Tips for Working as a Team
Whether you manage staff in a business or work with colleagues, understanding how to interact effectively with each other is key to getting tasks done and making it an easy process for everyone. However, sometimes our individual preferences for how we work and what we need in order to complete a task can vary and this can sometimes cause issues when working together. Here are three examples of where differences may occur and how to accomodate them.
When different people work at different speeds
We all have individual preferences for the pace at which we work and whilst the level of workload (or a particular deadline) may cause us to modify this pace, we generally tend to adopt a particular speed in which to complete tasks. For example, some of us like to work fast and finish ahead of schedule, some of us work sporadically in between other tasks, some of us like to work slowly and methodically and some of us may leave a task right up until the deadline. Ultimately the pace at which we like to work doesn’t matter as long as the task is completed as required and by the agreed deadline. And whilst we may sometimes feel the need to micromanage the speed at which others work it’s important to avoid doing this as it can be counterproductive. For example, if you like to work fast and complete everything ahead of schedule then you might feel that others who don’t work at the same speed need to be hurried up. However, placing this pressure on someone who prefers to work at a slower pace (or prefers to leave everything until the deadline) can add a level of stress which impacts negatively on their ability to think clearly and complete their work effectively as a result. The only time to intervene with someone is when the task isn’t completed by the deadline or to the standard required, in which case it becomes a performance matter that needs to be addressed with the individual involved. Understandably though if you’re the person responsible for completion of a particular task then leaving everything until the deadline may seem too risky, especially if not completing the task has serious repercussions. In which case setting an earlier deadline and using this as a buffer zone to address any issues would be a more proactive approach. And remember too – if you’ve finished ahead of everyone else then this is a wonderful opportunity to catch up on any other outstanding items.
When different people require different levels of information
Sometimes after discussing a task with a group of people (or an individual) we can assume that everyone knows what needs to be done and how to do it. If we’ve worked with someone successfully for many years then this may be true but in other situations it’s a good idea to ensure that everyone has all the information they need to complete their tasks. For example, some of us only need to hear what the objective is and will search down the information ourselves, some of us need more detail or step by step instructions, some of us need to ask lots of questions to clarify our understanding and some of us need resources to refer to or evidence provided of what’s worked in the past. Discovering what level of information is required by each individual can be difficult, especially as the people involved may not know what will be required until they commence the task or they may fear being judged when asked to share what they require (eg: if they ask lots of questions does that make them look like they don’t know what they’re doing?). An easier and better approach is to provide comprehensive information for everyone to cover all preferences and to prevent any misunderstandings about the task itself, so that it can be completed correctly. Depending on the nature of the task this will include items such as the overall objective, suggestions for how to complete the task, what research may need to be done, who is responsible for what in the group, when it needs to be completed by, what additional resources and information are available and the contact person for any queries. And lastly if there are individuals who are in new in the group (and in their role) they may need further individual guidance, seperate to the rest of the group.
When different people need different levels of contact
All of us have preferences for the level of interaction we like to have with others and this includes how much we like to be supervised. For example, some us like to be left alone to complete tasks with no interruption, some of us like to work on our own but also interact periodically with others, some of us like to be able to check in with someone as we progress through tasks, some us like more direct supervision and some of us thrive when we work in a very social environment. Recognising what this is for the people you manage or work with is key to helping create the type of working environment where they feel most comfortable and can therefore be most effective. For example, if someone likes to work on their own without interruption then having a colleague or a manager constantly interrupting them with questions or updates is likely to be very disruptive, whereas someone else would find this level of contact to be very beneficial to the way they work and a positive working environment as result. If you’ve worked with someone for awhile then it’s likely you will already be aware of their preferences in this area but if not you can simply ask them. For example, “Would you like us to work on this together or just touch base with me when you need to?” or “Do you mind if I update you as the work progresses or would you prefer us to have a set time to discuss any items?”. Of course asking directly may not always be possible or effective at ascertaining preferences (depending on the circumstances involved and the nature of the relationships) in which case observing behaviour instead can provide some insights. For example, if someone is constantly checking in with you then this may indicate that they need more contact or supervision, if they seem happy working on their own leave them to do so, if they ask a lot of questions (even if you don’t think it’s something they need to ask) answer them or direct them to relevant contact person or information so that they have what they need to continue working. The only time to intervene is when a task isn’t being completed effectively or the way they are interacting within the group is creating issues. For example, if they are constantly distracting others from their work with questions. Depending on the nature of the interruptions this may be a performance matter to address with the individual involved or it can highlight the need for an appropriate solution such as confining discussions to a set time during the day. This will help to minimise the interruptions and allow the individual an appropriate space in which to ask their questions, so that they can achieve their tasks effectively too.
Appreciating that other people are sometimes different to ourselves, seeking to accomodate our individual differences in a positive way and understanding that we can achieve tasks together, even if we approach them very differently, is key to working effectively with others. And as these differences also bring different skill sets which can be very beneficial when working together to achieve something, then being flexible around them will ultimately help us to achieve the outcome we need and just as importantly, create the type of positive working environment that we all want to work in.
Photo credit: iStock.com/hemul75