Ask a group of sports fans to name the best team ever and you can quickly spark a debate. Was it the 1992 U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team that included Magic Johnson and was dubbed “The Dream Team?” Or was it the University of Washington men’s crew team that overcame many obstacles to win gold at the 1936 Olympics as chronicled in the book “The Boys in the Boat”? Or perhaps it was the U.S. women’s soccer team that won the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, considered the gold standard of women’s soccer?
Whether it’s in a sport, a community group or the workplace, a high-performing team is exciting to be a part of, is inspiring to watch and a huge asset to an organization. Effective teams translate to higher levels of employee engagement, higher rates of employee retention and ultimately, higher profits. Most organizations don’t need to be sold on the well documented fact that great teams make successful companies. This is never truer than in the green industry where project work depends on smoothly-running teams.
Building an effective team is both an art and a science. It doesn’t happen by magic. It demands a delicate balance of paying attention to those workers that aren’t clamoring for it and managing those that clamor too much. It requires skilled leaders who understand their leadership style, where they’re most effective in impacting others and in what areas they need to improve.
Your own personal leadership style is the foundation of a high-performing team.
If you can’t articulate what your leadership style is, do an honest assessment of yourself, and then ask your team members and peers for feedback.
Once you know who you are as a leader, you can incorporate a few core practices that will help you build your own dream team. Below are five to get you on your way.
1. Clarify roles. Teams that function best are built on a clear outliine of each member’s roles and responsibilities. When all the members understand what they’re accountable for and should deliver, a team can work most effectively. Inefficiencies arise when job scopes are not clearly defined and overlaps occur. This not only leads to duplicate work and clumsy processes but friction between team members.
Without clearly defined roles, employees tend to overreach and/or underdeliver. When team members are constantly bumping into each other or dropping the ball because expectations are not clear, there is never a sense of being part of a cohesive, high-performing team despite everyone’s best efforts.
Once the roles and responsibilities of each team member are defined, individuals with expertise that complements or fills in any skill gaps the team may have can be hired. When hiring managers know what they need to look for they make better decisions. They can resist the temptation to sign up the next warm body and hold out for someone with the right mix of experience and work style that fits the company culture.
2. Get to know each other. A team is a mosaic of individuals with varying strengths, weaknesses, career goals and work styles. It’s critical that leaders understand each member and what motivates them.
In the past, getting to know one’s employees was limited to their work personas. That notion has been dispelled recently, and employees are increasingly being encouraged to “bring their whole person” to work. This makes sense, because it’s unrealistic and impractical to think that who we are outside of work doesn’t impact who we are in the office.
Get to know your team members both as contributors and individuals. You don’t need to become their best friends to gain an understanding of them as people and not just as workers.
Encourage team members to get to know each other as well. As bonds are built between them, it fosters communication, creativity and employee engagement. According to a recent Gallup Poll, respondents who reported having a best friend in the workplace were seven times more likely to be engaged in their jobs.
A great team is like a jigsaw puzzle where each piece fits together precisely. With clearly stated roles and an understanding of the various strengths of the people on your team, it’s much easier to make the pieces mesh to create a beautiful picture.
3. Set goals and ground rules. These are critical to creating high-performance teams. By creating a goal, you’re organizing your team around a singular focus. This builds trust, collaboration and teamwork. Working together to accomplish significant goals stretches team members to learn new skills and promotes cross-training. Team members back each other up and learn to value other each other’s work.
Make the goals significant and impactful beyond simply planning the next company picnic. Allow team members to have input into how things should be accomplished, but make sure to revisit things regularly to monitor progress.
Effective teams always operate within a set of ground rules. Many companies have articulated values stating how employees should treat one another. Trust, honesty, accountability and collaboration are some obvious examples, but needn’t stop there. Many firms have created organizationally specific yet fun ground rules such as Google’s well-known code-of-conduct statement “Don’t be evil,” which in 2015 morphed into “Do the right thing.” Whatever the values are, they need to be embodied and internalized by your team members.
4. Communicate freely. Good communication is the lifeblood of a team. A team that withholds information and suppresses collaboration will never be viewed as high performing.
Communication must be open and free flowing. This requires trust as both good news and bad news must be shared in the interest of wise decision making. Mistakes should be learned from rather than punished and the focus placed on the future. Playing the blame game, focusing on whose fault something was will cause people to hold back and cover up.
Feedback is a key component of communication. Great teams operate well in a high-feedback environment where input is both given and received. Continuous feedback drives continuous improvement. It includes both praise for what is working as well as ideas and suggestions to fix what is not. Feedback doesn’t need to be complicated; it’s essentially a two-way communication. But it should be continual, not a one-and-done conversation that takes place once a year.
5. Celebrate success. Lastly, a good team leader knows the value of celebrating successes. Following a win, some leaders can be too quick to move on to the next item on the to-do list.
It’s important to stop and acknowledge wins, both big and small. This can take many forms, from awarding cash and perks to more informal recognition such as team lunches, public praise or small tokens like gift cards, flowers or treats.
In a recent study by Achievers, an employee engagement company, 36% of employees felt so strongly about lack of recognition that it was “the number one reason they’re considering switching jobs.” Create a culture of recognition for your team, regardless of what your company offers (or doesn’t) in the way of recognition programs. This will not only help you build your team but ensure that you hang on to your best employees.
These points may seem basic because they are. Creating high-performing teams isn’t complicated; it’s more about the regular care and feeding of a small garden than the implementation of a grand landscape design for the Taj Mahal. These practices, when applied correctly and consistently, will yield great benefits to all company stakeholders. As the saying goes, “Teamwork makes the dream work!”
Kate Kjeell is president of TalentWell, a recruiting firm that specializes in helping small and midsized businesses thrive by finding and hiring the right people. The firm’s approach can be described in three words: find, fit, flourish. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.