Monday, December 19, 2016

How to transform your staff into a dream team

I've been thinking of my former editorial team recently because (1) I'm in the middle of being interviewed for some jobs and the topic of managing a team always comes up, so I've been asked about specific stories about my time as an editor-in-chief; and (2) my Facebook feed reminded me that this time 4 years ago was me saying good-bye to my OK! magazine team.

Boy, do I miss them! 

I miss them not because they were my friends (and yes, they are still), but mostly because I've had the immense luck of having had really talented and driven people on my staff. They were much better than I was, to be honest, and my only real skill was I knew how to manage them well and make a group of wildly different, stubborn, passionate, and amazing people work well as a team.

So for today's working woman post, let's talk about turning your staff into an A-team.

In business, there are generally two types of teams. There are those that are unbelievably productive and manage to rattle through projects and churn out new products at lightning pace (like my OK! staff!). And then there are those that are dysfunctional, don’t get things done, and generally cost a lot of money.

But crafting the perfect team is something that is tough to do. Each person might seem like a great addition individually, but once they join the team, they can suddenly become a liability.

So what are the keys to transforming your workers into the A-Team? Let’s take a look.

1. Team members should make decisions together.
The team leader will always make the final decision. That's a fact. But a leader who doesn't listen to her staff or makes decisions without taking her staff's needs, opinions or situations into consideration will face a mutiny sooner or later. 

One of the reasons why teams can become dysfunctional is that one person alone takes over the decision-making process. On one hand, other team members (usually the lazy ones) are happy to let one person take over the difficult task of making decisions allowing them extra time to relax, chill out and exonerate themselves from responsibility. On the other hand, when one person just decides on everything, it will deny other team members a voice and this will make the team less cohesive. 

Teams that don’t rely on the input and intelligence of all members often find that they don’t make the best decisions: many brains are almost always better than just one. For example, in OK! magazine, which was a Hollywood entertainment title, Twilight and Gossip Girl were huge hits. I don't know why. I like sci-fi, mystery, thrillers, crime, and adventure shows so I just couldn't understand the allure of Twilight and Gossip Girl. If I had made all the decisions, we'd never have featured Rob Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner, Blake Lively, Leighton Meester, Ed Westwick, and the whole gang in our pages. So thank goodness I listened to my staff! Whenever we put those people or just even those words on our cover, sales skyrocketed. So listen to your team. They know better than you do sometimes! 

2. Communication needs to be respectful.
As employment law specialists will tell you, there are a lot of rules about how team members can interact with each other in the work environment. These rules are designed to protect individuals and companies from litigation. But all too often, communication is disrespectful or nonexistent, and teams quickly fall apart. If people are unable to express their feelings and opinions, they’ll stop feeling as if they have a stake in the success of the team. When this happens, some members will feel apathetic and not as interested in helping the team achieve its goals. 

I'm sad to say that this happened to us in OK!. When I became a mom for the first time, I was overwhelmed with new motherhood. I focused on my new role so completely that I forgot about my staff. I had mistakenly assumed that because they were so amazing, they can do everything on their own now with minimal supervision. My managing editor now suddenly was taking on my responsibilities and she was feeling the strain. Instead of talking to me, her resentment festered. Instead of me talking to her and to the team, I blissfully basked in my new job as a mommy. You know what happened next. A complete meltdown from my managing editor, who had always been my most trusted member of the team, and me feeling awful and ashamed that I had let them down. We sorted it out, but the damage was done and it took a while to fix things. That experience definitely made me realize that motherhood may be the most important job in the world but that doesn't mean I should forget that other people were counting on me, and in fact my team also sees me as their mother. Because we failed to communicate, I failed them.

Good teams spend time listening to the concerns of all people on the team, making sure that they ask questions and listen deeply to what is being said, rather than dismissing the comments of other team members without proper consideration. Always talk to your staff not just about the work itself, but also how they feel about being part of your team and how you can improve your relationship. If your staff knows they can talk to you anytime, they will give you their undying loyalty.

3. Team members understand goals.
Every team has to have a mission or purpose that each person is able to comprehend. All too often some team members are left in the dark with respect to what a particular team is trying to achieve. When this happens, they are just going through the motions, performing a process, and not really working towards anything greater than themselves. It’s important, therefore, that teams set clear expectations and that everybody is on the same page throughout a project. Shared goals create common purpose and ambition. 

With OK! magazine, we were obviously about reporting entertainment news, celebrity stories, and everything fun and fashionable from the world of glitz and glamour. And that sounds really silly and shallow. So around two years in, we had a big staff pow-wow and talked about how to make our job more meaningful. First, we wanted to make people—the fans—happy. That meant no unflattering stories or photos of their idols ever. Second, we wanted to say thanks to the stars because without them, we wouldn't have our fun jobs. That meant only true stories—no gossip, no unfair treatment, no damaging reports (unless the story is true). Third, we wanted to make our readers aspire for a life that's just as glam as their favorite stars' lifestyles but we promised to make it achievable. That meant local finds that will make fans feel they're living the fine life but on a budget. This part was the hardest haha but we did it!

When your staff feels they're part of something bigger, they all want to help out. Don't just talk about "the job," talk about the dream, the vision, the mission, the purpose. It's easier to get everyone passionate when they're inspired.

I hope these three tips will help you make your team better in 2017! As a sole businesswoman these past 4 years, I really value a good team now more than ever. It's so hard to do everything on your own! So to my former OK! staff, thank you for everything you did for our magazine, for me, and for each other. You were amazing! You inspire me to this day. Mwah!

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