We have all had that experience… you walk in ready to lead your new team at your new job and realize through the avoidance of eye contact, lack of warm welcomes, and sterile work environment that this isn’t the same team you were sold during your interviews. With no where to run, you get that sinking feeling because there is no manual how to fix this toxic team, you just inherited. Listed below are a few tips that might be a good start:
Be a Listener
Employees want to be heard. They generally have several ideas about how to make their work life better or even increase company efficiency, but will grow silent when those suggestions fall on deaf ears. As a leader (and most likely an operator at heart) your first reaction will be to hear the feedback and then want to tell them why that “will never work” or jump right to “fixing” their issues. STOP!
Just listen and feel their pain for a moment. They might want to tell you about never getting off on time or getting to eat lunch. Then it is up to you to figure out why. Is the schedule too lean? Is the team understaffed? Are there operations opportunities that bottleneck at certain parts of the day? Listening doesn’t mean doing everything requested by you, but you can start to find common themes that frustrate everyone. Through those common themes, you can find ways to overcome those obstacles and make the workplace better for all involved.
One of the worst things a company can do is hire bright employees and skimp on their training. The lies we tell ourselves “I’ll train them later” or “they are bright and can catch up later” only cause confusion about your expectations. No matter the employee position, everyone wants to know what is expected of them and they crave the training to meet those expectations. The result of a team with fragmented training is a team with each team member having their own process to accomplish work.
Some of the processes end up cutting corners while others are so meticulously detailed that the process is laborious. Imagine being trained by coworkers with several made up processes- how does a new hire learn from their peer group? Which way is the “right” way? How will they know what YOUR expectations of them are?
Find the Peer Leader
It doesn’t matter the industry, in any department (or group setting) there is always a peer leader. This person doesn’t always have a leadership title, but their peer group has designated them the group’s voice and their opinion matters. If you are trying to change the culture of the group, you have to successfully engage this person. If they remain actively disengaged, you will achieve nothing despite your best efforts.
Before making an operational change in the group- be sure to run your idea past the peer leader to get their buy-in. If the peer leader is resistant to your idea, ask them how they would fix the problem. See if both of you can find a solution together. In this process, you are changing an actively disengaged employee into an actively engaged one. Who doesn’t love their own idea, right? If the two of you cannot learn to work together, then this person may need to be worked out of the group.
Now that you are listening to your team, making sure they are equipped to meet your expectations through proper training and you have their peer leader working alongside you- the next thing is trust. How do you earn trust? Trust can only be established through transparency. Let your employees know what some of your challenges are, how you are growing as a leader and what your vision for the team is. As you share some of your vulnerabilities, it is only natural that the team may also share some of their issues.
An employee might share something work related, like their coworker Johnny comes in to work hungover and has a drug problem. They share how his work suffers because of his personal life and how it personally affects them to have to redo his work. Sometimes an employee might also mention their own struggles- like their spouse being recently diagnosed with a serious illness. You can use use work related or personal information to show each individual employee that you care. Johnny can be offered support programs through HR and the employee might just need reassurance that they can take time off if needed. Everyone wants to trust that their manager cares about them. Show them that you do.
Use Positive Recognition
Finally, it cost’s nothing to say “thank you” or “great job”. Using positive recognition can influence individuals to act in accordance to consistently exceed your expectations. It is important to note that there are millions of creative ways to positively recognize individuals or groups for their performance, but recognition has to be specific to the individual.
If one of your team members if painfully shy, public recognition may actually be humiliating. A shy person may prefer a private note, a text message or a conversation in your office regarding what they specifically did very well. A more extroverted, social butterfly might believe public recognition is the best kind! The overall message is that praise can be used privately or publicly, but should be used to engage the employee by taking into account how they might best receive that positive feedback.