Too many team leaders gamble on the performance of their team without having put in place solid team fundamentals. During my research, I uncovered many reasons for team leaders taking shortcuts in building their teams — from too little time due to competing priorities and their company’s obsession with quarterly results, to believing that they can drive the team to perform through a mix of inspiration and coercion. While some teams that are lacking in fundamentals deliver results in the short term, as the pressure mounts for ever greater performance, cracks in their foundation quickly grow into a performance crevasse.
Good team leaders understand that there are no shortcuts to a solid team foundation. Delivering consistent, superior team performance begins with having the discipline to put in place and sustain the three key foundational elements of a highly-effective team: purpose, people, and support.
Team purpose plays a vital role in people feeling energized and engaged about coming to work. The clarity in team purpose ensures alignment with both broader organizational goals as well as individual purpose and goals. A compelling team purpose is also essential to ensuring that you can attract the best talent and keep them engaged. The essential ingredients in the recipe for developing a compelling team purpose include team-specific goals that are aligned with the broader organizational goals, shared goals across key relationships within the team and across other teams, and an understanding of the competencies the team members must have to be successful.
The second foundational element is people. Building engaged, highly-effective teams requires balancing between the needs of the individuals, and what is needed for them to cooperate and collaborate as a team. Achieving that balance starts with a focus on nurturing healthy team norms. Norms are the behavioral standards and unwritten rules of your team. Some of the most important are norms such as conversation equality and psychological safety. In psychologically safe teams people feel accepted and respected. For example, they feel comfortable being themselves and do not fear that their ideas or contributions will be diminished or ignored by teammates. Next is a clear compelling job design for each member of the team. A clear job design describes the purpose of the role in the context of both the team and the greater purpose of the overall team and organization, as well as the competencies, need to be successful in the role. Last, determine the optimal team size to accomplish the team’s goals. Team size should also consider team members’ experience and skills, ensuring that the right mix is present to ensure that the team is effective.
Purpose, people, and support. They seem obvious, yet too many team leaders gamble on their team’s performance without ensuring that they are all in place before sending a team off to accomplish their mission. It’s the equivalent of framing walls and putting a roof on a house that’s missing reinforcement in the foundation. As the load increases, so does the risk of problems and significant repair costs.
When it comes to team fundamentals, if you want consistent, superior performance, don’t gamble. Putting in place solid team fundamentals allows you to focus more attention on motivating your people and ensuring the development of strong, trusting relationships within your team.
Next week, we will look at how exceptional team leaders use their understanding of motivation at work to build upon their team’s fundamentals.