We’ve all heard the clichés such as, “There’s no ‘I’ in TEAM,” or “We’re all stronger than the sum of our parts.” Some leaders will throw around trite expressions, while others will simply throw a bunch of people in a room and tell them to get it done or heads will roll. Others may have a more deliberate approach such as selecting members of a team based on their personality profiles, skill sets or shoe sizes.
Regardless of the way the team was formed, its success relies on both the members and leaders creating the environment and tempo for success.
The core of teamwork is creating a cohesive group that works together to achieve a common goal. Whether the achievement is winning a football game, building an aircraft, or delivering a software product to a client, great teams are successful because they are all selflessly focused on the goal at hand.
Here are some of the areas that are adeptly executed by the best leaders:
1. Have Clear, Attainable Goals
Some goals are short-term while others are longer, but they are always clear and attainable. Few things frustrate and demoralize teams more than goals that are arbitrarily set which are unrealistic or completely ambiguous. Goals need to be crisp and focused. If a long-term goal seems unrealistic, focus on near-term goals which are within reach, then build toward the vision. Don’t be afraid to share the high-level plan with the team. Having a “big picture” perspective will help them understand where the near-term steps are leading.
2. Create a Collaborative Environment
Build a culture where team members can openly discuss issues, challenges, risks, or new ideas without fear of repercussion, guilt, shame, fear, or ridicule. Empower team members to share their insights and accept suggestions from others.
3. Empower the Team to Own its Destiny
One of the most challenging things for some leaders -- especially micromanagers -- is to let go and empower team members to determine and follow their own best path. In reality, those working on the front lines in the trenches of the current battle are far more knowledgeable of their own needs and how to be successful. Rather than dictating from afar, grant them freedom to achieve their goals – you may be surprised.
4. Eliminate Toxins and Distractions
Possibly one of the most difficult aspects of leadership is shielding teams from distractions such as politics, rumors, and organizational issues. Also equally important is collaborating with teams to identify and eliminate toxic behaviors such as passive-aggressiveness, backstabbing, manipulation, and blatant laziness.
However, no matter what a leader does to set a positive tone, members of the team can still be toxic to goals if they choose not to participate or undermine others through selfish acts.
Great members of a team -- including leaders -- always embody these qualities:
True teams will have people stepping up to help others within their team, knowing that short-term sacrifices will pay out in the long run. Most players will want the ball, but the best players will be altruistic in giving the ball to the person who can make the winning play in the specific situation.
The most frictionless teams understand each other’s perspectives, listen, and take input from their peers to heart.
3. Honesty & Respect
Healthy teams are always honest about the reality of what’s going well, what issues need to be addressed, and the reality of what needs to be accomplished to optimize and move forward. Most importantly, teammates are honest with each other and have earned each other’s trust and respect.
The best people are always refining their craft, honing their skills, looking for an edge. They’re never satisfied to be just the best, accepting that the next generation of great talent is developing all around as quickly, if not faster, than they are. Support these endeavors to let your team know you’re behind them.
If you’re looking for areas to improve your team’s performance, dig down through the layers. More often than not, one of these core areas will come to the surface. Focus on addressing the core issues -- sometimes it can be as simple as a conversation, while others may require changing the member of the team.
In any case, the success of any team is a partnership between teammates and leaders.