by Mark Leheney, Senior Consultant, Coach and Product Manager, The Professional Government Supervisor Program Leadership & Management
“Who’s on the team?” is a vital, pivot-point question of organizations, but federal supervisors rarely get to make the call. Often they are simply notified about a new hire, rather than being participants in the hiring process.
So what’s a supervisor to do, particularly when he or she is not thrilled about who’s on the team?
First, understand that actually, very few people – regardless of how involved they were in the hiring decision – really know who’s walking in the door to start work. The great interviewee may have contrived an Oscar-winning performance, while the quieter candidate turns out to be a star performer.
In the end, you have a team of unique individuals with strengths and weaknesses and it’s your responsibility to bring out their best and make the team function. Mary may complain about things non-stop, but produce excellent work, while Tom may plod through things at a slow pace, but never misses anything. People and teams are a package deal.
What about you? You have to be sure that one of your weaknesses is not failing to develop the admittedly, always imperfect team. This sounds like a platitude, but think about it: How many times have you heard supervisors write people off, saying they are irretrievable or just “don’t get it?”
Many supervisors avoid team development work because it seems like it is loaded with landmines. Equally, many supervisors think they are helping when offering “constructive” criticism, without realizing that the “constructive” part is often lost and the criticism is all that is heard. Knowing how to give feedback that helps is an art form, and the success or failure of the conversation more than anything reflects underlying intentions toward the employee. Check yours.
So how do you actually create a safe and supportive work environment that encourages employees to improve their individual performance and operate as part of a team?
- Accept and acknowledge the team you’ve got instead of wishing for a different group of people. This is an often unconscious defense against a supervisor’s failure to get involved and try to help others improve performance. And this is often because they don’t really know how.
- Get specific. What is it exactly that each team member needs to move to the next level of performance? (You might ask them this question.) How can you support their development in pursuing that?
- If you’re going to be critical, turn the critical eye on yourself. Ask yourself what you might not be seeing in your team’s dynamic or what you might not be doing for your team.
- Develop relationships with HR and other hiring influencers to ensure that your team’s needs can be factored into hiring decisions. This is more a long-term strategy, but could be helpful down the road.
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