Talk to me, people – and talk to each other.
That’s the most important message I try to get across to my team members. As the Director of both the Web Team and Marketing/Editorial Team at Musicnotes.com, I have a lot on my schedule. I directly manage and work with six extraordinarily talented individuals across these two groups, each of which is truly a master of his or her domain. But along with being masters of their domains, they are also multi-talented individuals who are quite capable of helping each other out by stepping out of their specialty and into someone else’s (or a specialty we didn’t know we even needed).
With such a talented group, and at a continually growing and forward-thinking company like Musicnotes, there’s always a lot going on. When one project ends, another is always there to take its place – and oftentimes there are multiple projects being worked on at once. These kinds of circumstances are the ideal cocktail for confusion and failure to brew; with so much going on, almost all of it “high priority,” it’s easy to see how things could quickly spiral out of control.
Thankfully, this never happens – and I don’t consider us lucky that it doesn’t. Instead, I consider it a testament to good communication.
Recently we made some structural changes within the company that added a new member to my team. Since she’d already been with the company for some time, there wasn’t too much for me to tell her, other than my one major rule:
In a fast-paced environment, especially one where projects are neverending and the goal is always to propel the company forward, it’s easy to be sidetracked by an emergency, underestimate just how long a project will take, or simply not foresee some problems that arise. These things happen – but as a manager it’s also important for me to juggle everything that’s happening and figure out what to do when a curveball comes. This is why my main request is that my team members openly communicate with me.
If a project isn’t going to be done by the time we planned, we can adapt to this challenge so long as the challenge is known ahead of time. When someone is working on a project, and the fulfillment of that project by a deadline is on their shoulders, it’s tempting for that person to not wave a flag drawing attention to the fact that it won’t be done. It’s tempting to put your nose the grindstone and keep working, hoping that the deadline passes and no one notices the project is not complete.
For me, that’s the worst thing you could do. If it’s not going to happen, it’s not going to happen – communicating this information ahead of time is a key to being a good employee and team member.
Of course, there’s no excuse for laziness. A deadline is there for a reason, and one should be expected to do everything in his or her power to make that deadline. This is why setting deadlines itself requires communication – communication that includes those members who are part of the project to ensure they understand the reason for the deadline and gather their input as to whether or not it is an attainable goal. Once these aspects of the goal are made clear, there’s a promise that is made – and failing to treat it as so is a problem.
So how can you encourage communication and trust?
- Make it a point to talk to each member of your team. Each of my team members has a specific time set aside each week to meet with me. It’s not a requirement that we talk, but it’s time specifically set aside for that person. Not only is it a good opportunity to get an update on current projects, but it’s also an opportunity for them to talk with me about things that concern Bthem regarding their relationship with me or others in the company.
- Encourage team members to talk too each other. Sure, I could always interject myself into a situation and tell each person what to do, but that doesn’t build trust between members. As your team members learn the idiosyncracies of each other, they learn how to truly work together. This can’t happen without direct (and sometimes challenging) communication.
- Help team members recognize the unique value the others bring to the team. I don’t surround myself with incompetent people. The members of my team are truly experts in their respective areas. As each member learns and appreciates the values the other members bring, they learn how the tea working together can be much more than the sum of its individual parts.
Of course there are many other aspects to good teamwork and communication, but these are several that I find to be key in my experience. There is, however, one final piece of advice that I strongly agree with:
Be slow to hire and quick to fire.
Besides all of the job requirements and other due diligence of hiring, above all its important to remember that any new hire is a new member of the team – and as such, must be able to communicate with and respect the other members of the team. Those who don’t can cause a lot of damage, especially by causing communication and trust to shut down within the team.
If that happens, and you don’t act, then things will start to go wrong.