A GIS degree is technical and often attracts like-minded people. Schools do a great job of teaching those aspects of GIS including giving practical experience in GIS software applications like ESRI’s ArcGIS. However there are a lot of skills critical to a career in GIS that are not taught during the degree program, and that is what this blog series is designed to address.
Critical GIS Skill #8: Teamwork & Leadership
Colleges attempt to teach leadership and teamwork by creating groups and assigning team projects. A common group scenario in college is where someone takes the initiative to “lead” the project. Assignments are allocated to the remaining team members, and then the fun begins. Inevitably, assignment timelines slip and issues arise. It’s up to the leader or the group as a whole to ensure everyone keeps up with their assignments. But what frequently happens is a few of the team members accomplish the majority of the work. This is not teamwork and this is not leadership. What lesson are we teaching? As a GIS professional, you will run into similar situations. Here are some strategies to build a winning team.
Team Members: As in college, you don’t always get to choose your team members, but when you do, choose wisely. Continually be on the lookout for the “right” people. Choose people that are competent in their area of expertise yet have strong communication and people skills. If you don’t have a choice, know that all players have a place where they add the most value. Take the time to get to know your team members including their strengths and weaknesses. Place them in positions where they add the most value to your team, then help them grow as a team member.
Problem Solving: Challenges are a part of team life. How effectively teams solve problems collectively will determine the degree of success and satisfaction obtained by members. Ideally, you want to arrive at a decision after everyone’s opinion is heard, but this doesn’t always happen. Assertive people tend to get more of the attention while quieter team members don’t always speak up. To receive feedback from all team members and reach a decision, don’t rush into solutions. Ask each team member to think about the problem, and one at a time share their ideas. Discus solutions as a team after all members have provided their input. The goal of the team is to reach the best decision, not to have complete consensus in the group.
Achieving Goals: Teams are often created around a goal (i.e. to complete a project, etc.). Sometimes you can chose the goal, and other times not. But you can always chose aspects of the goal that can make a difference for the client and team members. When you have a choice, chose goals that create excitement and energy, challenge members and elicit innovation. Having exciting goals attracts the “best” people.
Managing Conflict: Conflict is inevitable when working with others. Team members have different backgrounds, values and perspectives which can lead to strife. How you handle conflict can either elevate the team to success or contribute to its demise. Conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Healthy and constructive conflict are components to a high-functioning team and can lead the team to greater success.
Mutual AccountabilityWhen team members are held accountable for their actions, then goals get accomplished. The team should get together at least weekly to discuss progress. This includes answering some of the following questions:
- What have I accomplished this last week and am I still on track for my goal?
- What do I need to accomplish next week to reach my goals?
- Are there any obstacles preventing me from achieving my goals?
The goals team members set should be achievable. Then team members should hold each other accountable for their goals. This way everyone knows they must deliver and it reinforces mutual accountability.
Measure & Display Progress
It’s important to know the progress of the group at any given time. Once activities are identified, progress must be measured. Results should be visible to all team members with names attached to each activity. There should be no guessing on who is responsible for what activity. When obstacles are identified, they should be addressed immediately. It’s the old adage, what gets measured gets accomplished.
Removing barriers for your team members is one of the most important objectives of a leader. Obstacles, if not dealt with quickly and efficiently, can wreak havoc with a team. Your role as a leader is to help find solutions to obstacles. In so doing, a leader builds trust and respect adding to the potential of a team. This includes obstacles such as:
- How team members work together
- How team members work across departments
- How team members work with clients
- Information limitations and personal capabilities
Removing barriers is one of the most important roles of a leader and critical to team success.
Begin applying these team and leadership strategies and watch your career accelerate. Though this ends this series, there are many other skills you need as a GIS professional to succeed. Add your thoughts, ideas and lessons learned below.
Here are links to articles of other critical GIS skills from this series.