How to manage sensitive issues in a team – What is the magic recipe?

Have we ever wondered how to handle and deal with a sensitive issue with our teams? How do we bring our observations that certain set of folks always like to dominate the discussions in all teams? How do we talk about the teleconferences always scheduled at the time which is most convenient to the Onsite team or where the management of the team is positioned? How do we mention that the team is caught in the group thinking mode and agreeing to poorly conceived decisions for the sake of team harmony?

In your role as a team member or the leader of the group, there are times when you need to bring up sensitive issues within the team, you should always begin with the self-awareness that something of relevance to the team’s functioning is occurring. You need watch and assess what you noticed and observe its impact on yourself, the other team members and team at large. You need to decide whether you should intervene or not, whether it should be dynamic? Will that be more helpful or harmful or not relevant at all.

Let’s assume you have decided to raise a sensitive, touchy issue in your team. To review how you arrived at this point, you need to pick the functioning of the team, the pattern observed. Your goal should be to get the team to explore the issue for its impact and decide what to do based on this exploration. How can we raise this issue in a way that is most likely to accomplish the goal?

Some interesting fundamentals are necessary for basic human relationship:

First talk about yourself, your feelings, your behavior, Make statements with ”I”: “I am thinking”, “I am feeling” … something on similar lines. Self-disclosing your own reaction to what’s happening is always the safest way to begin wading into potentially troubled waters.

Second, avoid using words that are pejorative, inflammatory terms, judgmental labels and generalizations, such things trigger words or phrases that flare the team members defensiveness and make it hard to respond for them to your comments.

There are 2 strategies, that I have experienced for making a decision on the level of focus and intervention. One is the “Deep end of the pool” approach. Intervene where you think the action is the hottest, if the whole team is caught in the groupthink act – supporting, agreeing and reinforcing with each other at the cost of in-depth investigating the issue on hand – jump into the deep end of the pool and say things like: “I think we are sacrificing the quality of our decisions for the sake of getting along and it makes me uncomfortable”. If you find one person dominating the discussion, it is just fine to say “Ash – it seems to me that we have been hearing mostly about your ideas on this issue, I would like to hear some of the thinking from the rest of the team”. This type of direct approach is likely to get the issue recognized and discussions going but it can’t be carried off comfortably by everyone, nor in every situation by anyone.

A different approach would be to focus where the action is less hot, the “shallow end of the pool”, once you have the team in the waters with you, you can begin to navigate them into the deeper side of the pool. You might like to create an individual focus like “Sam, I have seen you have started to something couple of times, but stopped and I am wondering if you have a different view or perspective on the issue that we are talking about”, Or the approach could be focusing on the team level directly and say “I think we need to revisit our team working agreements about how we handle conflicts between us”

Another factor to consider about raising the sensitive issue is the degree of intensity you want to build into your intervention.

Low intensity usually takes the form of carefully worded statements. This style helps to understand how an issue is dealt by the team and how they respond.

A moderate intensity usually consists of an observation followed up with a question, such intervention declares an issue and press the team to respond to it.

High intensity intervention really put pressure on the team, they usually consist of an observation and interpretation of the cause of the pattern observed. They are high intensity because they label the action with an interpretation of the underlying dynamics, their directness at times can be shocking to the team.

The point is that regardless of the type of intervention you are most comfortable with, you need to be able to effectively use all combinations, so you can match your choices to the contextual demands in the team at the time you are intervening

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Leading Dispersed Team – An Art or Science or a piece of Luck in your journey of excellence

Dispersed teams have members who are not in the same place, they come from different countries, cultures and time zones. Simply out, a dispersed team brings out elements where human-technology interactions, teamwork and communication among people separated by time, culture and distance. Dispersed teams have started to gain importance in organizations because of influence of international markets.

Coordinating the efforts of team members across differences and at the same time maintaining and boosting team effectiveness make up the challenge of leading a dispersed team
By default all successful teams need to be well designed, that would include purpose of the team, building project management expertise, defining clear roles, setting clear and crisp direction towards completing the work as planned or assigned.

Team work and trust both are important facets of building a great team and dispersed team is no alien to this concept.

Some elements to be taken into account would include:

  1. Keep the team informed of long-term organizational changes
  2. Ask the team for input on critical organizational issues
  3. Encourage personal contact and communication among all team members
  4. Hold face to face meetings (as much as possible and where required – Not do compromise

 

Dispersed teams require more direct and careful maintenance than local teams to reach their potential, for example one advantage of dispersed team would be working around the clock and thereby serve the customer with a greater degree of efficiency and effectiveness. Dispersed teams can be a richer source of innovation than a local team, Insights from team members / colleagues around the globe brings new dimensions to the work, influence how the product would be developed and delivered to the client.

Dispersed team should be encourages to:

  • Learn new communication approaches and technologies
  • Get exposed to new ideas and learning methods
  • Learn about different cultures
  • Develop capability to resolve problems in a 24 x 7 model

 

There is decent amount of challenges in managing a dispersed team:

  • Becomes more difficult to schedule common meetings
  • Identify overlapping hours
  • Robust infrastructure problems in effective communication
  • Members do not feel aligned to Org goals
  • Members feel or have not authority for decision making, too much politicking with internal stakeholders
  • Overall project management would be difficult

When launching a dispersed team, take care of the following:

  1. Assess the readiness of the organization to work with dispersed teams
  2. Create a goal / vision – communicate the vision
  3. Kick off with a face to face meeting (a take photograph and share it with the team)
  4. Plan how communication and Information sharing would happen
  5. Usage of standard tools and techniques
  6. Define cadence for meetings and other schedules
  7. Are there HR policies in place to deal with dispersed teams
  8. Kind of infrastructure required for effective communications
  9. Plan PTOs
  10. Identify local holidays and events and plan for them in the cadence
  11. Give authority for local decision making
  12. Are lower level employees empowered for decision making?
  13. Define approaches for conflict resolution
  14. Regularly recommend a get together of the whole team
  15. Approach to introduce new member to the team? – The How part?
  16. Develop guidelines for conflict management – Remember it is not one size that fits all
  17. Make space for cultural differences, respect all local rules of the game (still keeping the big picture in mind and view)
  18. Ensure you appoint a team member across location for logistics coordination / technology coordinator

Identification of team members to work in dispersed teams:

  • Team member would be willing work in a team environment
  • Are good self-starters and are self-directed
  • Are highly motivated
  • Have tolerance for the unexpected
  • Are open to experimentation
  • Are curious and exploratory
  • Seek out relevant information
  • Are willing to learn and un-learn
  • Are willing to play multiple roles (when the demand arises)
  • Are careful listeners
  • Are risk takers
  • Can build upon ideas of others
  • Enjoy working collaboratively

There is no standard recipe for a successful dispersed team, one would have to inspect and adapt, Issues will be there, it is how you respond to these issues, that will make or break a dispersed team concept successful or …