How Skilled Leaders Build Great Teams

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By Patrick Psaila

The ability of early humans to work together to achieve otherwise unattainable goals may be one important cause for our exponential success as a species when compared to other mammals. As our brains grew bigger, we understood that the only way to compensate for our inferior size and strength was through teamwork. All human activity centred around hunting, foraging, child rearing, migrating and community development. The pursuit of shared goals showed that we had much to gain from collective collaboration.

Cooperating humans made it possible to achieve higher rates of survival, greater reproduction, and even colonization. Many evolutionary theorists believe that humans’ ability to cooperate, work together and form communities is what gave us the ultimate competitive advantage over other humanoids. This collaboration-based advantage was made further possible and accelerated with the development of language and allowed us to emerge as the dominant species on planet earth.

In today’s modern world, our entire lives are organised around social and organisational structures. Our workplaces are mostly organised around groups of interconnected and interdependent people working towards common objectives. Just like our ancestors, strong leaders realise that the success of their organisation depends on cohesive and high functioning teams that bring together multiple sources of knowledge, skills, expertise, and personalities to achieve otherwise unattainable outcomes. The following are some important practices that effective leaders adopt in building such teams.

Balancing the Relational, Strategic, and Operational Aspects of the Team
Strong leaders give equal importance to these three fundamental aspects of their teams and know that a deficit in one can stall the progress of the team. They invest energy on maintaining good relationships amongst team members, they make sure that the team has a clear direction and strategy as well as the necessary structures and processes to make it work efficiently. These three pillars form the foundation upon which all other team
decisions, actions and behaviour are built.

Aligning the Purpose, Values, Goals, and Strategy of the Team
Strong teams are purpose driven and effective leaders ensure that their teams never lose sight of the core purpose of their function. They also establish a sound set of shared values for the team that serve as guideposts for all actions and behaviours. They work constantly at aligning the team’s goals and strategy with the values and the core purpose of the team as well as of the organisation. This focused effort provides team members with clarity, purpose and direction and prevents a lot of frustration and demotivation.

Building a Sense of Trust, Care, Support, and Safety
Trust is the lifeblood of any relationship. It puts people’s mind at rest knowing that they do not have to constantly watch their back. The first step in building trust in the team is for leaders to be trustworthy and always treating their people with consistency, fairness, respect, and dignity. Leaders set the tone for their teams and the entire organisation. When leaders show that they genuinely care for their people, that they empathise with their realities and that they truly respect them, they set an example for the entire team. Good leaders know their people well and their people know what is expected of them. Respect and integrity become fundamental standards for the all the team. This means that there is zero tolerance to any acts of disrespect, humiliation, or abuse. Within such an environment,
people feel safe, thrive, and give their best.

Taking every Opportunity to Coach Team Members
Skilled leaders are highly aware of their important role in coaching their team members to encourage them to develop and play to their strengths. They recognise the different strengths of their team members and allocate their roles accordingly. They also give their people regular feedback about their technical competencies, behaviours and attitudes while holding them accountable to high standards of performance. By coaching their people, they also create the opportunity to identify talent for potential succession. They ask critical questions such as: What are my people’s strengths? Are they growing? Do they have untapped potential? How can they improve? Is their attitude an asset or a liability? Are they fully engaged with what they do, and how well are they doing it?

Regularly Consulting with their Teams
Good leaders are humble enough to accept the fact that they do not have all the answers and that genuine consultation with their people can result in great ideas and solutions to problems. They also know that when they listen to their people and solicit their input, people feel validated and empowered and that this is a significant source of motivation for them. They believe in their people and trust them with responsibility as well as the power and authority that goes with it.

Dealing with Conflict Early
Effective leaders have the courage to deal with conflict in their teams and address it before it escalates and starts to have a seriously negative impact on the relationships and dynamics of the team. They normalise disagreement as something healthy that can result in passionate debates and discussions that give rise to innovative approaches and solutions to issues and problems.

Investing in their own Personal and Professional Development
Finally, effective leaders never stop learning and growing. They ensure that they have mentors who can offer them support and guidance. They seek formal and informal learning opportunities and keep up to date with developments in the leadership role. They are also open to feedback from their team members and create a non-punitive culture where honest, respectful feedback is welcomed and regarded as an opportunity for self-awareness and growth.

When leaders build and maintain high functioning teams that are based on a shared leadership principle and that are for the most part self-sufficient, they achieve the ultimate level of effective leadership. It also helps them to put their minds at rest that operationally, the show can go on without them because they have invested in competent, confident people they can trust. It takes a lot of professional confidence and security to reach this level of leadership. However, great leaders know that as they grow their role becomes that of providing vision and direction, mentoring, and inspiring their teams and creating new opportunities for the future.

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