It has been almost fifteen years that I have been living, working, and dwelling in the realm of leadership development. At first, it is easy for every leader to accredit themselves for their personal and organizational victories. The reason I mention this is because I’ve been there. It’s a quiet and simple temptation that each leader will eventually face. Slowly but surely if we don’t watch for it, we will be swept away quickly in the lie of personal success. The fact is every leader’s personal and professional triumph comes from their team of leaders.
Seven years ago I had the privilege of leading a team of great men and women in the state of New Jersey. My overall job description entailed planning events, mentoring young men and women, and motivational speaking. The demands of my job as a leader were rapidly increasing and I realized that I couldn’t do it alone. So like every great leader I chose to recruit other men and women to become a part of my team. I achieved great success in building my dream team, but where I failed was in two specific areas: Declaring continuous appreciation and praise for their hard work and a lack of true accountability.
In the midst of leading my team, I had missed the mark. Once I discovered my personal mishap I returned to a personal mentor of mine. I described the situation to him and where I had gone wrong. He gently reminded me about the power of influence that every leader is given. That gift of influence has been given to leaders for the purpose of passing the baton to those we lead daily. That day I learned that I owed it to my team of leaders that I recruited, to train them well, and then hand them off to others so they could effectively win. Therefore, in this article we will continue in our series about Leadership and I will walk us through on How to Form Your Team of Leaders in 5 Strategic Steps by explaining:
- What a Team Is
- 5 Strategic Steps to Building Your Team
- Practical Tips to Apply for Each Step
What is a Team
In today’s world, there are many different definitions and types of teams. We have sports teams, corporation teams, and even teams for specific hobbies. We could spend time exhausting a list of the variety of teams, but it comes down to defining what makes an overall general team. The best place to start is by outlining the difference between what makes a team verses a group of people or employees. Just because a small or medium size group of men and women gather in a conference room for a meeting or around the water cooler in the break room, does not make them a team. A team will always have cooperation to achieve a specified vision, a common goal, and concentrated communication.
Sometimes as leaders we can settle on the myth that we’re the reason for the organization’s success. The truth is teams are what makes an organization successful. Unfortunately, there is generally a re-occurring issue among leaders. Most leaders do not equip their employees to work as a team or become strategic in their leadership. In my situation having a team was great, but I lacked the understanding, vision, and purpose of a team. What I failed to see was that developing a team full of strategic leaders will take your organization to the top. For a period of time, I fell into a pit of seeing them as my servants, which was wrong.
Whether you’re a CEO, CFO, manager or supervisor, every leader can be equipped into a team. When speaking to any serviceman or woman of any branch of the United States Armed Forces about “team” they will tell you there is no “secret sauce” when it comes to being a great team of leaders. To become a great team means we must create a lifestyle of dedication, hard work, and drive among those we lead. It’s about striving to do the most basic tasks and skills extraordinary well. This is what it means to be a team.
Five Strategic Steps
1. Trust and Taking Care of Each Other.
Whether you work in a restaurant, a corporation, at a country club or in a plant with an assembly line, being part of a team means taking care of one another. Everyone on the team plays an important role. The first place to begin when taking care of each other is “trust.” Each team must have trust for one another, otherwise there is no possibility for relationship. When there is a shortage of relationships, the team ceases to exist. Imagine what would happen if we choose to view trust as the cohesive that keeps the relationships of the team together.
In previous years of my life, I trained to be a professional chef. One of my duties during my career as a chef entailed overseeing and leading a small team of chefs and cooks. Each of us had a great relationship and as we fostered that relationship, each of us had a desire to watch out for one other. The same applies for any team in any organization. As a leader, you want to foster an atmosphere where your team can live and function as a tight-knit family within the overall structure.
Practical Step #1:
Start by taking the team beyond the walls of the working environment. Schedule in time on the calendar for your team to travel together for fun and recreation. Even if you’re not in a position of leading them, this can still be accomplished. There is nothing wrong with attending sporting events or playing a few games of golf together, but don’t stop there. Do activities together that will produce trust for each other.
Why is trust so important? It enables each one to look past themselves and take care of each other first. Take your team on a two-day camping trip. This forces them to depend on each other and if one member of the team suffers, then the entire team feels the pain. Trust is the foundation of any relationship. It cannot be bought by titles, authority, or seniority. We earn it through trial and error as a team and working together.
2. Know the One Thing.
A fantastic book that I have read through three times is called “The One Thing” by Gary Keller. In this wonderful book, Keller walks the reader through simple but effective steps to narrow your day down to “one thing.” Each step takes you through the power of slowly eliminating the distractions of emails, texts, phone calls or meetings. The whole strategy of the elimination process is so that you or your team can focus on “one thing” at a time, which will result in success. Imagine for a moment what it would be like if the team you lead or are a part of knew exactly what that “one thing” is.
Every team has “one thing.” If a team member does not know what the “one thing” of the team is, not only will that team member miss the mark in giving to the team, but it will also prevent the entire team from continuing forward. The job of every leader is to continuously identify and communicate with consistency what the “one thing” is to the entire team. Generally we consider the organization’s vision to be the “one thing,” but that doesn’t always have to be the case. Whatever the leader of the team designates as the “one thing” can be it. What is critical is that each leader establishes what the “one thing” is to the team, so the team can be their best.
Practical Step #2:
Following “one thing” can be hard for any team or leader. It takes endurance, perseverance and self-control to stay the course. The culture around us tries to get us to buy into the myth of multi-tasking. Multi-tasking is a impossible. If we choose to focus on one particular task then the other task with suffer a great deal. If you want to grow your team in this area or yourself as a leader then here is a practical challenge you can try. Present the following question to your team or yourself: “What’s the one thing we can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” Why ask your team this question? Because it will lead you and your team to answer “big picture” questions. For example: “Where are we going as an organization? What target should we aim for in this project?” This practical step enables you and your team to control your minds, stayed focused, and refuse to give up.
3. Consistent Communication.
When it comes to leadership so much has been written on the topic of leaders communicating with their followers. I’ve learned throughout the years that yes that is true, but I have encountered a much more valuable lesson. The communication between the team members is just as important, if not more critical than the leader communicating to the entire team. I played soccer all throughout high school. Being a part of that team we learned the power of communication. When a player had the ball it was the rest of the team’s responsibility to be that player’s eyes and ears through communication. We had to help that player get to the goal by what we declared on the field.
The same applies for any team working together in a non-sporting atmosphere. Without communication, the entire team will suffer. If you want to create an amazing team, then establishing an atmosphere that fosters clear facts, strategy, and direction among the team members themselves has to be done on a daily basis. Another reason for focusing on team members interacting is that it empowers them to be productive. When your team is productive, your organization will flourish.
Practical Step #3:
The last thing a leader or team needs to do is hold another meeting. Before I set boundaries in my personal life, my day usually consisted of a minimum of three meetings. If you are going to hold one specific meeting in a place of high importance then I suggest creating the following with high priority. Create an Action Review Meeting. This meeting is a different type of animal that most people are not used to. The purpose of this meeting is designed to help fix mistakes, ask questions, and make sure everyone is doing their job correctly. I personally am a big fan of these meetings, even though they can become emotional, frustrating, and even boring. Regardless they are a high priority, but why?
First an Action Review Meeting eliminates “hallway” meetings. It keeps team members from gathering in the hallway, making room to create assumptions and gossip. Second, in these meetings everyone attends and leaves their egos at the door and brings honest criticism in with them. Even the leader of the team comes prepared to allow frustrations to be aired and worked out because everyone has the “good” of everyone else in mind. This is everyone’s opportunity in a controlled environment to think outside the box and communicate.
4. Always Eat Last.
Even in a world where common courtesy is a daily life style, serving others before ourselves is not always the case. Opening doors for people, saying “please” and “thank you” or picking up something that another individual has dropped seems to be be expected. What about serving your entire team above yourself? An amazing way to impact your team as a leader is to give them your best before yourself. We know that leader’s have a responsibility to lead the way for their teams, but showing them how serve each other above themselves is a huge part of leading.
Over ten years ago when I worked as an executive chef I had a wonderful team of chefs who worked for me. One way I served them was that every Friday and Saturday I would cook all them dinner before our dinner service started for the evening. Did I really need to do that or did I owe it to them? No, I didn’t, but I chose to give them my best over my own. It solidified us as a team, we grew together, and they knew I cared for them. Great leaders will believe and value to the success of the entire team above themselves.
Practical Step #4:
Who ever thought that personal sacrifice would become an encouraging act that is rewarding among one another? Here are some simple but powerful tips that you can apply with your team that can create a lasting impact. First, consider hand writing personal “Thank You” cards to each of your team members and mail it to their house. I do this once a month with all of my team and they are so grateful. A hand written card or letter shows you’re willing to go the extra mile for them. Second, either host a party or take them to lunch once a quarter and cover the bill. No one ever said creating and leading a dynamic team would be inexpensive. I apply this in my personal life with my team and we always have a magnificent time. As individuals, we can win medals, but as a team we can win organizations.
5. Create Accountability.
Recently I was discussing with a fellow coworker about work hours and time spent in the office verses working outside the office. Wrapped within the midst of our discussion arose the word “accountability.” We wrestled back and forth with the idea of how to we keep accountability when some employees feel they can effectively work from home and only make an appearance in the office once or twice a week? Whether you’re part of a team, lead a team, work in an office, on a plant floor, or work from home accountability still applies. If you want to be successful, then have someone hold you accountable, but create an atmosphere of accountability among your team as well.
There are several benefits to having and leading with accountability. First it creates honest communication that each one of us has to listen to. We all need someone in our professional life who is going to be honest. Second, it provides a solid person who is willing to call us out when we need it. Third, it generates a working trust among the team, solid communication, and then provides you with the ability to pull your teammates aside and give them your honest opinion. Regardless accountability is there to protect us, the team, the organization, encourage us, give advice, and call us out even when we’re wrong.
Practical Step #5:
Creating accountability with your team can be tricky without seeming like you are micromanaging them. One avenue of doing this is to create a weekly report for each team member. A weekly report that includes specific questions such as “On a scale of 1-10 how effective do you feel you have been this week? Are you creating healthy relationships with other team members or is there an issue I need to be aware of? Have you had time for your family this week? What are you currently working on? What projects have you completed this week?” Have them hand it in on a specific day of the week to create consistent accountability.
These are just a few examples that can be modified to your needs. A second avenue to consider creating a monthly meeting with each team member to evaluate how they are doing personally and professionally. These types of meeting can either take place in the professional environment or out in a more relaxed atmosphere such as a local coffee shop or restaurant.
Forming a team of great leaders can be a challenge, but it can be done. Every one of us strives to have the best team that we can lead. The only way our teams will thrive is if we as leaders are willing to create teams and lead by example.
Our success as leaders just doesn’t depend on us individually, because it comes down to how well our teams function as whole. As I stated earlier, the success of the organization doesn’t always rest on the leader, but on the team that we are leading. I encourage you to follow these five strategic steps when it comes to building your team and your results will be long lasting.
For more thought and ideas on this subject I recommend the following 2 Books.
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team-Patrick Lencioni One of the first books I ever read on the topic of leadership was this book. I have sat in numerous conferences that Patrick has spoken at. His wisdom and insight when it comes to how teams are dysfunctional is superb. In a simple and fascinating way he walks you through stories and then takes you through applicable steps to apply proven advice. This is a must read for any leader. You can purchase this book on Amazon.com for $16.31.
The 17 Essential Qualities of a Team Player-John C. Maxwell John C. Maxwell is a leadership expert and knows this arena. The reason I recommend this book is Maxwell gives his reader the practical side as well as the overall picture. Any leader who has a team or is building a team should put this on their reading list. Whether you lead from a sports arena, from your house, or in an office this book defines the critical points of an effective team member. You can purchase this book on Amazon.com for the price of $14.34.
Leaders Eat Last. Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t. Great Read.