Q: I'm trying to get my team to be more service-oriented with our internal clients. My group tends to be pretty negative and doesn't seem to see that we all need to be working together. What can I do?
A: As the leader, establish clear expectations and hold your team accountable to them.
The inner game
How are you feeling about all this? Angry? Frustrated? Don't let that get in the way of finding solutions. Take some time to get settled and in a reflective state of mind. Try focusing on your breathing and letting any tension ease before you think about ways to handle the situation.
Consider any patterns in the behavior, particularly if there are specific internal groups that come in for your team's wrath or if it's more universal. Also note specific behaviors that need to change; being negative is too vague to fix.
Now, why do you think your team behaves this way? It may have started from some run-of- the-mill workplace pressures. This is pretty normal and can be nipped in the bud. But if you, as leader, have allowed it to continue, this will have become a greater challenge. Look back at steps you've tried to address the situation. You can learn from those that have failed as well as those that have been effective.
Finally, look at the reasons you've let this go. Reflect on the gaps in your leadership skills so that you can put a development plan in place.
The outer game
Let's consider, for example, that the team has a habit of bad-mouthing clients behind their backs. Why does this matter? It's just some private venting, right? Wrong! It matters for at least two reasons. Not only does it lay the groundwork for an oppositional rather than collegial relationship between the teams, it also spreads negativity, which drains away energy and creativity.
In order to improve the situation, you need a plan that identifies the targeted behavior, explains why it's a problem and describes the desired new behavior. You also need to know how far you'll go to enforce the change.
After that, get the team involved in discussing how to achieve the new behavior. In this example, it may be as simple as a personal commitment to stop the bad chat and a team plan to remind one another. A "fine jar" can be a fun way to help enforce the new approach — $1 per insult.
But what do you do if they won't even participate? At that point, your leadership spine needs to be strong and you need to know how far you'll take this. If they've tested you before and you've caved, it'll be harder.
You'll need to call people on it every time they cross the line; just as importantly, you'll need to visibly reward positive behavior and be a positive role model to them.
Help yourself out by getting some support; for example, seek training from your company or seek out a mentor. Celebrate your successes, too.
The last word
Create a team culture where positives are rewarded and negatives aren't tolerated, and support your team as they make the shift.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, leadership coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.