As part of a dispersed team of coaches I’ve been puzzling over how we can become more of a team. It’s not easy. First of all, unlike a traditional team, we don’t share much work in common. We all work for different clients. It’s similar work, but on any given week, we are all working on dramatically different coaching activities. Second, the client always comes first, so we often miss team activities like meetings and stand-ups. Third, anytime we get together, it’s always virtual. We only get a chance to see each other once a year. It’s really hard to feel like you are part of a team under those circumstances. Some might argue that you simply can’t do it. There are days where I might agree.
Recently I had some experiences that have given me some hints to how we might be able to come together as a team. I was at my youngest daughter’s gymnastics competition the other day. As I watched the competitors I heard people screaming their support and whistling as they did their routines. As this was taking place, I had this crazy thought, “I wish someone would scream that kind of support for my daughter. I bet she would feel awesome.”
Let’s pause for a moment to stop and appreciate my truly mind-bending level of clueless on display in that last sentence.
It was at that point that I realized, “Hey dummy, that’s your job!” Not just me either, it was my whole family’s job. We needed to scream all of our heads off. That’s what having a team in your corner does. Here’s the funny bit – you do it regardless of the level of performance. It’s in the job description for a family. After all, no one else is likely to do it. Knowing what that kind of unrestrained support can do for a person, why would any sane person hold back? It would be a shame to do so.
So when it was my daughter’s turn, that’s what I did. My family thought I had lost my mind. And frankly, I wasn’t very good at it, but she didn’t care. Apparently this cheerleading thing takes practice. It wasn’t until a little bit later that I realized that one of the key jobs of being on a team is cheering on your teammates with every fibre of your being. You have to holler your head off no matter how they perform. If they are great, you blow a vein screaming. If they struggle, you scream louder. Why? Because you care. You want them to feel part of a team, whether a family or a workgroup.
But what if they are not competing? Let’s face it, a lot of our time is stuck in the day to day preparation for some event that may not come for a while. That’s pretty much the reality of what we face whether we are a family or a team. Of course in a family, the thing to do is to take an interest. Inquire about progress. Help solve problems. Help remind them of what it takes to be great. Keep them on track. Encourage them to keep moving forward. Talk about progress. Celebrate the little wins. Of course all of that support applies to teams as well as families. Ask about what people are working on. Celebrate little wins. Help keep them encouraged. Help keep them on track to the big win.
Another thing that I’ve noticed is that my kids absolutely love it when I take any interest in what they are doing. For instance, I don’t know anything about Taekwondo, but I can offer to hold the punching bag. I can do the warmups alongside them (which they inevitably find hilarious). I can do the stretches (well…more or less). The point is, I can participate. In a work setting you might describe it as pairing, but that’s not really required. It’s enough just to help out in some small way. We can even do these things when we are remote. We can help with setting up documentation. We can help with prep and coordination (of which there is usually plenty). We can consult with each other during good times and bad. We can offer ideas for improvement. We can do all of this from afar, and I’m pretty sure it will be welcome.
So there are two things that I think are essential behavior for successful dispersed teams:
Full throated encouragement for everything they do, from everyone – let them know they are awesome, because if you won’t, who will?
Do the small stuff. Just hold the punching bag. Do something, anything, to help. Set up a document template, book a flight, recommend a resource. There is no such thing as too small when it comes to this.