Every team should create an environment that encourages members to maximize their individual contributions to the team's success.
Sometimes, however, an associate may lack the knowledge, skill, or even the desire to perform designated tasks. In this case, reclaiming that individual for the team may seem beyond your control. You may conclude that you should sever the associate from the team. Just as you would remove the weakest link in a chain to improve its overall strength, so too, some would argue, should a team replace a struggling team member.
Good or bad decision? This approach may be a poor decision. How did the team members identify the associate as an under-performer? Is it possible they erroneously interpreted cues from the associate? For people from diverse cultures as well as recent additions to the company, misinterpretation can easily develop into a self-reinforcing, set-up-to-fail syndrome for the new or different employee. Under-performers may find themselves excluded from the "in-group," lacking communication and as a result, becoming poor performers, when the cause of their difficulty may stem more from their perceived "difference" rather than actual incompetence.
The concept of "diverse cultures'' includes employees from different private or public organizations and from different nationalities. It covers a wide range of characteristics, including views on sexual harassment, ethics, friendliness, mode of dress, manner of speaking, team work, meeting schedule dates, levels of participation (eager vs. reluctant), acceptance of responsibility, and anything else which influences how we perceive others as related to their value to the team.
Three suggestions. How can a team establish an environment which will eliminate, or at least reduce, the set-up-to-fail syndrome? How can a team encourage a positive syndrome for everyone? Team members should improve communications by improving their listening, speaking and writing skills.
Try to get everyone to listen and participate in all team activities. Ask for input or comment from those who have not done so. Ask everyone to prepare a list of pros and cons regarding the subject being discussed, then ask them to share them. Ask each successive participant to repeat what the previous contributor said to his or her satisfaction before making a new contribution. Never criticize the person, only critique his or her ideas. Do not allow unfair personal attacks (UPAs). Some teams collect a dollar bill from the offender every time the team identifies an UPA.
Establish team ground rules with members. Simple but important stuff can clarify basic expectations for every team member. Request punctual attendance at weekly meetings or timely notice when members cannot attend. Travel and vacation schedules should be shared. Members should come prepared for meetings, actively participate, and discuss problems and complaints. Everyone should have a member list with telephone, fax, mail and e-mail addresses, and the group should regularly review team minutes and action items.
Ask the Manager
Q: It is becoming common knowledge that we can expect to have five, six or more full-time posts in our careers, rather than the one or two of the past. Do you have some suggestions for how we might deal with this situation?
A: As an engineer or engineering manager, you must take active control of your own career. You can no longer expect a company or anyone else to do it for you. This requires a new mind-set.
It is more difficult to make progress when you don't know where you are going. So establish a vision for your career. What do you want to accomplish? You may need to modify your vision as time goes on, but that's all right.
Keep this vision in mind as you make job, education and other life choices.
Establish and maintain a network list. Try to keep it up-to-date with phone calls, FAX messages, visits, letters, holiday greetings, and with whatever else is appropriate. Be sure to devote time to your network every week, and keep notes. Otherwise you might forget some useful information.
Remember, networks involve two-way communication, so provide help to others whenever you can.
Don't hide your light under a bushel basket. Try to keep the firm aware of how valuable you are. Don't let positive events that you are responsible for go unnoticed. Often a simple memo will suffice. It might be useful to keep a diary of your accomplishments.
Try to get some honest feedback on how well you and your career are doing from someone you can trust, then take appropriate action.
Keep your skills up-to-date. This could involve more education, new job assignments, participation in society conferences, learning new skills, or learning more about the business or industry.