Developing Relationships, Processes and Systems
How often have you thought about a recipe, if you will, that will lead to developing high performing teams? Well, it’s not something that I thought about often until about three years ago.
Though I spent time in leadership in my late twenties, and early thirties, I always worked within a very defined system. And, when you work within set parameters, such as a defined system, there is room for some creativity, for sure, yet not as much as when you work within an organization that has fewer systems and structure.
It is a paradox.
With systems, you get a level of comfort and reliability. With a non system, you get the opportunity to develop systems and be innovative. While the former can feel constricting, the latter unwieldy.
They both have their strengths and weaknesses.
In this installment in the leadership series, we will discuss developing and creating high performing teams in an organization with few systems and very little structure.
Are you ready? Good. Let’s go.
As I’ve written many times, and did so extensively in the second installments of this series, it is my perspective that everything in life starts with our relationships. First, with the relationship we have with ourselves, and then with everyone around us.
And, these relationships form the basis of all that happens within the contexts we create. When people on a team are in relationship with each other, they are able to transcend difficult times with more ease. The team members, and the team, are more resilient.
There are several strategies that leaders can employ to develop high-quality relationships with their teams.
Here are a few of those strategies.
- Safe – one of the first things I did in my first year on our team was create one-with-one conversations with every staff member. Literally, creating a safe space where you can get to know everyone, and they can get to know you, is an important first step in any relationship. If you assume you know them, for instance, you will miss out on the subtleties of their personality and their drive as a human being. Further, as you create the one-with-one context, the safety, trust, and reciprocity that blossoms will carry over into other aspects of the team, and will become a standard way you do business. Meaning, people first.
- Learn – another strategy I found beneficial in my first year was to learn each person’s job function. Learning from the staff member about their job is the best way to understand, yes, the varying aspects of their work, and also how they perform their work each day. Furthermore, learning from them, and with them, provides you with information about how the team functions. Each person on a team is one piece of a whole, so understanding how each piece functions is important to the overall health and sustainability of the team.
- Listen – when you are in conversation with someone, especially in a burgeoning relationship, listening and actively taking in their story is important. In effect, it is more than listening. As a leader, there is information about people, process, and systems, that you need to hold onto. Some of this information you’ll be able to store within you, and some you’ll need to store in other ways. For instance, I have employee files where I can hold pertinent information. Holding and storing information is how we get to know people, and keep the conversations we create with them continuous.
- Value – relationships are grounded in reciprocity. Simply meaning there is some kind of value for each person in the relationship. Which, of course, means that when you are interacting with people on your team, the conversations you create with them need to be valuable to them. Sometimes these conversations will be personal, sometimes they will be about business. Likely, the conversations will be a mixture of both. Regardless, the conversations need to provide value.
Alright, there are a few strategies you can use to begin creating relationships with your team. Though I have much more to write about this topic, know that if you create safe spaces where you can learn about the people you work with, listen well to them while holding and storing information about how they are doing as human beings, and always ensure there is value in the conversations you create with them, you are off to a wonderful start.
As your relationships develop, you will naturally begin to look at how the team functions. What are their processes? What are the systems?
Well, as was aforementioned, when you work in an organization with few processes and structures, you get to create them all. Well, maybe not all, yet you do get to create many, and for surely recreate all of them.
Processes and Systems
What is a process? A process is simply a step-by-step rubric, or guide, of how something gets done. And, a system? A system is like the glue that holds all of the different processes together. Make sense? Good.
Now, in my first year on this job, I said something like, everything we do needs to have a process. At that time, there were large chunks of work that did not have a process. Whether you are on a team with lots of processes and systems or not, there are simple steps you can take to ensure your processes and systems are working well.
- Ask questions – human beings love consistency and patterns, or habits. Meaning, that if, when, we don’t question the processes we use, we just keep using them. Not necessarily because they work, but because they are there, and have “worked” for so long. Ask questions. Ask, why we use the processes we do, and you will find out which processes need to either be upgraded, recreated, or created anew. We’ve either upgraded, recreated, or newly created every process in this entire department in the past 3.5 years. And, done it twice! The pandemic brought with it the need to upgrade, recreate and newly create processes again.
- Upgrade – sometimes process upgrades will suffice. If the process is sound, and people know their roles and responsibilities inside the process, yet, there are still ways the process can be improved, a simple upgrade may be needed. When working in teams it is extremely important to have everyone that “touches” the process in the conversation when upgrading the process. It is likely that your team members will hold their work inside the process tightly. Meaning, changing the process they’ve been doing for years will be difficult, which is why asking questions is an important first step. Once you gain an understanding of what needs to change, based on collective feedback, you can set out, with the team, to make the necessary upgrades.
- Recreate – sometimes a process will be so old that it will need to be recreated. Meaning, that though the process is old, there are still parts of the process that make sense for how the team functions and the goals they have, yet modifications are needed to bring the process into the current reality. On the team I work on, we did a lot of process upgrade and recreation in the first two years. Very normal.
- Newly Create – when, however, a process no longer serves the current business or program model, it is time to create new processes. How do you know? One clear way to know is that the work is not moving forward. Another way to know is there is confusion on the team about the outputs and outcomes of the process. Simply meaning, that the outputs and outcomes of the process have probably changed, which will require creating a new process to satisfy the new outputs and outcomes. This past year, the team and I have created completely brand new processes for everything we do. Really. Everything. Why? Because every output and outcome has changed inside of the pandemic. Truth.
- Document – one thing we did not do as a team until the second year was document all of our upgraded, recreated, and newly created processes. Super important. Documenting your processes ensures that you have held how the process functioned at a single point in time. And? It will likely change in the future. However, if you don’t have the process documented, you will not have a history to look back upon to understand the how, when, why, and where, for instance, of that process change. Further, people need a rubric of sorts to help them hold all of their work. Helpful.
Here is a quick example of a process map.
Alright, there are a few steps you can take to assess and begin to upgrade, recreate, and or create new processes on your team. Let’s discuss systems for a brief moment.
Systems are also needed and necessary on teams. Though, I will say, especially on teams that are highly innovative, maintaining one system can be challenging. The team and I are currently working on creating this system, which includes several parts.
- Google Documents
- Project Management System
Today, we use two of the three tools listed above. Yet, when they are organized in such a way, they can, and will for us in the next year, create a unified system of communication and connection. It looks like this.
In this oversimplified vision board, we can see how people, process, and systems are interconnected and correlated. When you are communicating with each other through your processes, and your processes are embedded in a system, each part of the whole is in communication and is connected. Fun.
Well, that wraps up this first installment of Part 3 of the Leadership Series. What’s next? Good question.
I have one more installment on developing teams to discuss with you, which will come in the next week or two. In that installment of Part 3 of the Leadership Series we will discuss getting into action and the resulting traction that occurs on teams when everyone is moving in the same direction.
Remember, leading teams is just like leading yourself, though, yes, more complex. However, when you create safety, learn, listen, and value each other, which starts with the leader, teams can become high functioning, creating amazing outputs and outcomes for the communities they serve. It is beautiful to see and be a part of.