Working as a Team

Thinkstock Single Image SetAs previously mentioned the PRBC group emails quite a bit throughout the day on a variety of topics.  Frequently they actually involve the blog – does a proposed post create a conflict of interest, upcoming events, discussing substantive PR issues for posts, etc.  And sometimes not so much.

Anyone who has to work as part of a team or committee, whether that’s an internal team or a team composed of a client, their internal PR person, the outside agency and frequently others (so probably all of us), has had to deal with various agendas and personalities at the table.  Each with their own goals, some necessary, others merely desirable.

Over the course of the last six months, while working the fine and varied PRBC-ers, a few lessons of working within a group of this size have emerged.  If you thought a meeting of 4 was rough, try 10+.  Same lessons hold true though.  Thankfully we don’t usually run into these problems, but they do remind me of other meetings…

Bring your agenda, leave your stonewalling at home.  Ideally everyone at the table is there for a reason.  Whether that’s departments, which have interests to protect, or individuals whose opinions are respected, everyone is there for stated or obvious reasons.  Let them do their jobs.  By drawing unnecessary lines in the sand before even hearing from everyone in the group you’re potentially setting unreasonable or unrealistic standards.  If you walk into the meeting with even the concept that there’s a ‘win’ to be had you’re not on the right page yet.

Bring both ears to the table. Goes hand-in-hand with the above point.  Once again, ideally everyone at the table is there for a reason, listen to why they’re there and what interest they’re trying to protect.  Legal is likely trying to keep you out of court, PR out of hot water with the public or press, business development/retention to ensure there’s still a company left to run afterwards, etc.  We’ll all have our minimum standards which, when expressed as “if we do this we’ll all go to jail” or “yes, we can give away the product but then we’ll have no money to pay anyone,” are usually quite reasonable.  There’s usually very little black and very little white but loads of grey to find a happy medium.

The above two could be summarized as “Avoid the 3 Ps — Petty, Pissy, and Petulant.”

Bring your mouth too. Express yourself.  If you tell the group why they can’t say “This is the best thing since sliced bread” they’re more likely accept it rather than if your entire argument is, “We can’t do that.” Once all the cards are on the table the group as a whole can move toward a good solution.  Otherwise it looks like you’re stonewalling for the sake of it.  Remember though, you’ve got two ears and one mouth, use them in that ratio.

• Admit your ignorance (in its true meaning). You may not know the answer to a question (“Can we sell the product in Canada?”)  If you don’t know then say so, certainly don’t make up the answer and don’t dodge.  Everyone at the table has had a moment when they got the unexpected question, “I don’t know offhand but will get back to the group by email later today/this week” or “I think so, but need to confirm something before I can definitively say so” is 18 times better than hemming and hawing or glossing over.  Two caveats a) If that’s your only role at the table and you don’t know you will look bad b) actually get back to the group (hours or days earlier than promised if possible).  This one holds true no matter where you are on the totem pole – even if an underling puts you on the spot, lead and teach by example.

• If you’re leading the team, know your weaknesses. I can’t express this one any better than this blog post from the Harvard Business Review blog.  Simply put – you, the leader, will frequently not know it all and you don’t have to.  Thanks to Elizabeth Sosnow for tweeting the link to that post last week.

The buck has to stop somewhere.  Frequently (perhaps usually) you won’t get to a majority or plurality decision or the shades of grey just won’t be meeting up.  There has to be someone who makes the final decision, and that person has to be comfortable with being unpopular and standing firm (absent any new information or valid arguments).  It won’t always be the highest “ranking” person at the table – you can only teach leadership to a certain point then you’ve got let someone else behind the wheel for a test drive.  So whether it’s the CEO or the new intern experimenting with YouTube for the company the final decision has to be somebody’s (with, in the case of the intern, someone else with a veto power of course).  This person should also realize they won’t always be right and the chorus of “better angels” in the room will shout you down.

Let’s have ’em – not including passive aggressive tips and manipulation (certainly usable tools in their own right), what else have ya got?

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