A well-balanced team

Balance of information

How do you find the right level of information in your team?
Well, first of all you need to identify what kind of information is essential to team members. What is essential for them to know so that they can do their job? It maybe helpful to categorize information in three different categories: “must know”, “should know” and “nice to know”.

Secondly, analyze what kind of communication channels are already used by the team and what other channels might be useful for informing everybody. As you know, different comms tools are suitable for different needs. Example: if a team receives a regular email from leadership with a link to a video or blog, this might be a nice idea. However, there is a media break involved. You need to click the link to be routed to the internet. Why not stating the 2-3 most important statements of the video or blog in the email itself (with a chance of being read by the users without needing to click on the video/blog link)? Unfortunately, this is an opportunity that currently only few leaders make good use of.

Thirdly, arrange information contents and channels wisely. Always keep in mind that attention spans are short and your reader’s time is highly valuable. So keep focused and stick with your most important messages early during a push information to your team.


Balance of monitoring

In times of more and more agile work structures, the concept of “self organization” grows stronger and stronger. Often, individuals refuse to be monitored tightly by supervisors and rather prefer tasks with a high level of freedom. At the same time, it is useful to make sure that all team members work on jobs that bring the team into the desired direction and that no work is redundant.

As a team leader it is necessary for you to find a balance between the two: on the one hand you should give your team members a maximum of liberty to let them shape their work on their own. On the other hand it is essential for you and the organization, that you set clear expectations what you and the organization looks for in the individual’s contribution to the team goal. So you need to combine both aspects in yourself, in your role: You support your team members by establishing a work environment with maximum purpose and freedom and you monitor your team by setting clear expectations and from time to time validating these.


Balance of proximity

According to statista.com 50% of interviewed people would prefer to work at least part-time at home (and another 17% of interviewees favoring to work full-time from home office). Well-established office work places are slowly declining in number in comparison to mobile and home office work spaces. More and more employees work remotely and in virtual teams. Team leader need to be skilled and equipped to cope with this challenge. First of all, you need to clarify what kind of activities are essential for a face-to-face interaction between team members. This is usually connected to high quality work and intense get-together. Having clarified this aspect you can assign as many tasks as possible for remote or mobile work environments, enabling your team members to make use of space and time in their own preferred way. When it comes to virtual work, technological aspects are crucial. It comes naturally, that all of your team members will need the necessary tools and equipment to easily get in touch with each other, soft- and hardware-wise.


Balance of reliability

Great team leaders have an invisible detector for the actual climate towards change and stability in their team. They apply certain skills to identify to what extent the team requires either change or stability. For example, by frequently asking the team: “On a scale from 1 (high stability / no change at all) to 10 (no stability / constant change): Where do you feel we are currently?” in addition to the question: “And where do you currently need to be on the scale so that you can do a proper job?” they receive valuable feedback on the team’s perception considering change and stability.

Great team leaders do also know that both is important: to constantly ignite changes (so that the team can learn, develop and grow) and simultaneously to offer the team “stable zones” and rituals so that they have a “safe harbor” and well-known ground to work from. Reliability is a quality in our life that is precious and helps us save energy and stay focused.

Murphy’s team laws

Trapped in a paradox.

In the following blog article, I list a few of the most significant challenges that often arise in teams from my point of view. Speaking of teams (instead of groups) I roughly define them as:

  1. Has a common sense of purpose, a goal that binds everybody together and
  2. Contains quite different individuals who have taken over specific roles and tasks to achieve the team goal.

The following patterns occur quite often across many teams that I have worked with so far…


The information paradox
Team members usually like to get informed and be updated with the latest news about what all others are doing. However, they usually have a lot on their plate individually and are spammed with information anyway, meaning they do not want to be over-informed.

So, how to find the right level of suitable information?


The monitoring paradox
Many people appreciate to have free space and time to do what they want to do. They acknowledge if they are given the freedom to act on their own, being creative and developing concepts on their own. This contradicts the classic understanding of a traditional “manager”, who monitors the team, structures the work to be done and sets expectations. And do not forget, many people also rather like it if their supervisors set clear expectations making the direction to head to clearer for them.

How to find the right balance between “total control” and “laissez faire”?


The proximity paradox
Often team members like to be on their own, not hassled by others with a spatial area just for them (not having to share with others). They may enjoy working remotely allowing them to arrange their day-to-day life in the way they prefer. On the other hand, they also like to be in contact with others, share their experiences and work together with other team members to achieve a common goal.

Where do you draw the line between distance and closeness for team members?


The reliability paradox
Team members often like reliable work environments and processes. They appreciate if they know what is ahead of them and to be done. This gives them a sense of certainty, probably knowing: “I can do this!”. However, too much continuity can lead to dull and boring work routines. Humans need a fresh impulse and approach from time to time to get energized and to further develop and learn.

What ratio of change versus continuity do you apply for the teams you work with?


In this blog I have stated four different paradox aspects that you – as a team member or lead – have to successfully deal with in order to make the team effective and happy.

I encourage you to read on my next blog to receive a few ideas and tips on how to properly handle the paradoxes as described above.

Healing and Reparing of Teams


„Havoc all around. People accusing each other, constantly playing the blame game. Locked in silos, everyone was stuck in problems dazed and confused, feeling humiliated and disrespected. It was a nasty game that started all over again each working Monday. Everybody wanted to get out of there but nobody knew how. Insanity, hurt, despair.”

Have you experienced either as a member or a manager one or more of the aspects mentioned above? If yes you might want to consider applying the TEAM formula to lead a team into a process that enables them to “heal” and repair some of the damage that might has been created in the past.

T as in Transfer

Often, individuals or teams tend to be stuck in problems and issues, having lost a sense of potential solutions and a vision to lead them out of their misery. In such a case it is crucial to make a conscious transfer switch from “problem” to “solution”, both in behavior and attitude.
You could borrow a few typical questions from solution-focused coaching to take a team with you on this problem-to-solution journey. Reflect together on topics like

  • Even though our situation might be bad, what is still working well?
  • What do you want instead?
  • What could be a solution?
  • What needs to happen to make the solution feasible?

If there would be one single word that I wanted you to remember in this team process it would be the simple word instead. For me it has a magical power that forces a team to leave its problem paralysis. Ask: “What do you / do we need instead?” and after having received an initial answer work together with the team towards making this a reality.

The solution-focused reflection process was once invented by Steve de Shazer.
You may find a good website on the topic here: http://www.focusonsolutions.co.uk/solutionfocused/
The word “instead” and other effective interventions are mentioned in this excellent book by Dr. Manfred Prior: https://www.amazon.de/MINI-MAX-INTERVENTIONS-Manfred-Prior/dp/178583116X/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

E as in Expectations

Occasionally, team members lack an understanding of “where to go” and of the “what is my part”. Unclarified expectations in the team could be a reason for this. One of the key aspects of a high-performance team is that everybody knows his/her specific role/duty and, furthermore, knows where the team is heading (goal). Make this clear from the very beginning of the team forming process.
For further reading: http://www.quickbase.com/blog/management-tip-setting-expectations-with-your-team

A as in Appreciation

Respect and appreciation for everbody’s contribution in an organization are among the top-5-factors in a stepstone survey on the topic of “Working happily”.

Feelings with a strong negative touch like guilt or fear very often lead to an expression that can be harmful: accusations, aggressions, finger-pointing. Receiving this behavior, many people tend to react in the same manner, furthermore accusing, blaming others and being aggressive. To exit this vicious circle it can be very supportive to focus on appreciative aspects with the team. You could, for example, start a regular meeting with a question asking for positive feedback from every participant. Or you could make it a continuous habit of team members to collect appreciative feedback for each other via meetings or feedback boxes.
Appreciative inquiry (AI) is a powerful instrument that enables teams to develop from a present (with problems) to a future that comprises a vision that is both attractive and irresistible. Here you will find a short and creative video on the topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QzW22wwh1J4

Jürgen Appello, author or “Management 3.0”, introduced the idea of using “Kudo cards”. These are a written and public recognition of a colleague for something he or she has contributed to the team. A Kudo is not just given top-down but peer-to-peer, across departments and organizations, anyone can publicly recognize someone else’s work. It’s a way to break down hierarchical limitations and to encourage everyone to offer instant feedback.
Find more information here: https://management30.com/product/kudo-cards/

If you want to find out more about the variety of appreciation activities, you might want to read “The 5 languages of appreciation in the workplace” by Gary Chapman and Paul White. It is much fun to read and illustrates that a) there are different ways of sharing appreciation with someone and b) different people have different biases towards the five mentioned appreciation “languages”. The five “languages” by the way are: words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, tangible gifts, appropriate physical touch.
A helpful website might be for you: http://www.appreciationatwork.com/

M as in Moderation

Self-organization as part of agile teams is a modern and effective concept. And at the same time, many teams have found out that it is quite helpful to have a facilitator with the team who supports the team in getting organized and setting it up in the best possible manner. To get a fresh look from the outside from someone who is not too deep into daily business can be rather helpful for a team.