Openness is great, of course, but it has drawbacks when it comes to teams at work -- especially small ones. Some employers are taking transparency to an extreme, spying on employees to gain more insight into their actions. But what they're gaining -- copies of emails, snippets of social media posts -- aren't telling them what they really need to know.
What makes high-performing teams great is that they keep track of what's relevant to fuel growth; nothing more, nothing less. It's easy to confuse gossip with useful information, but there are really only a few essential details you need to know:
1. How do people work best?
Some people are at their peak in the morning; others don't really get going until 2 p.m. Some people need a steady stream of coffee throughout the day; others need to leave the office and take a real lunch to re-energize. Water cooler talk is a helpful break for some; headphones are a godsend for others.
Find out what each person needs to function at his or her highest level. This is sometimes easiest to do as a group activity, where people indicate their natural preferences -- with no judgment attached. You can also ask team members in one-on-ones, but that doesn't maximize the benefit of everyone knowing others' quirks and tendencies. The point here is to know how people prefer to get their work done so you can provide the right environment for high performance.
2. Which types of personalities does everyone work best with?
Some leaders are dismissive of group chemistry. I've been guilty of it myself, chalking it up to personality clashes. I had two employees who didn't get along, and I assumed it was because of a bad interaction or opposite perspectives. It turned out, when I couldn't ignore it any longer, that they fundamentally disagreed on how teammates should support each other.
When hiring, ask people directly what kinds of people frustrate them at work. You'll hear all sorts of answers: people who aren't open to change, people who aren't willing to jump in and help teammates in a crunch, people who chew with their mouth open. The goal is to hire people with similar ideas about how teams should interact and work together -- you'll be a thousand times more productive.
3. How do people feel acknowledged?
A lot of people ask, "How do you prefer to be rewarded?" The problem is that a lot of employees will default to tangible answers, like bonuses or days off. That's great, but you can't use something as big as a bonus for small accomplishments that deserve recognition. You need to find out how people feel acknowledged for their hard work.
This is kind of a twist on the "love languages" theory. Some employees need words of affirmation -- hearing your appreciation means the most to them. Others really will thrill to gifts; some will be touched by an act on their behalf, like you talking up their talent to another manager. Taking an employee to lunch (and giving him your full attention) could be a winner. But you won't know till you ask.
4. How can you clear the path?
Sometimes, the only thing standing between your employees and success is you. Other times, you're needed to get rid of roadblocks. Is a cumbersome process slowing them down? Is another leader having trouble ceding control? Are they missing the tools they need to complete a project? All of these things can be handled, but only if you know about them.
This is the trickiest question to ask because employees can feel they're "tattling" on co-workers or complaining, which could call into question their work ethic or reasonableness. Assure them that you're looking to find out how you could do your job better by making theirs easier. A lot of employees have been trained to think of their job as making your life easier, but that road goes both ways. Remind them that it's your responsibility to have their back.
When you're getting to know people, it's easy to get distracted by conversations about tattoos, favorite workouts or hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Those discussions make people more interesting and three-dimensional, but go one step further to find out what could make them amazing employees. Without these details, you're hoping that they succeed -- despite you.