Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.
— Vince Lombardi, American coach
Yes, absolutely. Not only can you do this, you should be doing this.
To be effective, all teams need some sort of connection or contact point with a member of the management. Simply turning employees loose without a clear, visible and active relationship with you is a mistake and one that will hurt the effectiveness of everyone involved.
The role you play is one of a “sponsor.” The sponsor provides clarification on direction, access to resources and guidance on problems – think of it like a sport’s team sponsor.
An active sponsor would always know the following:
What are the team’s objectives?
Is the team on target against upcoming milestones?
What have the team members accomplished?
What problems are they currently facing?
Here’s how you as the sponsor can provide support:
Be accessible and available with regular contact.
Have high expectations and standards for the team.
Have a positive, supportive response to problems.
Manage the team’s reputation in the rest of the organization.
Gain broader management support for the team.
Get decisions made, related to the project, that are outside the authority of the team.
Establish and design the relationship up front by addressing the following questions with the team members. It’s important to understand what each side wants and expects from the other:
How often and how long do we talk?
What do we talk about?
How do we handle problems?
What other communication do we need?
How else should the sponsor be involved?
What are we going to track to measure team progress?
Once the relationship has been established, make sure there is permission for either side to reopen the conversation to address anything that is not working.
A weekly meeting works best, and the sponsor’s role in these is to listen—not provide advice or solve problems unless specifically asked. It is appropriate to ask if any support is needed or wanted. The sponsor should expect the team to report progress and what the next milestones are.
The team’s role is to be clear about what is going on with the project. Team members need to keep their sponsor informed so there are no surprises. They also need to be willing to share what they are concerned or worried about and ask for what they need – not communicating problems as soon as they occur is unacceptable.
The format of the meeting is up to you. Below are two different styles that I think work well.
Team 1 (15-minute conversation, once a week)
What have we recently accomplished and learned?
What do we need from management and what would having it make possible?
What do we feel is important to share with management?
Who do we want to acknowledge and why?
What might affect our project deadline (either earlier or later)?
Team 2 (15-minute conversation, once a week)
What did the team produce last week?
What is the team going to produce this week?
What new problems have surfaced?
The bottom line: If you want teams to flourish in your organization, it is important to charge them with tasks and results that clearly warrant the focus and attention of a team. In addition, management should know how each team is doing, whether it is on target or not, and be available to answer questions or provide needed support. To do otherwise puts individual teams at risk and the overall commitment to the team structure in jeopardy.
Be thoughtful about how you speak about teams or to team members. Having a relationship with management is important to people. When you run into people, ask them how they are doing. Ask them what they are working on and what their next milestone is. When a problem arises, have a supportive response. At the same time, support people in keeping a sense of urgency and not letting deadlines slip by.
Put simply, what works is to be around and to be interested. You will be surprised how much your attention matters.