Plan Your Way to Team Success

Set your team on the right path for 2010

by Katie May, editor, Communication Briefings

Enter the New Year with a plan that gives your efforts purpose and allows you to monitor progress. Those are important steps toward ensuring that you and your team deliver better results in 2010. Start with these actions:

  • Plan to plan. As important as planning is, it is a task that ends up at the bottom of many leaders’ to-do lists. After all, sitting at your desk with a pencil and a planner seems less important then fighting fires on the front line. However, taking time to plan will reduce the amount of firefighting you must do in 2010.

Strategy: As soon as you unwrap your new planner, block out time for planning. Form the habit of reflecting on progress and reviewing both your team’s recent successes and its failures. Allot 15-30 minutes each week or two, and reserve a larger block of time for monthly or quarterly planning. To maintain your focus, schedule a little less time than you think you will need.

Tip: Be sure to pass that success strategy along to your staffers—especially those whom you want to involve directly in your top-level planning sessions.

  • Plan to follow up. Set aside time for reviewing progress and making midcourse corrections. How much time, how often and how you check in all depend upon your circumstances and the level of trust you have in your team. For example, if your team is working on routine goals and team members have successfully hit similar targets in the past, a brief e-mailed progress report may be enough to let you know that the team is on track.

On the other hand, if your team is navigating unfamiliar waters, or if you have valid doubts about employees’ ability to succeed, you may want to schedule brief weekly “check in” meetings where you ask basic questions about progress. Examples: “What areas are you having trouble with?” “Where have you encountered delays?” “Where do you need guidance and/or additional resources?”

  • Plan to involve others.Your job responsibilities include guiding your team to successful outcomes on projects as well as routine tasks. However, read your job description carefully and you will find that you do not bear full responsibility for their success or failure. In fact, if you are expected to develop employees’ capabilities and strengthen your team for long-term success, you need to involve staffers in planning strategy, setting goals and evaluating progress.

Strategy: Involve employees early and often. Ask them to work with you to set their personal goals for the coming year and to offer input on the team’s overall goals. If you present team goals, ask staffers to work with you to plan how you will work together to meet them. Assign them the task of making interim reports on the team’s progress. Ask them to tell you where the team needs to adjust its plans or practices and how best to do that.

You will find that involving employees in those ways deepens their commitment to the team’s goals and gives them a personal stake in the group’s success. And just as “many hands make light work,” many eyes and ears—as well as hands and brains—make success more likely for your team.

  • Plan to celebrate success.When you ask your staffers to work hard, you also must plan to celebrate with them when the work draws to a successful close. Workplace celebrations can cost as little—or as much—as your imagination and budget allow. The most important element of any team celebration is your honest and open appreciation for good work and effort.

Add power to workplace goals

The way you phrase work goals can be the first step toward meeting them. Follow these guidelines:

  • Use the present tense. Instead of saying “I will give staffers feedback on a regular basis,” say “This year, I give staffers feedback on a regular basis.” That present-tense phrasing removes all doubt that you will meet that goal, delivering an important psychological push and ensuring the positive mindset you need to succeed at it.
  • Add a number. Giving feedback on a regular basis is a good goal, but when you phrase it that way you allow yourself too much wiggle room. After all, what does “regular basis” really mean? It could mean one thing now, at the start of the year, and quite another thing when you become involved in the day-to-day effort of hitting work targets. A better goal: “This year, I will schedule five-minute weekly feedback sessions with each staffer.”

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