It takes great leadership to build successful teams. Leaders who are not afraid to course correct, make difficult decisions and establish standards of performance that are constantly being met – and improving at all times. Whether in the workplace, professional sports, or your local community, successful team building requires a keen understanding of people, their strengths and what gets them excited to work with others. Successful team building requires the management of egos and their constant demands for attention and recognition – not always warranted. Team building is both an art and a science and the leader who can consistently build high performance teams is worth their weight in gold.
History has shown us that it takes a special kind of leader with unique competencies and skills for successful team building. In the sports world, the late John Wooden set the standard for great coaches, leading UCLA to 10 NCAA national basketball championships in a 12-year period — seven in a row. His success was so iconic, Wooden created his own “Pyramid for Success” to help others excel through his proven wisdom. In the business world, we can look to Jack Welsh, who was the Chairman and CEO of General Electric between 1981 and 2001. According to Wikipedia, the company's value rose 4000% during his tenure. In 2006 Welch's net worth was estimated at $720 million and in 2009, he launched the Jack Welsh Management Institute at Strayer University.
Building companies requires the know-how to build long-lasting teams. This is why most managers never become leaders and why most leaders never reach the highest pinnacle of leadership success. It requires the ability to master the “art of people” and knowing how to maneuver hundreds (if not thousands) of people at the right place and at the right time. It means knowing how each person thinks and how to best utilize their competencies rightly at all times. It’s playing a continuous chess match – knowing that every wrong move that is made can cost the company hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars (just ask BP and Enron).
As you evaluate the sustainability of the team(s) you lead and its real impact on the organization you serve, here are 6 ways successful teams are built to last:
1. Be aware of how you work
As the leader of the team, you must be extremely aware of your leadership style and techniques. Are they as effective as you think? How well are they accepted by the team you are attempting to lead? Evaluate yourself and be critical about where you can improve, especially in areas that will benefit those whom you are leading.
Though you may be in-charge, how you work may not be appreciated by those who work for you. You may have good intentions, but make sure you hold yourself accountable to course-correct and modify your approach if necessary to assure that you’re leading from a position of strength and respectability.
Be your own boss. Be flexible. Know who you are as a leader.
2. Get to know the rest of the team
Much like you need to hold yourself accountable for your actions to assure you maximize performance and results, you must take the time to get to know your team and encourage camaraderie. In this case, gathering intelligence means learning what defines the strengths and capabilities of your team – the real assets that each member brings to the table, those they leave behind and those yet to be developed.
All great leaders know exactly what buttons to push and when to push them. They are experts at activating the talent that surrounds them. They are equally as effective at matching unique areas of subject matter expertise and/or competencies to solve problems and seek new solutions.
Fully knowing your team means that you have invested the time to understand how they are wired to think and what is required to motivate them to excel beyond what is expected from them.
Think of your team as puzzle pieces that can be placed together in a variety of ways.
3. Clearly define roles & responsibilities
When you successfully complete step 2, you can then more effectively and clearly define the roles and responsibilities of those on your team. Now, don’t assume this is an easy step; in fact, you’ll often find that people’s ideal roles lie outside their job descriptions.
Each of your team member’s responsibilities must be interconnected and dependent upon one another. This is not unlike team sports, where some players are known as “system players” – meaning that, although they may not be the most talented person on the team, they know how to work best within the “system.” This is why you must have a keen eye for talent that can evaluate people not only on their ability to play a particular role – but even more so on whether they fit the workplace culture (the system) and will be a team player.
For example, I once inherited an employee who wasn’t very good at his specific job. Instead of firing him, I took the time to get to know him and utilized his natural talents as a strategic facilitator who could keep all of the moving parts within the department in proper alignment and in lock-step communication. This person helped our team operate more efficiently and saved the company money by avoiding the bad decisions they previously made because of miscommunications. He was eventually promoted into a special project manager role.
A team should operate as a mosaic whose unique strengths and differences convert into a powerful united force.
4. Be proactive with feedback
Feedback is the key to assuring any team is staying on track, but more importantly that it is improving each day. Feedback should be proactive and constant. Many leaders are prone to wait until a problem occurs before they give feedback.
Feedback is simply the art of great communication. It should be something that is part of one’s natural dialogue. Feedback can be both formal and informal. In fact, if it becomes too structured and stiff, it becomes difficult for the feedback to be authentic and impactful.
Remember that every team is different, with its own unique nuances and dynamics. Treat them as such. No cookie-cutter approach is allowed. Allow proactive feedback to serve as your team’s greatest enabler for continuous improvement.
Take the time to remind someone of how and what they can be doing better. Learn from them. Don’t complicate the process of constructive feedback. Feedback is two-way communication.
5. Acknowledge and reward
With proactive feedback comes acknowledgment and reward. People love recognition, but are most appreciative of respect. Take the time to give your teammates the proper accolades they have earned and deserve. I have seen too many leaders take performance for granted because they don’t believe that one should be rewarded for “doing their job.”
At a time when people want to feel as if they are making a difference, be a thoughtful leader and reassure your team that you are paying attention to their efforts. Being genuine in your recognition and respect goes a long way towards successful team building for loyalty and trust. It organically ignites extra effort!
When people are acknowledged, their work brings them greater satisfaction and becomes more purposeful.
6. Always celebrate success
At a time when uncertainty is being dealt with each day, you must take the time to celebrate success. This goes beyond acknowledgment – this is about taking a step-back and reflecting on what you have accomplished and what you have learned throughout the journey.
In today’s fast-paced, rapidly changing world of work, people are not taking enough time to understand why they were successful and how their success reverberated and positively impacted those around them. I have seen leaders fall into the trap of self-aggrandizement – because of what their teams accomplished – rather than celebrating the success stories that in many cases required tremendous effort, sacrifice, and perseverance.
A celebration is a short-lived activity. Don’t ignore it. Take the time to live in the moment and remember what allowed you to cross the finish line.
Leaders are only as successful as their teams and the great ones know that with the right team dynamics, decisions and diverse personalities, everyone wins in the end.