Success, say the experts, depends as much on how as on who . Building a successful team goes far beyond simply hiring a list of highly qualified people.
The most effective teams share certain characteristics and modes of operation, including strong communication, a culture of support and collaboration, and clearly defined roles and objectives. Whether you’re leading a new team or trying to motivate your team to cross the finish line, here are nine essential steps to building and leading a great team.
1. Clearly communicate objectives and processes
Set goals at the team and individual levels and discuss them continuously. ‘There has to be communication and interaction between the leader and the team to make sure everyone is on board,’ says Jasmine Hu, Associate Professor of Management at the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University. ‘Everyone needs to understand what the goals are, how everyone’s goals fit into the overall goals, and what each team member can do to achieve the overall goals. ‘ This structure helps the team succeed.
2. … But be prepared to evolve
In a well-functioning team, objectives and processes are flexible as circumstances change, notes Hu. “They should change all the time,” she says. “It is important that everyone has the right and the place to make adjustments along the way”.
3. Stay connected
Building relationships builds trust and understanding. “You build a relationship with your team through daily interactions, tasks and socially,” says Hu. “You get to know them as a person, so you understand their needs.”
4. Let initiatives fail
People need to feel that they can express themselves, disagree and make mistakes. This is known as «psychological security», and Google’s research has revealed that this is the most important common feature among high-performing teams. This is vital for any team, but especially for creative teams that are developing something new.
To cultivate psychological security, leaders must examine their own attitude to failure and how they plan it, says Hu. Emphasize in verbal communication and actions that errors are not only tolerated, but are seen as a necessary step towards improvement.
5. Recognize your own mistakes
Part of the culture of psychological security is to have leadership that openly talks about their missteps. It is powerful to see leaders not only waste, but also recognize their failures, says Hu. “The team feels more comfortable with humanized leaders and feels courageous enough to speak out,” she says.
6. Know (and demonstrate) the value of the team’s work
The feeling that what you do every day has an impact – for the company or the world – is a powerful motivator. Researchers call this ‘prosocial motivation’ and it can be cultivated. Hu cites a Volvo program as an example. The company invited customers who had survived an accident through the design of their car to meet the engineers who had carried out the work. It was a fascinating interaction for engineers, who otherwise could not see the effect of their daily tasks on people’s lives.
7. Be reliable
Team members must be able to count on each other to succeed, so that the team can move faster and further. “The team has to help each other,” Hu says. Leadership can once again lead the way; Hu says team members will gradually learn and imitate the leader’s behaviour. Even having one or two reliable teammates will change the culture of a team over time, says Hu.
8. Celebrate Victories
Celebrate success within the team. Consider promoting the team’s accomplishments not as a brag but by helping them get the resources they need to continue to succeed.
9. Adapt to your team
The expectations of a leader, in particular, can trip a team, Hu’s research showed. If your team expects an authoritative type and you are a born collaborator, the team may not feel you are effective. You will need to change your behaviour to meet the needs of your team. A more humble leader may need to promote the work of his or her group. A more outgoing leader may need to focus on listening.