Tips to Building an Effective Team

To continue from my previous post on A Quick Intro to Team Engagement, here are some of the tips I like to share with new Managers. These are as valid for a team that you are leading as much as they are for teams you are a part of.

Everyone knows that the old saying that there’s “never a second chance to make a first impression” is quite true.  This is also a true and important reminder for teams.  Building, or coming into a new team, requires a clear sense of who you are as a leader.

It’s been said that the best team leaders build a relationship with their direct reports through trust and loyalty. Another important item is staying consistent in your approach. The best way to ensure this is to set and realize that boundaries do exist when it comes to your words and actions. Your role as the “parental” figure is to protect your team, not scare them into submission. Prove to them that you can be relied on at the same time that you show your trust in them.

Some specific points to keep in mind when working with your team, in no particular order, are:

  • Every opinion matters.  If someone is made to feel that what they say is as valuable as anyone else, they will be more prone to participating in working sessions, brainstorming, etc. Being part of the discussion and agreements is a sure way to get buy-in for the path to take. This can’t happen without the team feeling that they can share their opinions.
  • What’s not being said is as important as what is.  Empathic listening is being engaged in a discussion to the point that you can see if someone is holding something back. Look for clues in body language and make yourself be open with your team and sensitive to their moods and feelings. The more you get to know your individual members, the more you will be able to see and gauge their impressions and reactions towards what the team is planning.
  • Mediate.  Don’t let minor disputes linger.  Remind the team of their goals. They have been put together for a reason, and working together is how it will happen. Anything that gets in the way of that collaboration has to be resolved.
  • Communicate.  Clearly. And often.  There shouldn’t be any confusion as to what’s expected of your team.  Similarly, they should not be kept in the dark as to what’s going on around them.  This does not mean holding constant meetings, but rather in finding a way to share information (especially important information!) with them, be it through IM Chat Groups, Emails, or impromptu stand-ups.

As you can see, and as I continue to stress, Communication is always at the heart of employee engagement and is vital to successful teams. In my next post, I’ll wrap up my thoughts on Team Engagement by sharing tips on Team Behaviours.

(Disclaimer: Mike Aragona believes that the road to greatness is built by a heavy dose of information (communication) that leads to successful collaboration. This, not only for development teams and business, but for relationships as well! His thoughts and opinions are his alone and do not reflect any person or company associated with him, alive or dead.)

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A Quick Intro to Team Engagement

I have found that when it comes to Teams, the best way to approach them is like an extended family.  If you’re lucky enough to be the one pulling in or creating a team, you can pretty much ensure that (depending on how well you interview) you’re getting a group of people who share your values, drive, or maybe even sensitivity.  When I speak about treating team members like family, I’m not talking about inviting them into your home and sharing all your deep, dark secrets.  Instead, I’m talking about some basic, intrinsic values such as:

  •        Benefit of the doubt. Don’t assume something they do is purposefully negative. If an action or behaviour makes you step back and wonder what happened, don’t go on the attack. Get to the root or the why and understand the situation.  Accidents happen and sometimes bad judgement calls are made. Don’t immediately believe it is malicious.  Share your expectations and explain why you felt it wasn’t right.  Offer training and guidance.
  •        Listen, with your ears AND eyes. Get to know who they are by learning how they respond and interact, not just to the words they say but “how” in speech and in body language. Does the tone they use in speaking with you match their pose?  Are they hiding anger, regret, or resentment? Getting to know an employee and their strengths means you can get more accomplished by focusing on their positives.
  •        Trust them. You hired them for a purpose. Trust that they will do what is required.  It may not be the way you would do it yourself, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be successful.  If something doesn’t work, go back to the first item on this list and discover where the problem may be stemming from.  Is it lack of understanding?  Not being aware of how their individual positions and work enhance the group and team dynamics?  Again, offer training and guidance either in reviewing operating procedures or working with an established “buddy” that can share knowledge.

Building a team and allowing the members to reach their potential is an ongoing process that will result in a strong and cohesive unit. They not only share expectations for accomplishing tasks, but trust and support one another. A team takes on a life of its own and you have to regularly nurture and maintain it, just as you do for individual employees. Using the “Family” analogy, think of what happens when a child brings home a significant other who joins the family, or, alternatively, if one leaves the “nest”. They dynamics will change and the team will adapt to the new group – hopefully in a positive way. I’ll share some thoughts on keeping the team cohesive in my follow-up post.

With a strong team and good team-building skills, employees are united around a common goal and generate greater productivity. Without good practices, the team is limited to the effort each individual can make alone. In other words:

“Individuals Play the Game, but Teams win Championships.” – Source Unknown

(Disclaimer: Mike Aragona may not have built many sports teams, but he has definitely been lucky enough to build a number of excellent Development and Support teams! Although tackle football is still frowned upon in most offices, he’s glad that at least morning scrums have caught on. His thoughts and opinions are his alone and do not reflect any person or company associated with him, alive or dead.)

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MRP Holiday Flash Fiction – 2nd Place Winner

The votes were tallied and I came in second for the Morning Rain Publishing 2015 Holiday Flash Fiction challenge 🙂

Thank you to everyone who voted for me!  You can also participate in the event as you now have the chance to read the story 🙂

Head over to their page to read: Stakeout and please make sure to let me know what you thought!

Thank you and Happy Holidays!

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Holiday Flash Fiction

I have to admit that out of all the writing I do, Flash Fiction is the most fun. I still love the challenge of creating a story within the boundaries of Fast Fiction (200 words or less) but having the space to breathe gives Flash pieces more wiggle-room to be silly when I need to be.

Of course, with all the other things on my plate short pieces allow me to create without needing to spend a lot of time on it – which works just fine for my sanity 🙂

This year, I thought I’d share my Holiday Flash Fiction in a different way and sent it in to Morning Rain Publishing for their holiday challenge. They thought it was good enough to make their top 5 and are now letting the public get a vote on the submitted stories.  So, if you would be so kind as to head on over to the Morning Rain Flash Fiction Contest Page and read snippets of the entries, perhaps you’ll also decide that my story (Stakeout) is worthy of winning 🙂

Thank you, as always, for your kind words.  You are free to keep any evil ones to yourself 😉


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50% off Sale at Kobo!

If you don’t already know, my Mysterious Minute-Men books are available on the Kobo platform:

Mike Aragona’s Mysterious Minute-Men

There are a couple of days left on the Kobo international sale that is currently running. Customers are able to redeem 50% off of select titles, including mine, using the promo codes below an unlimited number of times.The sale runs in different dates by territory, and each territory has it’s own promo code so make sure you’re using the right one!

October 28th – October 31st
Promo Code: CA50SALE

United States/Australia/New Zealand
October 27th – October 30th
Promo Code: GET50SALE

United Kingdom
October 30th – November 2nd
Promo Code: UK50SALE

Simply add the books you want to your cart and upon checkout add the code for your territory and the 50% will apply.  Happy reading!

(Promo code is valid for 50% off select eBook purchases from this list. Discount will be confirmed at checkout. Offer valid from October 28, 2015 at 12:00 AM EST through October 31, 2015 at 11:59 PM EST. This offer is not valid in conjunction with any other offer or promotion and cannot be used to adjust amount paid on previous purchases. Promo code must be entered at time of purchase to qualify for this discount. Discounts cannot be applied nor the discount value refunded once a purchase is complete. Rakuten Kobo Inc. reserves the right to change or cancel this offer at any time without notice.)


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Work’s a Journey, Not a Destination

After 40 years of working at the same company, a friend of mine retired recently. During her farewell party, she commented how she felt like she was, “…watching my life be dismantled piece by piece…” during the transition phase leading up to her last day.

This reminded me of a similar feeling I had many years ago when I was moving to a new company and was hearing from friends how many of the systems I had put in place during my tenure were being retired for newer ones. The sense of pride I felt having taken that company’s fledgling network and boosted/ grown it over the five years I was there was turning into sadness that this “upstart” who was hired to replace me was suddenly veering into (in my opinion) the wrong direction.

He wasn’t the guy who nurtured those systems, who understood what was needed to keep it stable, who worked for years in actually stabilizing it, who took care and maintained it.  He was just some “new” guy with ideas of grandeur who was coming in to make his mark. And worst of all he wasn’t going to be sticking around!

It was then that I realized that my career was not about creating anything solid or long-lasting like houses or buildings, but that I was dealing with what I can only refer to as “VaporWare”.  I was building or creating technology systems and/or working with teams developing software that could only last a few years.  That’s the nature of the beast when it comes to technology. This doesn’t mean one shouldn’t care about what they’re delivering, though.

Knowing that something won’t last means that you should accept the transient nature of the work.  Build the best thing you can without it consuming you or aiming for absolute perfection. Release it to the wild with the understanding that you will (and should) continue to tweak it, monitor it, boost it up, and make it better a bit at a time.  When the time comes that your system needs to be decommissioned, let it go. There will be other projects, other challenges, other teams.

In other words, build the best thing you can, but not at the expense of others.

The most important thing to remember is that the people you work with along the way, and how you treat them, will be what really continues to exist after the work is done. Those relationships you forged, or the ego battles you fought, will continue past the project and the company. The people you work with are what make your day and the time you spend at work bearable. Because of that, the best you should hope for is to make a positive impact in someone’s life.

I find the concept of “empire building” quite funny. I hear from people in various companies about some of the practices they have to put up with and I shake my head and snicker. It always amazes me when I hear of how one person is trying to push something through, or working to remove someone from their team, or trying to “amass power” in a way to move up in a company. Why go through all that effort?  Why dispense so much negative energy? Remember, Collaboration is the key to success.

Life is too short to spend your days arguing about things that will not stand the test of time. Those “empires” or victories will not keep you warm at night nor visit you when you’re on your deathbed.  And when the time comes, they will not raise a glass to your memory, either.

As a parting thought, I leave you with the conclusion to my friend’s speech.  She finished by saying, “…I realize now that it wasn’t about the work, it was all about you!”  Her daily work is over, but our friendships, memories, and new stories will continue. She couldn’t take her work with her now that she’s retiring, but she can definitely take our friendship. That’s exactly what I took with me when I left the company we were both working at, five years ago.

(Disclaimer: Mike Aragona still has a way to go before being able to retire, but when he does, he’s sure you’ll be able to read all about it… His thoughts and opinions are his alone and do not reflect any person or company associated with him, alive or dead. (and  at last check, more than 50% of the companies he worked or consulted at are now dead!))

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Why Sharing Praise Sparks Engagement and Innovation

I have always been a voracious reader, and by extension I guess I also spend a lot of time thinking. Most times, I think about ways experiences can be improved. It’s a simple motto of looking at any situation and asking the question of “what can we do that would make this better?”

When I was first starting out my career and had taken “ownership” for the local area network of the company I was at, I thought it would be really cool if the users logging in were greeted with a friendly message and/ or perhaps a little word of wisdom.  I went searching for quotes everywhere I could (not as easy as it is today) and started to incorporate them within the network login scripts.

I was quite proud of this accomplishment – even though today’s technology makes it all child’s play. At any rate, I used to get a big kick out of seeing those messages appear and the users loved it as well.

One morning, a few weeks later, I came across a message that was sent to my boss from a new employee extolling his wisdom at such a young age for being able to present such pearls of wisdom to everyone every morning. In his reply, he simply thanked her, and made no mention of my contribution or the fact that it was all my doing.  I was crestfallen.

This was my first experience with someone else taking credit for something I had done and it took my breath away like a powerhouse punch to the gut.

Why didn’t my boss say anything? Why is it not inherent in people to direct praise to those who specifically earned it? Forget not being fair, that was just downright wrong! My young self could not believe what had happened.

I have often said that one of my reasons for wanting to become a leader was to ensure that anyone reporting to me would be treated the way *I* wanted to be treated and this was definitely one of those defining moments.

The quickest way to lose employee engagement is to hold back the kudos they deserve for good work, especially if the praise comes from a third party. That is partially why I always make sure my employees know exactly how I feel about the great work they do. The other reason is actually quite simple: because they deserve to know when they’ve made a positive impact in the lives of others! They should know that their work matters!

No one is more willing to invest time and effort into something than when they know they are appreciated.

As for me, it wasn’t too long after that experience that the login greeting scripts I had created were slowly dismantled. It just wasn’t worth my time and effort to keep doing something that wasn’t strictly necessary, especially considering all my other work. Network logins went back to being what they were because no one else had the time to maintain it and I filed the experience away. Eventually, I did polish it off and reinstitute it again. At a new company, of course.

(Disclaimer: Mike Aragona fondly remembers those old Bulletin Board Systems and CompuServe Forums, but can’t deny the better on-line world of today. His thoughts and opinions are his alone and do not reflect any person or company associated with him, alive or dead.)

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