Welcome to 2023, loyal leaders! Capt. Fletch here, excited to start another year of sharing tools for the Leadership Toolbox! Last time we examined stage 4 of team development: performing. During this phase, teams are cohesive and ready to tackle missions within their skillset as determined by the team leader. It is critical for leaders to understand the capabilities of their team and how to establish key performance indicators.
This month, at last, we reach stage 5: ending or termination. The word “termination” brings to mind Arnold Schwarzenegger announcing his famous line, “I’ll be back.” This concept is key to stage 5. Termination, or ending, does not necessarily imply the team disbands. Rather, they could simply end their mission and return to base before a new task assignment.
Why does ending merit a place in the lifecycle of team development? Often, we overlook the closure of a team’s mission. This is not unjustified. Everyone is generally exhausted, the objectives have (hopefully) been met satisfactorily, and it is time to de-mobilize and head home. Whether or not a team accomplishes its mission, closure is critical to organizational success.
Stage 5’s important factors include feedback and lessons learned. I have found that most organizations I have served in, including the military, often fail in this respect. The military has all of the documents built to conduct after action reports (AARs), but leaders rarely complete them — often because they have to rush off to the next mission (at least that was the case in RED HORSE). I had the same experience working for general contractors here in Las Vegas. These organizations talked about the importance of lessons learned, but rarely followed through.
The ideal closeout process has a few simple steps. First, get everyone back to base safely and reconstitute all equipment. Allow your personnel time to decompress. This is optional, but does give them time so they can gather their thoughts for feedback and lessons learned. For example, depending on the size of the project, I might get my troops a week of comp time to relax with their families, especially if we had worked for several months away from home.
Next, assemble key staff from your team first and extract their feedback. I recommend simply letting them talk while taking notes. Informality makes people feel comfortable discussing how a project went. Providing food does not hurt either. It may also benefit you to get the perspectives of lower-ranking members in your team separate from the leadership staff. The presence of supervisors can make some people uncomfortable when giving feedback, and that is okay! The goal? Get people to give honest feedback. Once you have met with key staff (and other members, if applicable), bring the full group together.
After hearing everyone’s feedback, organize your notes into a final report that suits your organization’s communications style. I, personally, feel simple is better. A PowerPoint highlighting main points has more impact than a long Word document. I recommend both, actually, to capture everyone’s feedback for company records, but senior leaders generally like brevity in communication. If your company does not have a records database, establish one! The first things I always do when I assigned a new project are research our database and read about what someone else experienced in a job of similar scope and size.
You have to put an emphasis on recognizing people, otherwise you risk sinking morale and damaged leadership credibility.
Then, ensure you recognize top performers! Companies really on top of their game would have already compiled notes during the project to submit team members for awards and recognition. The length of the project may not always allow for this. You have to put an emphasis on recognizing people, otherwise you risk sinking morale and damaged leadership credibility. In the military, if we managed our project budget very well, we would use reconstitution funds to replace gear for our troops. Who wouldn’t be excited when someone hands them a new pair of boots or a fresh hardhat? This also helps ensure your personnel have proper PPE for their next tasks.
Finally, seek feedback personally for your performance as the team leader. Ask your superiors for an honest evaluation of how they felt you executed the job. Often, you need to make special effort to extract feedback from senior leaders. It may come with constructive criticism, of course, but it ensures input from the entire chain of command.
This process ensures feedback at all levels, recognition of top performers and that everyone has closure on the project before moving to the next mission. Whether the team stays together, disbands, or people leave or join, this process now lives within the organization and can repeat itself. Properly developed teams can make the difference between an organization that experiences high turnover and one that builds successfully into the future. These five stages offer an extensive guideline for team development — a great tool for your box that could elevate your entire organization.
Until next time, Capt. Fletch over and out!