Your people truly are your most important asset. Say it every day. You simply can’t do it alone. The SEALs like to say, “Individuals play the game, but teams beat the odds.” You are not going to get anywhere in leadership without an awesome team. Thus, it raises your priority as the leader to collaborate and team-build. If you invest in them, they’ll invest in you.
Unfortunately, people don’t default to teamwork; they default to self-centeredness. Team-building is not something you touch once and then leave for a while; it’s a constant pursuit. Groups become teams by what the leader does or doesn’t do. Here are some inspirational actions you can regularly take to mold your group into a true team:
- Hire team players. Team-building starts at the moment the hiring process commences. Draw up a profile of your ideal candidate, with consultation of your already-existing team. List skills needed on this team, personal qualities that have chemistry with this team, and anything else that is a critical success factor for thriving in your company. For more on a hiring process, click here.
- Establish the purpose of being an interdependent team. You must come to the table/team with your expectations of the culture of teamwork; it must be clear in your mind what you want. Then, cast that vision: show what it would look like if the purpose is achieved; give them a snapshot of a team humming on all cylinders. They must feel your passion in order to want to get on board.
- Learn the individuality of each team member. Be a student of your team. Survey them with personality assessments or with one-on-one questions about their backgrounds, families, and dreams. Show interest and make notes. What maxes them out? What time of day are they sharpest mentally? What style do they have most conflict with? What tasks give them energy? Studies show that the active interest of the boss is an antidote to burnout AND that output and profits rise when the boss spends extra time with employees.
- Consistently show how all the pieces of the puzzle (members of the team) fit together. Make sure each individual knows what he/she needs to do to add the most value to the team—and that everyone else knows it, too. Help them identify their strengths, and then put them in roles that are best suited for their skill-set. Call greatness out of them. In meetings, start a kudos chain where each person must say what they specifically appreciate about every other person. Give them a little autonomy on HOW the job gets done, as long as it’s within non-negotiable guidelines.
- Mix it up. Create opportunities for staff to work together cooperatively, as well as just getting to know each other relationally outside of work hours. You all may be working on a specific skill like customer service, or you are adjusting to new software. When everyone has a role in the success of an initiative, it’s this shared experience that bonds them to each other.
- Have fun! Plan “out of the box” experiences off-site that get them out of normal routines. Surprise them with treats or small gifts or a neck massage day. Create a culture with rituals that are funny. Go on an annual retreat to a beautiful site.
- Develop processes that encourage teamwork. Multiply leadership opportunities for all staff so that they can contribute in some way that everyone depends on; everyone gets a chance to lead something. Empower staff with responsibility and authority. If you give responsibility without authority, what’s the point? They will be frustrated to not be able to make any decisions. Have ground rules in meetings that all agree lead to honoring each other. Discuss effective communication channels between shifts/departments, and up/down the leadership chain. Emphasize how all need to hold themselves accountable for being the best team players they can be. One team said, “We are stapled together. We live and die by each other’s successes and failures.”
- Praise actions that benefit the organization/team as a whole. While every employee might have goals he/she is working on, create team goals that everyone can help meet. Celebrate short-term wins when these goals are hit, for they build momentum. Nothing motivates a team like recognition—even as simple as a handwritten note. And so few leaders make this a priority, despite its positive impact. Make a bigger deal of wins that you typically would. Remember: What you recognize, increases.
- Give feedback to gently correct actions that are off-purpose. Show team members how their team-hurting actions “step on the air hoses” of their teammates. Bring them back to the company core values that they agreed to follow upon being hired. What you tolerate will become the new normal—so, make sure to address problems when they are small. Problems could look like finger-pointing, laziness, negativity, or tardiness. Don’t let these enemies inside the perimeter of trust, loyalty, accountability, and respect!
- Conduct periodic critiques. Ask for feedback from the staff to evaluate how it’s going. It’s like taking the temperature of team morale. Develop your own team-building rubric off which to evaluate progress, and then survey the team. Listen for suggestions for improvement; some may be very small and doable but have impressive results. Utilize annual performance reviews to score each employee on how well they exemplify your team-focused standards. Don’t be afraid to move someone to a different role if they would be more successful on that seat on your bus.
- Resource your team. Get them what they need to succeed if it is within your power and budget to do so. Remove obstacles for them so that their path is clear to get their jobs done. YOU yourself might be the resource your team needs more—so make sure you ask how approachable and accessible they think you are to them.
The key to victory is oneness of heart and purpose. You can’t underestimate the power of a unified team. Effective leaders who team-build well fulfill the ancient Tao saying: “When leaders lead well, the people always think they did it themselves.”
For more detail on each of these points, pick up a copy of my book Leading the Team You’ve Always Wanted at https://www.paulcasey.org/leading-the-team-youve-always-wanted/