The other day, we had to take our dog, Shiloh, to the vet.  He needed a check-up and a couple of shots…and his nails trimmed, which he hates.  This quick visit got me thinking about the teams I work with.  It’s important that we check in regularly on how our teams, and the individuals who make them up, are doing.  It’s also sometimes important to do things that may be unpopular, but are good for the long-term health of your team.

IMG_1823-3The Check-Up
Every team is different, but they generally have consistent challenges or dysfunctions.  Even teams that are performing really well can benefit from taking time to do some honest assessment of the way they are working together and how they can improve.

Here are some questions to consider as you check your team’s health.

  • How long has your team been intact? Newest and longest serving members?
  • How are decisions made on the team?
  • What does the team do well?
  • What does the team need to improve upon?
  • How important is building an effective team to you?
  • How would you describe the willingness of the team to work well together?
  • How would you describe the level of trust on the team right now?
  • How would you describe the level of commitment on the team right now?
  • What are other factors currently impacting the performance of the team?
  • Who are the power (formal and informal) figures on the team and why?
  • To make positive changes on the team who else needs to be involved/buy in?

Some of these questions may be more relevant than others depending on what’s going on with the team at the moment, but I’ve found that they lead to good discussions around team performance and open doors to praise positives and address underlying challenges.  It’s also important to get multiple perspectives, and not just rely on yours or those closest to you.

There are formal tools that go much deeper of course–and we use The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™ when leaders want to commit to getting the absolute most out of their team–but often, an informal check-up and honest conversation go a long way.

Why Now?
Spring is a great time to reflect on team performance because many organizations plan an offsite during the summer.  This reflection can help target the purpose and planning of the offsite, which is really important. (As you think about planning your offsite, Meaningful Time, Well Spent has some key information to keep in mind.)  It’s also a great time to check in because you are a few months into the year, most people haven’t started taking their summer vacations and many people feel more energy as the days get longer but the heat of summer hasn’t set in.

Taking Action for the Health of the Team
The other part of the visit to the vet was Shiloh’s nail trim.  In the past, he has been heard wailing outside the clinic as the vet tech’s perform this fairly routine task.  It sounds like he’s being tortured, even though it doesn’t actually hurt him–and we have complete faith in the people doing this job, they are outstanding.  I feel bad every time we take him, and have even ducked the responsibility a time or two.

So why do we do it?  Because it is necessary for him to have healthy feet so he can be the active outdoor dog he likes to be.  Our teams are like that, too.  There are often things that would be easier to let go in the short-term–a performance issue, interpersonal conflict, a poor attitude–that if not addressed will have long-term negative consequences for your team.IMG_3384-2

Though we encourage managers and leaders to deal with these issues as they arise, check-ups give you a built-in mechanism to address things that you may have let slide a little too long.  It also provides the opportunity for others to bring their concerns to the table and provide feedback to the leader as well.

Oh, and Shiloh did great.  We reminded the vet tech about his issue and she tried a new approach.  We were surprised to see Shiloh back in the waiting room quickly, without having made a sound. (Another lesson: Often, addressing an issue goes much more smoothly than we expect.)

Praise the Positives
Finally, a check-up is a excellent time to praise the positives.  Your team is doing good things.  Acknowledge those and reward them.

Jerritt Johnston is the owner of True North Consultants, in northern Minnesota.  He specializes in leadership and management training that helps people get the most out of their teams. Contact us today to see how we can be your Guides to Success.