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Building & Leading a Team Takes Intentional Planning and Action

By Julie Scagell

Throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work on some pretty remarkable teams—teams that seemed to naturally gel, where every single member knew what they had to contribute to reach a common goal and did so in a way that felt effortless. It was only when I found myself in a leadership position that I realized just how challenging it is to create cohesive, collaborative groups.

Of course, a leader or executive must do more than create successful teams; a leader must also inspire others to action. It seems like table stakes: If you’re in a leadership position in any industry, you should naturally inspire others to perform, innovate, collaborate and prosper. But as author and speaker Simon Sinek said, “There are leaders, and there are those who lead.” Only the latter inspires.

Those who lead don’t have to be the ones with the most senior job title. But they must be able to articulate with exact precision why others should follow them. They must be able to compel team members not to just do/create/ produce, but also to care about why they are doing/creating/producing

People who lead create space for others to absorb their message and decide for themselves if it’s one they believe in. If it is, those team members will throw themselves into the job at hand because they understand the why and feel a part of that mission. But to be successful, says Dena Lowery, chief operating officer of Opus Agency, an experiential event agency headquartered in Portland, Oregon, every person needs to know his or her role.

“Each team member needs to know their individual strengths and weaknesses and how those contribute to the overall success of a team. The most effective teams I’ve seen work in synchronicity—one unit moving in sync with our clients and themselves, always keeping the common goal in mind,” says Lowery. Before a team can do this, she says, all its members must all understand where they are going and how they are going to get there.

Choosing Your Team

As one might imagine, building a successful team starts during the recruitment process. Most hiring managers are so laser-focused on ensuring candidates have the requisite skill sets and experience a position requires that they fail to recognize a lot of those skills can be taught.

Hire with a “culture-fit first” mind-set, says Betsy Leatherman, global president of Full Circle Group, a global executive coaching and leadership organization with clients throughout the Northwest. “You can’t hire an individual who doesn’t fit into the culture you’re creating or who doesn’t share similar principles,” she says. “These teammates will never work out long-term. Even if they’re able to contribute individually, they will never share the collective philosophies of what you’re trying to accomplish as an organization. You either succeed or fail as a team, so spend time upfront ensuring you have the right team members to set you up for success.”

Inspiring Your Team

Once your team is on board, spend time learning about what motivates them. Bond them immediately with other team members and the internal resources available to help them feel connected. Plan activities and events that foster personal connections. It’s one thing to spend time with someone at work but investing in them outside the office setting is critical.

It seems like common sense, but not geting to know its employees is a mistake frequently made by organizations. “Often, companies don’t seem to know what people want, what strengths they bring to the table and how they are best motivated,” says Dana Shaw-Arimoto, founder and CEO of Phoenix5 and author of Stop Settling: Settle Smart. “This is what I call absenteeism management. Get to know your people. Let them get to know you.”

Loyalty is earned; it comes from years of working alongside each other and understanding the unique value every single person brings to the table.

For teammates to stay connected, those who lead are also adept at recognizing the type of learning, continuous education and recognition that is necessary for the teams’ overall success.

Lowery says the goal of her organization is to be intentional about everything they do. Whether it’s continuously communicating their values, mission and vision (and how they translate into customer success), providing a mentor for every employee to ensure they can navigate the company effectively, or sharing individual and team accomplishments company-wide—all is done to remind each team member of their worth to the organization. You don’t want to sound like a broken record, but sound like a broken record. Communication of any kind is better than none at all.

It’s also vital to see what’s happening in the larger organization and in the industry as a whole. This often gives its members the necessary perspective to be effective in their roles and ensures the team doesn’t get tunnel vision. Encourage them to attend industry events, share idea decks and work samples across business units, have them speak to other project teams to get an idea of what’s working and not working so they have the opportunity to view their own work from other vantage points.

Finally, successful teams trust each other. They may have diverse backgrounds and ideas about how to reach the end goal (which is a good thing, by the way), but they have confidence other team members are putting in the effort and have the best interests of their team at heart. Without this mutual cooperation and support, it is impossible to deliver results.

Retaining Your Team

In today’s market, retaining top talent is more critical than ever. It seems like a given to provide proven team members with growth opportunities to allow them to enhance their future career path. But equally important says Stuart Butler, principal and co-owner of Butler Seattle, a valet, transportation and tour company based in Woodinville, is to pay them what they’re worth.

“My business is going to grow if my team members are happy. Investing in them from the very beginning and acknowledging their value is crucial,” he notes.

Butler says in his business, there has to be a value in every single thing they do. “This helps create a less stressful environment, so our team members are able to concentrate on and exceed our clients’ expectations. In order to do this, you have to have happy employees who feel like their talent is being rewarded.”

Books to bring out the leader in you.

Leaders Eat Last // by Simon Sinek

Excerpt: “It is the company we keep, the people around us, who will determine where we invest our energy. The more we trust that the people to the left of us and the people to the right of us have our backs, the better equipped we are to face the constant threats from the outside together. Only when we feel we are in a Circle of Safety will we pull together as a unified team, better able to survive and thrive regardless of the conditions outside.”

Dare to Lead // by BrenÉ Brown

Excerpt: “If the culture in our school, organization, place of worship, or even family requires armor because of issues like racism, classism, sexism, or any manifestation of fear-based leadership, we can’t expect wholehearted engagement. Likewise, when our organization rewards armoring behaviors like blaming, shaming, cynicism, perfectionism, and emotional stoicism, we can’t expect innovative work. You can’t fully grow and contribute behind armor. It takes a massive amount of energy just to carry it around—sometimes it takes all of our energy.”

Brave Leadership// by Kimberly Davis

Excerpt: “Who you are as a leader has an impact. Like it or not, your behavior and actions (whether conscious or unconscious) have an effect on the people around you. Their decisions and the way they feel and perform are in direct correlation to how you show up in the world. Who is affected by your ability to lead? Your customers? Your direct reports? Your boss? Your colleagues? Your shareholders? Your students? Your patients? Your team? Your family? Your community? These are the people who rely on you to be and bring your best. Their life is influenced by your performance. Picture these people in your mind. This is your audience.”