In July 2015, I was honored to be inducted into the Speakers Hall of Fame by the National Speakers Association. To celebrate, my husband surprised me with a brand-new red convertible 650hp Z06 Corvette loaded with all the options, including a black racing stripe and a black-and-red leather interior. She has a custom Colorado license plate emblazoned with ZORA, the surname of the Belgian-born engineer known as the “Father of the Corvette.” She was a dream come true.
There was just one problem – I had no idea how to drive her.
Oh, I thought I did, until I attended a two-day “Corvette Owners School” in Nevada. Then I learned how shockingly little I knew about my car’s capabilities. But by the end of the course, I was driving less like a grandma on a Sunday outing and a little more like my instructor. Until I learned how to enter turns, hit the apex, accelerate out of turns correctly, understand oversteer and understeer, and use proper speed, braking, paddle-shifting, and torque – I wasn’t very effective as a driver.
Why am I telling you all this? Because it’s the same with your team. You have at your disposal the most powerful productivity machine in existence: your “team car.” You may think you know how to drive it, but until you really understand the capabilities of the people around you, team collaboration will be difficult and you won’t be the most effective and efficient worker you can be.
In the modern business world, it’s not good enough just to be fast. You and your team have to be faster together. This means accelerating your productivity using four basic keys:
• Fairness • Accountability • Systems • Technology
Each of the four keys has three corresponding accelerators, which make your team car go faster. Much like an accelerator on a car controls the speed of the engine, for your team, an Accelerator is a person or a thing that will cause something to happen or develop more quickly.
KEY 1: FAIRNESS
Proper under the rules; honest; just; straightforward.
1. Building Relationships.
It all begins here. As a team gels, fairness enables its members to develop a level of comfort with one another. Members can trust that everyone will get what they need or deserve without injustice or preferential treatment for a few. A fair team applies standards evenly, from the leader down to the most junior member of the team. Everyone on the team works to treat one another cordially, with an atmosphere of fair treatment binding them into a coherent group.
2. Handling Conflict.
Some level of conflict becomes inevitable when more than a few independent thinkers come together. Rather than acting as a hindrance, conflict can be useful; sometimes, the worst thing that can happen is for a team to get along too well. All team members should be willing to raise any objections they might have. When true conflict arises, having established protocols in place for mediating the dispute enables the team to produce the best possible compromise for both the individuals involved and the team as a whole.
3. Improving Cohesiveness.
For fairness to really take hold, the team must bond into a solid but flexible whole made of multiple parts. Fairness really comes together when the team develops a collective identity and becomes dependent on each other in a healthy way. There may come a time when the team must split into smaller “squads,” on one end of the work continuum, or join with other teams into a larger work group to facilitate collaboration on a greater goal.
KEY 2: ACCOUNTABILITY
Responsible for someone or for some action; answerable; within one’s power, control, or management.
1. Trusting Your Team Members.
In the workplace, accountability assumes a high level of trust among everyone involved. This requires you and your team members to develop a team culture that, while questioning the status quo, believes that others have your best interests at heart. Take others at face value; when they say they’ll do something, have no reason to doubt them.
2. Accepting Responsibility.
You accept the full responsibility to do your job and help your team members, as part of an overall effort to reach your individual, team, and organizational goals. You know people are relying on you, and you trust yourself to accomplish what you’ve agreed to do. You and your team members recognize your places on the team without letting those places constrain you completely or devolve you into a rule-bound productivity killer.
3. Maximizing Performance.
Even if no one else holds you accountable to do your best (which almost never happens in a business environment), you owe it to yourself and your team members to maximize your personal performance and productivity – and to crack the whip over yourself when you seem to be slacking. Rather than emulate the arrogant high rollers deemed “too big to fail,” put your best foot forward and do your best work every day.
KEY 3: SYSTEMS
One element can impact the whole; interrelated linkages and interactions between components; a set of correlated people.
1. Making Effective Decisions.
This is the part of the process where you and your team members contribute your ideas and opinions toward fixing problems. Even if a decision doesn’t go your way, you close ranks with everyone else to achieve team and organizational goals.
2. Managing Time.
No matter how dedicated you are, you can’t do everything. Sure, you can work an eighty-hour week trying, but you’ll soon burn out. Instead, focus on your top priorities and complete high-value tasks first. The rest? Delegate, share, streamline, outsource, simplify, defer, or eliminate. Even when everything seems like a priority, pick and choose what to focus on, and be ruthless about filtering out distractions. Leave the “nice to do” stuff for when you can afford the time.
3. Increasing Efficiency.
Agility and flexibility are the names of the game here. Efficiency is about generating maximum results in minimum time. Sometimes, when refining or implementing your system, there are unnecessary parts you should remove. Similarly, there are times when you should avoid teamwork when it can slow you down – and there are times when you’re inadvertently hurting your team, instead of helping it. You could unwittingly be the bottleneck in the team workflow. How can you improve your performance so you’re a motor for the team, rather than an anchor?
KEY 4: TECHNOLOGY
Specific methods, materials, and devices used to exchange information; creation and use of technical means; use of knowledge to solve problems.
1. Communicating Properly.
Technological use is perhaps most heavily applied to communications within the organization. Teams should match messages to media in a way that is most efficient for the team. How often do you send someone a handwritten letter? If you’re younger than thirty, the answer’s probably “rarely.” You type faster than you write in longhand, don’t you? You’re more likely to email, text, or even chat as means of communicating with team members and moving toward productively accomplishing your goals. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and similar services also tie us together.
2. Meeting Effectively.
Face-to-face meetings, letters, and personal phone calls used to be the only ways to get together and solve problems. Not anymore. They still work, but you can also hammer out business strategy on teleconferences, video-based platforms like Skype or Zoom, and even via instant messaging. Many meetings are a combination of many of these, with team members around the world in different office configurations. It should be simple to get a group of people together and decide, right?
3. Following Protocols.
Protocols for the in-house use of technology constantly evolve, too. Do you know the proper email etiquette for your team and company? What’s the right way to leave an effective voicemail message? Do you know when to send a text? Too often, we don’t use technology correctly and end up reducing productivity for our team members.
Making your team faster takes time.
It can be hard work, but isn’t complicated, especially if everyone on the team works together to make it happen. Even if you aren’t the team leader, you can still foster change in your team by emphasizing fairness, accountability, systems, and technology. Focusing on just one or two Keys isn’t good enough; you need them all to drive FAST.
About the author
Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on team and personal productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including her newest work, FASTER TOGETHER: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity (Jan. 2018). To learn more, visit fastertogetherthebook.com.
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