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How to Survive a Bad Team Leader

How to Survive a Bad Team Leader

Larry Buhl | for HotJobs

For almost everyone, having a job means working on teams. But not all team leaders know how to create successful teams—by building consensus, setting agendas, meeting deadlines, encouraging good ideas, and so on. In fact, many team leaders are thrown into the role without training in any of these areas. If your leader seems to be less than fully competent, there are ways you can make the experience bearable, and even successful, without stepping on toes. Experts recommend the following:

Set a good example.
Maybe your leader isn’t setting the most positive course for the team. But you should still be the kind of person you’d want to work with, experts say. Before you start casting stones at others, make sure your team behavior is exemplary. Are you on time for all meetings? Do you complete your action items? Do you leave your ego at the door? Do you respect other peoples’ ideas and acknowledge their contributions? Do you attempt to build consensus?

Build camaraderie.
A team thrives on connections, according to Stephen Balzac, president of the organizational and management consulting firm 7 Steps Ahead. “Talk to people, and take the time to get to know your coworkers as people and find common interests,” Balzac says. “It’s the little things that hold the team together.”

Balzac adds that looking for opportunities to praise other people will go a long way toward encouraging group cohesion. “Appreciation builds camaraderie,” he explains. “For example, if you hear that a coworker’s child just did really well in a soccer game or landed a big part in a school play, congratulate them.”

Schmoozing and praising work, but gossip doesn’t, experts say. Gossip kills group cohesion and it can come back to haunt you.

Sharpen your communication skills.
Non-verbal communication is just as important as what’s being said, according to team-building training expert Bob Lancer. “Most communication goes on non-verbally, so you have to observe others closely to receive the messages they are sending you. From that skill, develop adaptability. In this context, adaptability means that you work on relating with the unique individuality of each person in ways that work for you, rather than against you.”

Focus on issues, not personalities.
“Many people on teams will say, ‘If I can get that guy to shut up and listen, everything will be fine,’” says business strategist and speaker AmyK Hutchens. “But they need to not focus on the perceived troublemaker. Rather, they should ask the group how to create better dialogue in meetings. That way, they direct their attention to the issues, not the person.”

Lancer agrees. “One of the most essential keys to effective teamwork is disciplining yourself to respond to your teammates functionally, rather than personally. This means that instead of being judgmental about others, or interpreting others’ performance in ways that cause you to feel offended, betrayed, or taken advantage of, you take responsibility for the effectiveness of your responses. Focus on how your responses are working for you, instead of focusing on what others are up to.”

Ask questions.
Sometimes team members fall into the assumption that everyone is on the same page, when they’re really not. As a result, deadlines aren’t met, tasks slip, and some people feel burdened with what should be someone else’s responsibilities.

If you’re not the leader, you can help by asking questions, Hutchens says. “Ask, ‘What are we doing? Why are we doing it? How do we accomplish it? And how do we know when we’ve succeeded? Ask questions that move the team forward. Don’t just say, ‘I have the answers.’ Ideally the team should agree to five rules and a schedule, and deadlines and consequences for missing deadlines.”

Know how to involve a supervisor.
If all of your efforts to prop up the group fail, you may need help. “This is especially true if rights and/or policies are being violated,” says Cynthia E. Kazalia, placement specialist at New Directions Career Center in Ohio. She suggests that when you need to involve a supervisor, you ask for a private meeting time, have documentation ready, stick to the facts, refrain from character assassinations, and be specific about how you want him or her to fix the situation.

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