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April 2015 Management Toolbox


Get a Grip on Group Dynamics
It’s no secret that working on group projects can be stressful and frustrating. You might have someone on your team who doesn’t want to pull their weight or is routinely late for meetings. Group dynamics can be tough enough to handle when you know your team members, but negative feelings can escalate when you’re working in a newly formed group with people you don’t know well or at all, and that can have a serious impact on the work you are trying to accomplish. Here are some tips to consider next time you find yourself in a new group situation.

If possible, find time to meet informally. Before you sit down to discuss the project you’ll be working on, get together for a team lunch or set up a meeting in the conference room. Find out more about these people you are going to be working with. Ask them to tell you about themselves, including their working style. What is their preferred method of communication? Are they self-described introverts or extroverts? What is their workload like outside of the project you’ll be working on together? Do they have families? Hobbies or interests? The more you know about the people you work with, the more likely you are to productively interact with them, and that’s good for business.

Create and sign a group contract. This type of contract outlines what is expected of all group members and can be as specific or as general as the group deems necessary. The benefit of creating a contract as a team is that everyone has a voice in identifying group rules and the same basis of knowledge about what is expected of them and others.

Consider appointing a group leader. While it’s not necessary for every group to have an appointed leader, it can be quite beneficial for some teams. A strong leader can help provide direction by making decisions in the absence of group consensus, distributing work assignments and ensuring that project timelines are being followed.

Let everyone talk and listen to what they say. Some people like to talk more than others; that’s just human nature. For there to be peace in a group, however, everyone needs to feel like they have opportunities to speak and, more importantly, they need to feel like they are being heard. “Two before me” is a great rule – whenever you’re in a group situation, always try to let two people speak before you do.

Admit when you’re wrong. As simple and self-explanatory as this tip is, it’s not always easy to do, but it’s so critical to healthy, positive group dynamics.

Let it go. Some battles are worth fighting, but some simply aren’t. When working on a team project, figure out what’s most important to you and the success of the team, and focus on those items. Try to let go of the little things that probably don’t matter nearly as much as you think they do right now.


The U.S. Vacation Situation
Working Americans have a problem with vacation. Year after year, research continues to show that a significant percentage of the U.S. population does not use the full number of vacation days they earn each year, provided they are fortunate enough to have a job that offers paid vacation. In fact, a number of Americans are simply not using any of their vacation time at all. So why is this the case? And as a part of the management team, what can you do to address this issue in your organization?

It can be argued that part of the vacation problem in the U.S. is cultural. According to “No-Vacation Nation Revisited,” a May 2013 report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the U.S. “is the only advanced economy in the world that does not guarantee its workers paid vacation.” Unlike other developed countries, where 10 paid days off is the bare minimum – 20 days is much more common in Europe and Australia – the U.S. doesn’t place the same value on taking time off.

In the utility industry, we talk a lot about culture – what it is and how to improve it. So perhaps the first step to ensuring your employees are taking off the time that they have earned is to be the example. Take a week off for a family trip. Whisk your spouse away for a long weekend. Come back to the office relaxed, re-energized and ready to do your best.

It’s also important that you make time to have candid discussions with your employees. If you’re aware of a worker who almost never takes time off, ask them why and encourage a candid response. Do they feel like they can’t take time off because their workload is too great? Are they concerned that no one else can do the work they are responsible for? Are they afraid of not meeting their goals or getting the promotion they’ve been working toward? By researching the reasons employees are hesitant to take time off, you can work with them to find solutions.

The bottom line is that time away from work is good for all of us. Some research has even shown that the farther away you travel, the more your happiness levels increase. And according to a 2013 study by the Society for Human Resource Management, 75 percent of human resources professionals reported that employees who take most or all of their vacation time perform better than those who take less time off. So when you consider those statistics, it makes sense to encourage your employees to take the vacation time they have accrued – and for you to take a break once in a while, too.

Management Toolbox

Kate Wade

Kate Wade is the managing editor of Utility Fleet Professional and Incident Prevention magazines. She has been employed by Utility Business Media Inc. since 2008.