Any team is as great as their team leader. A team leader plays a vital role in not simply developing a team, to setting the team culture which is critical to the longevity and success of any team. While there is much talk on how to develop teams, there is not enough strategies on how to actually lead and inspire your team to action.
To create a team culture that engenders trust, respect and safety, here’s attitudes and attributes that are essential for a team leader to adopt to create the environment for a successful team.
Insist on consistent team meetings. I’ve seen teams relegate their gatherings to monthly. Ongoing, scheduled meetings with the team that are kept consistent are most important to the team health. Especially if the team is new or managing changes or transitions. Teams are not simply gathering to report out. There are many mechanisms for such activities. One of the main reasons to get together is to tackle difficult subjects, strategic elements and even tactical ones. Meeting regularly and addressing key areas are essential to a leadership team truly leading.
Differences make us great. It’s important for the team leader to see and own the fact that differences make the team stronger. Explore what that really means. “What are the strengths of our team members individually? How do our strengths complement one another? How do I as a leader bring those strengths to bear?” For example, if I’m the team leader, and I know that someone on my team is strong at talent development, and someone else is great at researching, how do I bring those talents more into the equation of how we work and operate, so as to leverage those people’s specific strengths?
Disagreements mean just that. People are different and see the world differently. A disagreement between team members doesn’t mean that something is wrong with the relationships. As the team leader, you need to consciously allow for disagreements and encourage healthy conflict. The team needs to be created as a community, a safe harbor. As a team leader, consider – “How do I create a safe space where people can debate, disagree, and heal together?” Disagreements and coming together bonds people. If a team goes through a rough patch together and merges on the other side, they have the potential to be stronger and more united.
Encourage mutual learning. Often teams, especially leadership teams, are made up of different disciplines (as an example, marketing, finance, and sales, or regional markets; and on a technical team, it’s even more detailed. Each person and sector has something that they can share with others, and each person would benefit personally and professionally if they learned and “borrowed from” the skills of their teammates. Think about how you can encourage mutual learning to make everyone on the team, and the team as a whole, smarter. Look at how you can engender more curiosity, and how you can promote an environment where people are consistently asking each other for as well as freely sharing information and knowledge.
Engender compassion. As a team leader, part of your role is to encourage the group to empathize with each other and to grow your collective emotional intelligence.
There was a team I was conducting an offsite for, and they have a couple of very strong personalities who struggle with being compassionate. If they feel someone is infringing on their territory, they have no tolerance for that. What we have to look at in such a situation is: How do we create more tolerance, patience, and empathy? How do we help the team be more curiously engaged, so as to engender more compassion?
Clarity is king. It’s your job to be clear and to make sure everyone’s roles, responsibilities, goals, and priorities are clear. If the team gets off track, it’s your responsibility to understand why. If the group complains, dig deep. Maybe there is misalignment on the commitment or purpose or roles, or there are poor feedback mechanisms set up. Maybe you need to reset. In one company I’m was with, the president said, “People keep bumping into each other … there’s something missing to where people’s roles aren’t clear. People are being territorial, and I want to flatten that.” His plan was to get everybody together, and have everyone take three to five minutes to present what they’re up to—their role, their goal, what they are responsible for, what they want to achieve vis-a-vis the bigger vision of the company and the bigger picture vision of the team. Once they did, the conversations they began to have changed because they had a bigger picture and appreciation of each other’s roles.
Chief Inspiration Officer. A great team leader is one who inspires the group to perform at their best. A terrific team leader is a Chief Inspiration Officer, and there are times when that means being a cheerleader, rallying everyone and inspiring them. Providing inspiration is not a one time event, it must be ongoing. Being Chief Inspiration Officer also involves encouraging people on your team to try new ideas—which includes giving them the freedom to fail, because unless they know they can fail, they won’t feel free to try.
Mind your language. Be plain, be clear, and avoid jargon that has little or no meaning. As the team leader, it’s critical that you mind the words you use, and also the words other people use. Be clear about what you are saying, and make sure other people explain what they mean as well. I have a client who uses a lot of financial speak with her team, and it has become alienating. Even a term such as “let’s give them a great solution” has little meaning if you have no idea what that solution is. Or if someone says, “let’s foster trust,” delve into what trust would look like, and what it would take to encourage that trust.
Focus on the bigger picture. This is key, especially when facing challenges or setbacks as a team. In such times, a leader needs to rally everyone and help the team fully focus on the primary goal, and figure out how to get there together.
When you lead a team, you’re modeling positive behavior and fostering a positive mindset for the people who report to you. Your attitudes and actions will be reflected in the people you lead. And if they have people who report to them, the hope and intent is that the leader’s positive attitude and the way they model attributes of trust, respect, and safety will trickle down.
Esther Weinberg is the Chief Leadership Development Officer and Founder of The Ready Zone. To dive deeper into the ideas and strategies offered in this article, complete our Needs Assessment and we’ll schedule time to connect. In the meantime, download our FREE eBook – “Better Leaders. Better People. Better Results. Six Eye-Opening Strategies to Thrive Through Change You Did Not Ask For”