High performance teams are increasingly rare. Too often people don’t have much to do with their team members and they aren’t committed to the project’s goal. No one cares much if the project will be late and the only thing people are concerned with is avoiding blame. Here’s how to change that with your team.
In High Tech High Touch (1999), John Naisbitt et al, forecast that high technology makes team building and team member motivation more difficult; not easier. Many of the transactions between team members now happen via email, cell phone, blog and chat rooms rather than face-to-face. This adds a strong impersonal element. Virtual meetings as a partial or total solution to team communication increases the distance between team members and their leader. It stimulates mechanistic, task-oriented management. There is little focus on leadership or identifying and meeting the needs of the individuals. Consequently, there is very little trust between members and leaders in the high tech team. And that lack of trust is devastating to the morale and culture of the team.
High Tech High Touch Leadership: Personal Interaction
So how can we fix this? How do project managers develop high performance teams with high levels of commitment and a strong bond uniting them in achieving the project’s goal? John Naisbitt et al believe the answer to overcoming the problems of high technology is High Touch Leadership. It requires a significant time investment and requires the leader to give up some of his/her decision-making authority to the team. This doesn’t mean that the team can merely participate in the decisions, it means that the team can actually make them.
The mechanistic project manager uses efficient but impersonal, one-size-fits-all ways of interacting with the team members. The High Touch leader spends a great deal of time personally interacting with each individual. How the leader deals with and communicates with each individual depends on their personality type and their needs. The interaction is customized for each team member. This is a very inefficient way to manage people and it certainly limits the size of the team. But that customization, along with empathetic interaction with each team member, can dramatically increase trust. This requires the leader to understand the personality type and needs of each team member. Building empathetic relationships between the leader and team members is the first step in High Touch Leadership.
High Tech High Touch Leadership: Trusting Relationships
The second stage builds on that trust between the leader and the team members. The leader must also work to develop the same trusting relationships between members of the team that he/she has with each of them individually. This second step is an even bigger challenge than the first because with just 5 people involved there are 25 relationships to foster. That’s too much to handle if you have a three-month project and then each person goes their own way. But building that second level of High Touch leadership is very appropriate for small department or a small organization where the people work together on several projects. When the team has permanence that survives individual projects, the investment fostering those empathetic relationships is much more reasonable. Let’s move on to the goal of that second stage.
The high quality of the leader’s relationships with each of the team members allows the leader to accurately anticipate how each team member will react to an event. Also, each team member is able to accurately anticipate how the leader will react to an event. Next, the leader must work to increase the trust between the team members. This second step is more inefficient than the first. From a mechanistic task point of view, the team members are losing productive time when getting to know and understand each other better. This effort doesn’t get the project work done but it helps the team members work together in a much better way.
High Tech High Touch Leadership: Better Business Results
All this effort is very time-consuming and results in the loss of productive hours. So why would an organization make this kind of investment? They certainly wouldn’t do it on every project. But projects with a strategic rather than a tactical objective are different. Outstanding team performance resulting from High Touch Leadership may yield significantly better business results than the product of an unmotivated, disconnected group of individuals. When the stakes are high and the skills on the team are only available remotely, the investment in High Touch Leadership pays off. It will also pay big dividends in small departments or firms.
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