Here are the four things to know about teamwork:
- When the situation is tense, call a timeout, it’s the only thing that will work
- Information needs to be as close as possible to the team members that can make use of it
- Be aware of the message you’re sending as a team leader, senior developer, CTO because it affects how the team works together
- Some team members want to learn new things and develop their skills, you absolutely must help them do that whenever possible
1. Calling a timeout
In tense situations, such as a heated debate about a technology or coding choice, the only thing that may help is calling a timeout and getting the team to step back from the situation. The problem that you will run into is that your team has discussed and debated and people are entrenching themselves and taking positions. When that happens, it will be hard to move forward with any discussion or decision.
Calling a timeout let’s everyone step back, work on something else for a bit and then re-visit the discussion with a clearer head and makes them more open to new ideas or opposing views.
In stressful situations when there’s a deadline coming up, calling a timeout will let people figure out that they just need to get onboard with a decision and debate it further later, after the deadline is met or whenever a less stressful time can be found.
When you’re fighting a fire, it’s time to act and to pick the best possible course of action with the knowledge you have available. If someone isn’t onboard with that, a timeout is needed so they can step back. So that they can see that there will be room for a retrospective after the emergency has been dealt with.
In other cases, a few team members may not get along. Calling a timeout here means separating them from the same work space for a brief period of time or getting them to converse and socialize about non-work-related topics. A timeout from work topics can be very welcome and give the team members a common ground outside of tense work discussions.
When things get heated, call a timeout. Let everyone step back and breath for a moment before getting back into the work.
2. Get information to where it can be acted on
In the very best software engineering team, your developers will be autonomous and will be guided by the company vision and by the information that is available to them. They can be let loose to pursue the company’s goals and you can be confident that they will be creating and maintaining code that will profit the company because they have the information necessary to choose their course of action.
For example, analytics are kept track of by most web development companies.
When I was a freelancer and when I have worked at a marketing agency, I immediately wanted to know what the traffic numbers were for the websites, which pages people were visiting and which pages were driving revenue. With this information, I could tell whether we need to cut our losses on other parts of the website, or if we need to bolster website performance, or if we needed to launch a marketing campaign.
When a company with analytics does not provide analytics to their developers, it can be hard for the developers to know which parts to focus on and to connect what the users are doing with what they’re working on.
You cannot have silos of information because at some point it will slow down the performance of your team. Your team will be spending time asking for more information and waiting on that information to arrive.
The best thing you can do for your team is to give them all the information they need to get their jobs done. The fewer barriers and layers there are, the faster your developers can work.
3. Watch your language
When you are in any kind of leadership position, you have to be especially sensitive to what you are saying. It is a sign of respect to your reports when you are taking care in how you are speaking to them.
One common example is focusing on your own problems and telling your team how hard you’re working and how much pressure you’re facing. This is something your team does not want to hear, they want you to be a leader and to help them deal with pressure, not hear your complaints about being pressured to do the job well. They want to know that you’re working hard but they don’t want to hear that in an exasperated or tired tone.
When talking to your team, always start from a place of empathy. This goes for your team too, they know that it’s difficult to be a manager and leader, they know there’s more responsibility on your shoulders. When you treat them with respect and empathy, they will also respect you and empathize with you.
If you’re going to call someone out on the team for bad behaviour, remember to do it in private first and then escalate from there. This is another case where it pays to watch your language. Other team members will be watching how you handled the situation.
4. Give your team opportunities to learn
This is very crucial to teamwork. When a team member has room to grow and learn and improve, they will be far more motivated. (Click here to see other Leadership Influence Techniques)
The fact is that an opportunity to learn is an investment in the future of the company or the project. It leads to a motivated team that will enhance the portfolio of the company and lead to better teamwork. Team cohesion can increase too when the new skills learned are known by one or more of the team.
A few simple ways to improve teamwork and to increase motivation and cohesion with learning opportunities are lunch & learns and reading circles. Lunch & learns provide a platform for team members to present what they know and teach other people about it. Reading circles, also known as book clubs, let a team sync up and exchange their understandings of a text.
Support your team by giving team members learning opportunities.