Teams are the building blocks of an organization. To accomplish great things, an organization must develop leaders who can get the best out of their teams. But what should leaders focus on as they build and develop a great team?
The Key Ideas in Brief
Leaders need to develop their team with three dimensions in mind:
1) Results – It goes without saying that a great team generates results. They deliver what was expected, when it is expected, in the quality that was expected.
2) Collective Development – Successful teams are more than the sum of their parts, but the development of the collective mentality, the collective work effort, the collective learning, and the collective sacrifices necessary to achieve the goal is what the leader must guide their team through
3) Individual Development – Each team is made up of individuals who bring ways of thinking, and ways of doing, to the collective. To develop a great team, the leader must also develop each individual to be better at those things that will make the team better. And by developing the individual, their engagement will increase, their skills will improve, and the relationships amongst the team will strengthen
But it is not just these factors that the leader needs to be managing and cultivating. To get the results they desire, leaders also have to pay attention to how the team is working, and the following are the three most common reasons for poor team performance:
1. The gap between the goal and the team’s capabilities. What is your goal? And does your team have the capabilities to get there? If the team doesn’t have the capabilities to achieve the goal, no managerial tactics will be able to overcome the shortfall.
2. The process of teaming. Being a team, requires teaming. Teaming is the process of relating to people, listening to other points of view, coordinating actions, and making shared decisions. Teaming results from effective team process management. The degree to which this is effectively managed, is essential for team success.
3. The emotional needs of the group. When the emotional needs of your team are dismissed, or under-appreciated, the performance of the team suffers. Leaders must also keep their fingers on the emotional pulse of their team. This requires emotional intelligence, and purposefully choosing to invest time to listen to the group’s needs and work through the ‘soft’ issues.
Every leader knows that the results count. A team must accomplish its mission, and the leader must guide their team towards that goal. Every successful leader I have known has had a very strong results orientation. They know WHAT must be done, and they get laser focused on the steps necessary to achieve those goals.
This absolute focus on results can be a double-edged sword. It can be a source of positive action, when the leader pushes the team and the individuals to be the best they can be. In this scenario, the leader uses results (or failure to achieve results) as evidence of where the team needs to improve, which in turn acts a catalyst for learning, development and growth. This is how it should be. However, too many leaders are so focused on results, that they discount, or deem irrelevant, anything that is not directly tied to generating the result. Employee relationships, feelings, interpersonal communication etc… are all noise in the system for these leaders. And in the leader’s mind, dealing with these issues is ‘a waste of time’. Surely the team knows that they should be focused on the task at hand, and getting the work done? Surely they don’t need me to get involved with personal differences, when we have much bigger issues we are dealing with? Why are we wasting time talking about people’s feelings when we have so much work to do? These are all examples of the down-side of an exclusive focus on results. For leaders such as this, their blindspot is the fact that they fail to recognize that what is holding back the team’s performance is the very thing that they deem ‘irrelevant’- their people’s emotional state and the team’s ability to be a team.
A broader view of an effective team quickly leads one to realize that both the results themselves, and HOW the team achieved the results are the key to success. By developing and strengthening how the team achieves results, the leader creates the conditions for sustainable performance. To understand how the team performs, two pathways need to be considered. The first focuses on the role of the team itself, while the second focuses on the individual.
For a team to be successful, it is essential that it adapts and evolves over time. The collective has to learn how to evolve together. Learning how to learn, collectively, is one of the most important processes that the leader must manage, support and nurture. The team also needs to develop its emotional intelligence, and to learn how to anticipate the various reactions team members will have in certain situations and with these insights, become more effective at supporting them. Equally important is the creation of psychological safety amongst the team. Psychological safety creates the conditions where team members feel accepted and respected by the group, and as a result, are much more open to taking appropriate risks to achieve the team’s goal. The team’s collective behaviour is also influenced by the external environment they operate in, and the process of teaming is essential so that the group develops the ability to adapt and adjust based on the external forces influencing them. All of these elements influence group performance.
The second pathway that the leader must master is how to strengthen the capabilities of each individual on their team, and deepen the relationships between team members. Smart managers know that trust is built through task. They know that trust will emerge by having two or three people working together, bringing their talents to bear on a problem, and completing deliverables to help the team. In this way, one of the most important things a manager can do is purposefully design situations that will bring people together to solve a problem, deepen their relationships, and develop professionally.
The first way a team fails is to ask them to deliver results for something they are unable or unqualified to achieve. The goal must match the team’s capabilities, authority, and resources. Otherwise, failure is only a matter of time.
The second way a team fails is that they forget that being a team requires teaming, which is the active process of relating to people, listening to other points of view, coordinating actions, and making shared decisions. When the process of team is not managed, it breaks down, and team effectiveness suffers. The daily work of a leader therefore is to ensure that the activities of teaming are happening, and to quickly intervene when they are not.
The third way a team fails to perform is because they did not pay attention to the emotional and relational aspects of the team. Teams are often made up of difficult personalities, there is often emotional conflict, and far too frequently, poor communication is the norm. These types of issues affect the emotional stability of the team, which in turn creates the conditions for sub-optimal output from the group. Leaders must be in tune with the emotional state of their team, and invest time and resources in developing and maintaining healthy relationships in the team.
As a leader of teams, focus your energies on both the WHAT and the HOW of creating results. Pay close attention to the three common ways that teams fail, and be on constant guard that they do not occur. As a leader, your goal is to make your team better, stronger, and more capable…every year.
To get a sense of where to focus your energy, challenge yourself to see if you can hear the ‘noise’ your team is making. When things are ‘noisy’ there is a good chance that things are breaking down, friction is occurring, and opportunities to grow are present. But don’t just rely on your instincts, use assessments and surveys to get more specific feedback about the magnitude of the ‘noise’, the frequency of its occurrence, and to get a deeper diagnosis of the underlying issues that you and the team need to work on. As you make your team stronger, and more capable, you will create the conditions for your future success.
As the late Professor Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School once said, “Management is the most noble of professions if it is practiced well. No other occupation offers as many ways to help others learn and grow, take responsibility and be recognized for achievement, and contribute to the success of a team.”
What kind of an impact do you want to make on your team and your people? Getting this right is the most important thing you can do.
- Dr. Paul
CHRISTENSEN, C. M., ALLWORTH, J., & DILLON, K. (2012). How will you measure your life? New York, NY, Harper Business.
SHAPIRO, M. (2015). HBR guide to leading teams
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