Probably anyone who’s ever worked in a team faced problems with organization or communication. Just a month ago I officially became ‘a parent’ of a new born non-profit association promoting philosophical and ethical education in Poland. Our team consists of just a few people and we’re just at the beginning of our adventure with the NGO, but it seems that it was enough time and enough people to verify my foregoing habits with working in a group. Iris Clermont proposes 11 simple ways to turn your team into a magic team and some of her advice applied to my situation:
Dealing with distractions
Clermont claims that approximately 2 hours of our working time is wasted on moaning or distractions such as surfing the Internet.
While the former does not affect me at the moment, the latter unfortunately posed a huge problem. In my case, the time I spend working for the NGO is in fact part of my free time. It’s not a regular paid job, and because of other duties I can’t spend more than a few hours a day on it. It’s also something that I’m passionate about and I deeply care about the quality of our project. That’s why organization, effectiveness and time saving are pivotal for the success of our NGO and lingering doesn’t do anything but just add up to a wasted day.
So I started to monitor my work during the day – I just counted how much time I spent on distractions while I was supposed to be working.
I also tried the ‘breath’ mental exercise (Clermont used it for positive thinking but I thought that it would work for distractions as well) and stopped twice an hour to note down what I’d been doing and take a few deep breaths. At the end of the day it’s good to check the daily notes. The breath exercise was quite difficult for me as I’m rather impatient and don't like to be interrupted during my work. However it appeared to be more effective to stop twice an hour instead of working nonstop for two hours and then losing motivation for further activities.
Clermont says that it’s essential to establish a daily set of tasks – to find a balance between daily operational tasks and future long-term tasks. Prioritization needs to be done without a rush – with a clear head and a considerable amount of time spare. Of course I would have never disagreed with the importance of such an activity but I wouldn’t have thought that sticking to the planned schedule requires such a strong will. I treat this NGO project more enthusiastically than other works and sometimes while I have an outburst of plans and ideas in my head I just cannot resist considering them immediately. So when for a few days in a row I was searching for a place to organize a big event a year ahead (not because there was a need but because it just came to my mind) instead of checking lesson plans I’d received, I realized that there was something wrong with my prioritization. Clermont would probably say that I was spinning too many plates at the same time and not all them were worth it. So based on her advice,
I wrote down all my activities at the end of the day, added a rough time calculation and prioritization on a scale 1-10 according to my objectives and goals, then I did the same with my activities from the two previous days.
The results were not disastrous but also not satisfactory: over the three days I had spent most of my time performing tasks with low priority. I came back to my old planning method: before I started to work I wrote down things that had to be done that day (high priority) and stuff that could be postponed to other days. At the end of the day I crossed out what I’d achieved and completed.
Clermont says that from her experience, just ‘stepping into others’ shoes’ solves 80% of all existing conflicts. In the case of my team, fortunately we try to discuss uncomfortable issues immediately simply because we realize that we have no time for the unsolved matters: during our meetings we ask questions, speak our minds clearly and in the face of conflict we’re rather eager to compromise. Although my team works quite smoothly in face to face contact, what we lack is clear language and efficient communication via e-mails or other electronic devices. Misunderstanding about what a task is and how it should be performed was common. Any brainstorming was a fiasco, so
I learned to first come up with a few well-thought out proposals that I state clearly in my message, then I ask my team members to choose one of the options or come up with their own.
I also try not to overwhelm them with a lot of complex issues at once. I just wait for the response to the most important problem, then send a new message with the next issue of lower priority. Another important point raised by Clermont was a clear meeting agenda. We’re still learning that it’s helpful to prepare - even before a short and relatively unimportant meeting - a time schedule with issues to discuss, e.g. 17:00 – 17:30: brainstorming the logo. A clear agenda just saves time, reduces chaos and gives a positive feeling of achievement.
Relations within a team
Finally, we can’t forget about giving our colleagues feedback, acknowledging their efforts, understanding their aims, respecting their different styles of work – all of these positive actions towards our team members are as important as the successful completion of a task.
It’s good to know our strengths and weaknesses and talk about them openly,
for instance B is a good speaker and likes conducting talks at workshops but dealing with social media is beyond his ability. We also need to be aware of our character traits and personality differences: A is enthusiastic, energetic but also prone to dominate, B wants to be a reliable part of the team but easily gets overwhelmed, C is eager and optimistic but cannot realistically establish a deadline. Clermont advised working together in a group – to draw a circle and put down individual strengths. I narrowed it down to particular tasks, for instance one of our aims is running a blog on our future webpage, so we once we sat down together and wrote down in the circle what themes we’re good at or interested in.
The above mentioned ways to become a successful team may seem to be trivial and intuitive, but in my case it was helpful to be reminded of the simple truths.