liken yourself to the senior leader in this story, here’s how you can avoid ending up with a team like the one above:
1. Build trust – follow through on the little things. If you promise a birthday lunch, keep your word. Show up. Little things over time add up to big things long term. As a leader its easy to dismiss this stuff as inconsequential, but I can guarantee that your people notice it.
2. Get to know your people – take the time to learn about them as individuals (families, hobbies, vacations, etc). If you hate small talk – too bad! You’re a manager now and my guess is you’re not managing robots all day. You need to make the effort to connect 1:1 and this can be done for 5min at the beginning and end of each day, over coffee, whatever. It costs so little and yet your team will see that you value them as a full person, not just an employee.
3. Spend time with your team – high levels of team cohesion lead to better performance. When challenges arise, a highly cohesive team have each other’s backs and will go the extra mile. Are you challenged and like your work? Enjoy the team you spend all day with? Good chance that increases the discretionary effort needed for high performance. Something as basic as a team lunch once a month can set the right tone. You don’t have to be a gregarious schmoozer, or take your team to the newest, corny trust-building events. Spending a simple lunch or dinner together as a unit will help build the relationship capital that every great team has.