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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  • keithtrivitt

    Cog – Really strong points throughout about working within a team environment, certainly something that we PRBCers have had to learn how to manage and make it work for the betterment of the group over the past six months!

    One point that I always try to stress to people during meetings is that yes, it's important to make your points, but only if you have points to address/make. Don't just say something because you think that is expected of you, or you want to see a little note about what you said in the follow-up notes from the meeting. That does absolutely nothing to benefit the group, and for a good majority of the time, will actually derail part of the group's overall efforts.

    Just like your parents and teachers always told you: “If you don't have something good to say (In this case, something productive and/or constructive.) then don't say anything at all.”

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  • I absolutely love that you wrote this post, and it's actually quite timely for me. I've been thrown into the deep end a little bit as far as leading a team of interns (eek!), and these are all really helpful tips for me as a first time leader at work.

    I think what struck me most is the admission of my own weaknesses. I didn't, but what I should have done first off was tell my team in what ways I am weak and figure out the best way for us all to communicate.

    Such great timing, I love love love it!

  • PrCog,

    Great post. When I worked in the traditional office setting I used to complain all the time about marathon team meetings and the lack of understand of so many of the topics addressed above. When it came down to it, I think the most important things are remaining on topic, knowing your weaknesses and being able to admit it.

    When working with a team you need to be able to realize there is a goal and although not every discussion is going to involve you, stay involved and work towards achieving the goals. All too often, teams meet and leave without action items to reach the goal. That is a waste of everyone's time.

    I also love what you said about admitting ignorance. One thing I learned early into my career is NEVER GUESS. Admit you don't know, give a realistic timeline for an answer and follow up with everyone. Not everyone can know everything and no one likes a know-it-all anyway.


  • Great post, P!
    Great reminders and tips for how to be an effective member of a team. I especially agree with being open minded, a vocal (and hopefully respectful) contributor, and especially admitting when you don't know something and acknowledging it. I also agree with Keith that it is important to make your points, if you have points to make that are on topic and relevant. It's also important to foster a feeling of respect in the group so all members feel they can speak up without fear or judgment. Great post, P!

  • Fantastic point and one well worth remembering – you don't always have to say something. If you agree with a point we don't need you to restate it (unless there's some value-add (additional benefits, what else a certain topic can be used to publicize, etc.). Supplementing a point is great, merely repeating is a time killer and may result in a “Dear Colleague” 🙂

  • Hey Rebecca –

    So glad it could be of help. A lot of these are common sense or lessons we learned when we were only knee high to grasshopper but they're tough to remember when those we work with don't stick to them. We fall into a routine which downward spirals into meetings that serve no other purpose than to pass on blame and/or work, but if you can stay honest, responsible and show your true value you'll go far.

    Good luck with the interns. I hear they like shiny objects and sugar cubes if that helps 🙂

  • Great point about making sure you move the ball forward on discussions.

    It's great when a team's got the same end-game, has great chemistry and can actually get 'r' done. 🙂 Even with stumbling blocks on timing, scheduling or various other issues seeing a well choreographed project through to the end can be supremely satisfying.

  • Can't agree with you more, Keith. The most effective leaders I've seen operating in meetings will sit, listen, only say what needs to be said, only allow discussions that need to happen. Otherwise you're stuck in a meeting going round in circles for hours.

  • You took the words right out of my mouth. Sometimes it takes a little extra effort to pull the plan together. But when it finally happens and the team goal has been reached, everyone is more than satisfied.

  • Hey Colleen –

    Thanks so much – the right atmosphere can definitely make or break the morale in the workplace (and that carries over from the watercooler all the way to the boardroom).

    Have a great weekend,

  • Exactly. The dreaded “routine” is the point I have struggled with at times and continually remind myself to watch out for.

    Doers are great, but the greatest doers ask why they are doing and adjust based on what's going to give the team the best chance to reach its goals.

    Nice food for thought in this post. And your interns comment made me LOL. Good luck, Rebecca.

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