Caitlin Keat, COOJuly 31, 2020
Over the years I’ve led, been part of, or observed countless teams in both their successes and failures. Through all of the experience, I’ve found a few common threads that leaders use to get the most out of their teams. In the next few paragraphs I’ll dig into how to take your team HIGHER.
The first step in creating your impactful team is to fill your roles with the right candidates. In many cases, this means going through the interview process and hiring a new team member. However, this can often mean reaching out within your existing organization to identify the masters or those who are ready for a growth opportunity. In either case it’s important to talk to these candidates first to understand their skills, personality and career goals. It’s also helpful to reach out to their coworkers and leaders to understand their performance in other situations. We are looking for teammates who bring knowledge, desire and match the social dynamic of the team.
Part of being a leader is being a teacher or instructor to your team. Even if you have filled your team with experts versus growth candidates you will need to teach them about your function, program, or processes. There are always aspects that are unique to your team and ensuring you teach and communicate this to new members is fundamental to your success.
Instruct can also take on a larger and more basic meaning if you have members of your team that are there as a growth opportunity. In this case, you’ll need to guide them and teach them a bit more than your experienced team members in the fundamentals of their role. While this can be intimidating as a leader based on the time aspect alone, I have found some of my greatest team members through growth opportunities. Most importantly leverage your network and your larger team to help. If you connect your team member with your previous advisors, they can enhance this training.
Now that you’ve got your team together and you’ve started them on the path to learning, it’s time to set your goals as a team. Teams will fall apart if they don’t know what they’re working towards achieving. You’ll have your team members running in different directions and completing actions that oppose each other without this direction. Imagine a soccer team that doesn’t know which goal is theirs and players are stealing the ball from each other. Well defined goals help to avoid this and keep your team moving in the same direction. A good way to check that your goals function to guide your team is to check if they are SMART (Specific. Measurable. Achievable. Relevant. Timebound). In a future post, we’ll dig into more of what this means.
For you and your team. This means keeping deadlines, completing your actions, and communicating obstacles that may impact either. This does not mean yelling and screaming over every missed deadline or every mistake. When mistakes happen, because they will, identify the root cause. This is not a blame game but do look for how to correct and address the situation. It is important for the person to understand and be involved in the process of correcting it, but it is more important to move forward. Dwelling or pointing fingers doesn’t erase what happened, it just makes your team scared and this fear can stop the team’s progress all together.
You’ve got your team, you’ve set the direction, you’re all accountable, and now comes the most important and hardest part. Empower them. You are not an expert in every field, that’s why you’ve surrounded yourself with those who are. You cannot possibly understand every detail or make every decision. This is why you have your people. So, let go. Give them the power to make decisions and take action within their area of responsibility. Support their decisions and actions to show your trust in them. Will every decision they make be perfect? No, but this is why you hold each other accountable.
This is where the strength of your team to get things done, to impact and inspire begins to take shape. Unfortunately, this is also the time and place where many leaders begin to fall apart. They feel that it’s their responsibility as a leader to question every decision and approve every action. Avoid this at all costs as this causes productivity to grind to a halt, the trust begins to crumble, and resentment creeps in. Remember the steps you took to get your team here and keep the focus – believe in them and in turn they’ll believe in you.
This is another area that needs lots of TLC – Team Leader Care. The trap that catches some is the desire to make every decision, translates into the belief that they need to answer every question. Again, remember that you are not the expert in everything, and it is impossible to be. The team you have built is your council of trusted advisors. Count on them. When you are presented with tough challenges or decisions that you are required to make bring them to your council. Ask for their thoughts, concerns, and advice. Ask questions to understand the implications, consequences, and the benefits of their advice. Collect all these pieces of and you’ll be able to make a well-rounded, intelligent decision. Don’t be afraid to turn an answer over to your teammate(s) if you don’t know. Answering a question incorrectly undermines your credibility way more than letting someone else answer and saying, “I don’t know but I will find out” IS a good answer!
Practice, practice, practice
These leadership behaviors do not always come naturally, so if you find your team falling apart, come back to this post and hit reset. Pick a step you can focus on and keep practicing these skills. In time you’ll find that every team you create is a team that reaches HIGHER. Don’t be discouraged by your own mistakes. Treat yourself the same way as your team, find the cause fix it and keep moving forward. Both you and your team are learning and growing every step of the way.