Team Dynamics: Understanding Your Role

20. January 2011

Alaina G. Levine

For every experience you have in your career, there will be one constant: You will always serve on teams. It doesn’t matter the task, the problem, the goal or the organization. Sometimes the group may be a trio or a duo, but even if you’re an uno, you will likely still have constituents that make a team.

You can contribute to your overall professional victory by honing vital skills related to team-building and team leading. Here are a few team dynamics fundamentals:

Always remember your goal. No matter who’s on your team, this group has one objective—to solve problems. This is not altogether different from your own goal as a professional. Your purpose in your career will always be to consistently, effectively and efficiently solve problems, and your team has been established for the same reason. Maintain your focus and promote a team climate that takes action according to its mission—to solve the organization’s problems.

Lead, even if you are not the leader. You can be a leader even if you do not officially manage the team. A team leader incorporates and reflects the values of the team, understands the assignment and dynamics of the team, and helps to ensure that the team stays on mission. You do not need to be the anointed director of the team to help your co-workers keep their eye on the ball and endeavor to solve the problem at hand. Aim to set an example of a commitment to excellence and results for those around you.

Seek to resolve conflict efficiently and quickly. Conflict is inevitable within every cluster of Homo sapiens. Whether it’s an attoscale argument over a misplaced mug or a more serious clash relating to a project’s delayed timeline, every person in a conflict has a responsibility to find a solution as quickly as possible. Conflict resolution involves listening and understanding all the parties and seeking to identify the underlying issue. You can help determine what is motivating the conflict by acknowledging the problem, examining all of the information and evidence, and brainstorming a solution.

Encourage an environment that fosters diversity. Diversity is not just about attracting people from different nationalities and cultural backgrounds. It is a critical element in a results-driven team, and it specifically and significantly contributes to an organization’s bottom line. When a team’s constituents are diverse, they inherently stimulate a “diversity of ideas,” which in turn influences and leads directly to innovation and creativity.  Novel problem-solving methods are developed. New perspectives are noted and lead to an understanding of more choices and ideas. This nurtures the team and plays a crucial role in its success. After all, a winning team is one that always endeavors to be dynamic and flexible, and, in doing so, innovative. A losing team is one that lacks diversity and the correlated injection of creative approaches to problem-solving. Serve as an architect and devotee of diversity and everyone will benefit.

Remain professional. The relationships between members of the team must be preserved at all costs. This is the aspect of the team that ensures it is reaching its target. And although you should strive for a peaceful, fun work environment, never forget that these are your colleagues, and not necessarily your friends. So yes, enjoy a good optics joke here and there, but ultimately maintain your professionalism—even if those around you act differently. So for the sake of the team, stay professional. In the end, you will set a good example.

Alaina G. Levine is an internationally known career development consultant for scientists and engineers and a science writer. She can be reached through her website at www.alainalevine.com.

Copyright, 2011, Alaina G. Levine.

 

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Launching Your Consulting Career

13. January 2011

by Jennifer Kruschwitz

In a previous post, Jennifer Kruschwitz helps optics professionals to determine if consulting is the right career path for them. Here she provides advice for how to start your business once you’ve decided to make the leap into the consulting world.

You’ve made the decision: You want to be a consultant. If the opportunity to do a little “pre-launch” planning is available, the first thing to do is pay off any accumulated debt. It is often said that consultants make large amounts of money. That might sometimes be true, but the money often comes in waves. There may be times you are so busy that the money seems to be rolling in, but these may be followed by periods when it’s a struggle to find work.

Start from a strong financial position. Be sure that you have a financial safety net in place for the lean times. When things are going well, you should always be prepared to contribute a significant percentage of your earnings to your safety net.

Get your paperwork in order. You’ll need brochures to describe your abilities, invoices, business cards and letterhead. Stick to a budget: flashy items are expensive, so keep everything simple.

Learn to be a legal eagle. You will need a good understanding of contracts, nondisclosure agreements, and so forth. If you can acquire legal counsel before launch, get acquainted with key aspects of intellectual property and ownership law. Most contracts are very specific in that the customer retains rights to all of the IP that comes out of the consulting agreement. Make sure that the confidentiality of any information provided to a customer will not stop you from being able to work for other clients.

Determine your rates. Establishing an hourly fee is not as straightforward as you might think. One way to determine a ballpark rate is to take the amount of money you would like to earn in a year and divide it by the number of hours you plan to work. Or you could take the hourly rate currently being paid by an employer and multiply that number by two or three. Make sure your rate includes business costs as well as salary. These costs can include health care, life insurance, retirement, business overhead, legal and accounting fees and self-employment taxes. Whichever way you calculate your “worth” as a consultant, here are a few things to keep in mind:

• Research consulting rates for your field. Know what rate will allow you to maintain a competitive edge.

• Be ready to justify your rates. If you are an expert, your rates should reflect that expertise. It has been observed that consultants who charge too little for their services are not taken as seriously by clients.

• Be flexible and know your market. There may be times when, to win a job, you need to change your rates to meet the range specified in a given proposal.

Don’t forget the IRS. Keep your financial records well organized. Open a separate checking account for the business—it makes it easier to keep track of your earnings—and pay yourself from that account. Keep all receipts related to business activities (i.e., parking, tolls, travel, supplies) in a central location and, if you can, enter them in a database. If the business is run from the home, save utility bills, phone bills and so forth. There are specific requirements governing the deductibility of expenses incurred by home-based businesses, and the consultant needs to be aware of them.

It’s a good idea to have a tax advisor available to get things up and running. The Web site HRBlock.com has helpful tips for the self-employed. There will be self-employment taxes to consider in addition to income taxes. Estimated taxes on your consulting income must be paid quarterly to the federal and your state government. There are heavy penalties associated with not paying quarterly taxes on time and in the proper amount. Organized recordkeeping and timely tax payments will make tax time a relatively painless experience.

Consultants are a fundamental component of today’s business marketplace, but consulting is not for everyone. Once you decide to start a consulting business, there’s no doubt there will be challenges ahead. The ways in which those challenges are met and overcome determine the ultimate success of the consultant.

Jennifer D.T. Kruschwitz is an OSA member and senior optical coating design engineer at her own company, J.K. Consulting, Rochester, N.Y., U.S.A.

 

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