How well do you know your team? It’s a simple question that often elicits a very complex answer. It might start with a pause, proceed to an “Uuuuum” or two, before culminating in some form of, “I guess I don’t really know them very well at all.”

Too many leaders only know the absolute basics about their team members. Too few leaders really know their people. Too few leaders know what makes their people tick. Too few leaders know what made their people who they are today.

Know your people

Knowledge is, indeed, power when it comes to building an effective team. At its most basic, a team is like a family. Family members know a lot about each other and this draws them closer together. They know the other’s likes and dislikes. They know the other’s strengths and weaknesses. They know the events that made the others what they are today.

All of that knowledge serves to help them get along. It helps them work together to achieve the most important job of all: creating success. Because we want more than just survival from our team. We want performance. We want excellence. We can have both by getting to know each other.

The “know-your-people” challenge

Whether your team is well-established or brand spanking new, the following activity works to help you get to know the people with whom you work…and help them get to know you as well.

Gather your team together and explain that everyone gets five to ten minutes to walk through their own story from birth to the present day. They’ll all need to pick out key points and challenges in their life that made them who they are today.

Then, start with yourself. Tell them where you were born. Tell them where you grew up and went to school. Tell them what you enjoyed when you were young – and what some of your greatest challenges were. Tell them what’s made you who you are and what brought you to your current position. Tell them what drives you and what makes you tick. Tell them what you like to do with your free time today. Tell them what your greatest challenges are right now.

When you are finished, call on someone to go second. Ask someone ahead of time (who understands exactly what you are trying to do) to be ready to go second so you can get the ball rolling in the right direction. If you set the right example, and the second person follows suit then the rest of the team will follow.

Ask for strengths and weaknesses

In the course of your turn, be sure to tell your team what your strengths and weaknesses are. If they don’t offer their strengths and weaknesses during their turn, take a moment to ask them.

This is important because, when we work as a team, we see those strengths and weaknesses first hand. When one employee is weak in a specific skill, the other employees have to compensate. And the thing is, those other employees know that they have to pick up the slack. If one employee is always weak in a certain area, the other employees may become irritated that they are always doing what the one employee didn’t (or couldn’t.)

Revealing each person’s strengths and weaknesses accomplishes two things:

1) It lets everyone know that the person doing the talking is aware of his own abilities and is working to manage them.

2) It helps everyone see how their strengths can compensate for other’s weaknesses.

That way, when employee A is faced with performing something at which he is weak, the other employees know 1) that he’s not doing a less than stellar job on purpose, and 2) that they should be ready to give him a hand.

You’ll be amazed by the value of what you can learn from the “know-your-team” challenge. You’ll also be amazed by the impact it has on the cohesion, engagement, and performance of your team.

Scio te ipsum

Physicians are guided by the Latin phrase ‘temet nosce’ —know thyself. While this is good advice for all professions, a more useful phrase for managers and leaders might be ‘scio te ipsum’ — know your team.

When you know your team, you’ll be able to use each member to the best of her ability. When your team knows each other, they’ll work together and perform better. When your team knows you, they’ll be more apt to see you as a person and not just their boss. Put that all together and you’ve got a powerful recipe for success.

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Peter Anderton

Author: Peter Anderton

A sought after coach and change agent, Peter has spent many years in Organisational Development, focusing on developing high performance leadership teams, executive coaching, strategy and change. He builds relationships quickly and is as comfortable in the boardroom as he is at ‘grass roots’. Known for his integrity, energy and a real passion for making things happen, he has a uniquely direct yet supportive style that delivers.

Peter is a qualified NLP master practitioner, a Chartered Fellow of the CIPD and a Chartered Engineer.