Posted by: Christopher Turnbull | March 1, 2012

There is no I in TEAM

What makes a team successful or great? What do successful teams do to be the best that others don’t?  There are many cliché answers to these types of questions. However, I believe we would all agree on a couple of things: 1) everyone on the team understands what the ultimate goal or mission is (e.g. to win the Super Bowl), 2) everyone on the team plays a critical role and executes their assigned tasks when called upon (e.g. they don’t drop the ball when they have a chance to score a touchdown), 3) everyone on the team, including the owners, managers, coaches, and players work together (e.g. no one has a separate or self-serving agenda), and 4) the team plans, practices, prepares, and executes their plan each and every day; not just on game day.

These same questions and answers can apply to running a successful business. If one of these items is missing, it will be difficult for a company to be truly successful.

If you agree with my answers above, then consider the following questions: Do you procrastinate and fail to complete projects in a timely manner (or at all)? Do you have to be asked where you are on projects? Can others criticize your lack of responsiveness and accountability?

The hardest working and most focused people periodically lose steam or get stuck in a rut. Unfortunately, your procrastination negatively affects other people or organizations that are counting on you. If you procrastinate too long, the pile of uncompleted projects gets bigger and bigger which results in stress for everyone.

How can you break the habit of procrastinating or avoid the stress of letting your team down?  The following are some suggestions:

1)      Define what the “completed” project looks like. Ask your supervisor or team leader specific questions so you know what the ultimate goal is and what should be accomplished.

2)      Develop a Plan. Clearly defined steps will always beat random actions.  My kids have heard me say this for years.  When my son was younger, I could see him roll his eyes whenever I asked him “What’s your plan?  Today, as a successful college student, he’s the first to say that learning to plan has helped him avoid problems, reduce stress, and helps him to overcome life’s challenges and difficulties.  What are the important parts of any plan? You have to determine where you are today, what you want to accomplish, and then describe how you’re going to get there.  I would encourage you to write your plan down and update it as needed … again, clearly defined steps will always beat random actions.

3)      Take one bite of the elephant at a time. A project is made up of many tasks. You cannot accomplish all of them at one time. Therefore prioritize your tasks. Put them in order of importance or in the order in which they need to be accomplished. For example, don’t build the roof of a house before you dig the footings and lay the foundation. 

4)      Set realistic and specific deadlines for yourself.  For example, before the end of the day, you are going to complete 3 specific tasks.  No excuses. Do not put it off until “later”. If needed, set aside specific times of the day for completing certain tasks. For example, from 9:00 am to 10:00 am, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, I’m going to work on my … (project).  Every afternoon between 3:00 and 4:00 I’m going to answer my emails and return any unanswered phone calls. It will be almost impossible for you to stay focused and complete projects unless you dedicate specific and uninterrupted time to the task. 

5)      One and done! Don’t let work pile up.  Although I consider myself a great multitasker, I recognize that the best way to complete tasks is to focus on them one at a time.  Complete the task and get it off your desk.  Then move on to the next one and complete it. Don’t start a new task until you’ve completed the one that is already on your desk. Of course, things come along that are an immediate priority. But, don’t let everything turn into a priority or crisis that keeps you simply putting out fires all day.

6)      Learn to delegate or ask for help.  I can tell you from experience that this is one of the biggest downfalls of most up and coming leaders. In fact, many never learn the importance of delegation.  A good leader knows how to make sure things get done. However, that doesn’t mean that they should or can do all the work themselves. That’s why they have a team.  The quarterback is responsible for leading the team on the field, coordinating the plays, and throwing the ball.  Other team members are responsible for blocking, running and catching the ball. The quarterback can not play every position.  If you’re the leader, you must take responsibility and ownership of the team, projects and tasks. That means you must ensure that tasks get completed on-time, on budget, etc.  If you’re not the team leader, you have a responsibility to ensure you do your job, let the quarterback know what the problems are, and to execute your tasks without dropping the ball.  The rest of the team is counting on you.

7)      Communicate effectively and often.  Most leaders are tasked with a lot of duties and responsibilities.  As a leader, you must keep your team informed and up to date in order for them to do their job effectively.  Conversely, as a team member, you also have a responsibility to keep your team leader informed.  If your team leader has to ask you repeatedly where you are on a project or task, you are not doing a good job communicating.

8)      Work with a fire in your belly and a sense of urgency.  Get motivated.  Although it would be nice to never have deadlines or limitations, that is not a realistic expectation in the business world.  Your supervisors, co-workers, customers and family members are counting on you.  I don’t believe the old adage that says “slow and steady wins the race.”  Slow never wins a race.  Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not suggesting you rush hastily or carelessly. When it comes to projects, it’s critical that you drive the project to completion on-time, on budget and with the resources that you have available. During the process, you need to keep your supervisor and team members up-to-date by scheduling regular meetings, sending e-mails and by whatever means are necessary.

9)      Don’t be a quitter!  It’s not uncommon to see people come to a screeching halt on a project the first time (every time) they run into a problem. Take ownership and responsibility!  Learn to work through problems. That doesn’t mean you can’t and shouldn’t ask for help, but first, think!  Develop solutions, weigh out the alternatives and make a decision.  If your supervisor has to think and do your work for you, he doesn’t need you.  Passing the project back to your supervisor is not an option.

Projects, problems, deadlines, and obstacles are the norm in the business world.  But each of these things also comes with an opportunity to succeed, grow, innovate and profit.  Take ownership of the opportunities presented to you.  Tackle every assignment with a sense of urgency and ownership.  Your effort may occasionally go un-noticed or be under-appreciated.  But the successful completion of assigned duties ultimately makes you an invaluable asset to your company.


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