by Steve Adubato, PhD

Q--I just got finished reading your article on attitude. I work for a company that is based out of New York and we have just incorporated into our daily routine the "Fish" philosophy (from the Pike Fish Market in Seattle) of "Play." What suggestions do you have for playing in the workplace?

A-"FISH!" is a great book and video that this column featured a few months ago. Playing in the workplace is extremely important in creating an environment in which people are working together and giving their all. Sometimes people hear the concept of "play" and think it means not being serious about your product or service, much less your customers. This couldn't be further from the truth.

Consider creating a work environment that is loose and relaxed, but deadly serious about quality performance and service. Try celebrating the Birthdays of team members with a cake and a break from the daily routine. Or, try taking staff members out for lunch-it can pay big dividends. Either of these playful activities sends the message that your people are worth the time and money. It also allows them to break bread and enjoy each other in a social setting. Beyond doing lunch, your team might also consider getting together outside the workplace where no business is discussed. You can start a softball team or join a bowling league. It doesn't matter what the activity is, as long as you are having fun and in the process getting to know each other just a little bit better. If done with a positive attitude, (as opposed to mandating it) such playful activities have the potential of producing a dynamite team that not only plays well together, but works together toward a common goal.

Q--I'm a recent college graduate and I work at an entry-level job where my primary responsibility is to oversee a staff of ten. They vary in age and educational background. I am young, inexperienced and eager to learn. What can I do to help build a quality team?

A--Beyond the playing that we just discussed, consider how you are going to handle meetings with your team. First, don't hold meetings unless you absolutely have to. One of the worst things you can do as a young (or older) manager is to hold meetings just for the sake of it. Your people will resent you for it and those meetings will wind up being counterproductive.

Next, when you do hold a meeting, make sure the meeting never lasts for more than an hour. The key is to not have too many items on the agenda and keep the conversation focused on the issue at hand. As the meeting facilitator, make sure your meetings are interactive and engaging and you as the manager don't do all or even most of the talking. Send the message that you genuinely care about the feedback and input of your team.

Another thing you can do is put individual team members together on specific projects. This will force them to work together and get to know each other. Coach their efforts and make yourself accessible without being a pest and looking over their shoulders. Then, when the individual mini-teams successfully complete a project, make sure you acknowledge those efforts to the larger team. The key is to create a positive feeling as early as possible and minimize the all too typical back biting, finger pointing and petty politics that plagues so many teams. Your attitude and behavior will be the biggest factors in how your team performs. The fact that you are starting so young as a manger and taking this responsibility so seriously is a very positive sign.