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You Don't Have to Be a Navy SEAL to Lead a Team

“Individuals play the game, but teams beat the odds.” – U.S. Navy SEAL saying

Now, I am not a Navy SEAL, but with 2 of my 3 children on the Autism Spectrum, my wife, Jeanine, and I have to use a team approach to deal with the daily trials and tribulations that arise. Families in our situation face multiple challenges such as learning issues, a barrage of medical therapies and numerous social complications.

So, when I was asked to contribute a blog post about teams, a personal example immediately came to mind. My wife and I are part of a team, along with employees of our public school district that is referred to as a child study team. Parents of special needs children will be able to relate to how a child study team is used in an educational setting to create an individual education plan and monitor the educational process for a child. Parents, teachers, school-based therapists, learning specialists, and case managers all work together to create a unique approach to help a special needs child function in the classroom. Each person on the team brings expertise from his or her area of specialty. The collective works together to help the child, but there are times when obstacles are encountered.

Parents want to see their children receive the most help that is possible. However, sometimes the team is faced with budget restraints that limit the amount of supports that can be provided. Various team members could be faced with distractions from others outside of the group. There could be a lack of trust amongst members and the sense that no one else is taking the issues seriously. In the end, as a parent, you need to be a project manager and make sure that agreed to milestones are reached, reports are completed and that the end goals are accomplished. Take the same obstacles and think about your organization. Do they sound familiar?

Clearly, teams have the potential to accomplish much more than an individual. This is why you see so many cross-functional teams in organizations. However, just putting random people together from different departments or areas doesn’t always ensure a great end product. Multiple factors can influence a team’s effectiveness and ability for the members to work together. Leaders need to be attentive to their teams to help them be successful. The following are some ideas to keep in mind when developing a team:

  • Team members should always do their best, regardless of their job or task. Some individuals might get attractive, high profile duties, but every job is important. Everyone should be held to high standards, whether a person is asked to present to executives or to make copies of the team’s report. A team should be proud of its work.
  • Encourage competition. Competition comes in many forms. Obviously, there could be competition between different companies. Teams within an organization could compete against each other, in a health and friendly manner. In “Built to Last” by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras, there is a discussion about how a company should focus on trying to compete with itself, with the idea that whatever it previously accomplished is not sufficient.
  • Know the team members. Taking the time to know the members of the team is very important to understand how they will interact in the group. Every person has unique strengths and weaknesses, and it is best to make sure their abilities are put to good use. Putting a quiet, introvert that loves working with data in a public speaking capacity is not as effective as giving the task to an extrovert that loves story telling.
  • Recognize good work. People like to get recognition for their work. While it is not always possible to use monetary awards in this age of diminishing resources, there are ways to reward individuals that have minimal costs. Informal verbal praise is a good way to let a person know their work is appreciated.  Even better, put praise into writing or make an announcement in public to make team members feel appreciated.

Ensuring that a team is successful can be a challenging endeavor, but learning how to manage one is a crucial skill for all leaders. Using these tips will be helpful to you whether you are leading a team in a major corporation, organizing a group of volunteers in a non-profit, or even a parent on a child study team.

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