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Top 3 things to consider when managing teams

By Amber Shanahan

Here comes summer! In the youth programs world, that means gearing up for managing lots of people. You're likely hiring summer staff, growing your volunteer support, onboarding teen leaders or joining a team yourself.  What's the best way to organize teams?  Teams make the dream work! But organizing teams can also BE a lot of work.

Differing personalities add rich perspectives and expertise. But teams can struggle with getting the most value from and integrating that expertise, to minimize conflicts and to leverage it through all phases of a project.

For this reason, University of Minnesota’s Leadership and Talent Development program offers three points to consider when arranging and leading teams. Take a proactive approach by considering them.

1. To team or not to team?

Yes, we love to work in teams… but is a team really necessary? Consider the complexity of the work (Can the work realistically be completed by one person?), whether or not there is a common purpose (Would all team members have a shared goal?), and whether or not you have the resources to support a team (teamwork requires a greater investment in time, equipment, and access to information). Decide if the work would be best if completed individually or collaboratively.

2. Build it right

Define your purpose and clarify roles and responsibilities for each team member. Set goals in a fun yet purposeful way. Take time to really consider each team member’s roles and responsibilities to avoid unnecessary, time-consuming conflict in the future.

3. Manage team dynamics

To ensure the team functions well, team members must identify working norms and expectations and clear decision making processes. As the team lead, you must fine tune your conflict management skills (Crucial Conversations is a great place to start) and identify sources of conflict to be prepared for managing issues before they become toxic.

Finally, never underestimate the power of team building! As youth development professionals, we understand the importance of getting to know the young people in our programs while helping to create a space for growth, support and connectivity.  These actions are equally important when creating adult teams. Not all team-building exercises are painful or cheesy; here are some great activities that can help to cement your team in an action-oriented way.

If you really want to have fun with the team development process, use a team name generator tool. Invest in a team strength assessment and always (always!) bring food. Make a day out of forming a well oiled, results-driven team.

What works for you? Please share ideas, activities, processes, and insight for working with teams of colleagues, volunteers, employees or youth.

-- Amber Shanahan, Extension educator

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  1. Thank you Amber for this post. I agree with you that spending time building the team with clear and distinct roles will help save you time later in miscommunication, conflict and confusion. Do you recommend involving the team in creating those roles? Any advice on managing conflicts that arise from identifying team responsibilities?

    1. Thanks for the note, Betsy! YES, I do recommend having the team members involved in the role development. This allows space for individuals to acknowledge their strengths and how they can best be applied to specific projects. Of course, there are times when a team leader needs to make decisions based on what is best for the organization, even if it's not a fan favorite of the team members. Hopefully this can be discussed openly and transparently to ensure conflict is avoided. And how to manage conflict? Crucial conversation skills have been my go to, but also has a series on conflict management that is worth a look.

  2. Thanks for the team building activities - they will be helpful!

  3. Couldn't agree more it is way better to be proactive- teams are critical and investing time in them upfront helps you get ahead of any issues and start with a strong team foundation.

    Here's another resource with 100+ Team Building Activities with detailed instructions


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