Want to build a high performance team – where the team consistently achieves its goals and where team members are proud to be members? It’s not that hard, but you won’t get far if you just try to “wing it.” These are 10 things every team leader needs to know.
1. Whether you really have a team. Just because you have direct reports doesn’t mean they’re a team. Teams are organized around real work, not the person they report to.
A team is a group of people who need each other in order to accomplish their work. Teams share a common purpose, are interdependent on each other to accomplish the work and are mutually accountable for results. For more information, read Are You a Team in Name Only?
2. Characteristics of a high performance team. If you want to create a high performance team, you need to know what one looks like. Understanding the characteristics of effective teams gives you a target to shoot for and better prepares you to support your team’s development. For information on characteristics of high performance teams, read The 6 Benchmarks of High Performance Teams.
3. Stages of team development. Teams move through predictable stages of development on their journey to high performance. How quickly and easily they progress depends on how well the needs of the team are being met during each stage. Teams don’t always move smoothly, and sometimes they can get stuck. Knowing your team’s stage helps you determine where to focus your leadership efforts. For more information, read Stages of Team Development and Leadership.
4. Your role as a team leader. Team leadership is about providing for the team what it can’t provide for itself. You need to change your leadership style to match the needs of the team during each stage. The biggest transition is from Stage 2 to Stage 3, where your team needs to shift from dependence on you as a leader to assuming shared responsibility for team functioning. For more information, read The Space Between Coaching and Delegating.
5. How to create a shared team vision and aligned goals. One of your most important jobs as a team leader is to ensure your team is guided by a shared vision and values and that their goals are aligned. You need to ensure they have a clear understanding and agreements about their work processes and accountability. This is especially important during the first stage of team development where you set the foundation, but it needs to be revisited during every stage.
For more information on how to create a shared vision read The Key to Visions That Work. For information on how to created shared values read How to Identify Team Values that Unify and Guide Your Team. For information on how to align goals, read How to Set the Right Goals. For information on how to clarify work processes and accountability, read Set Up Your Team for Success.
6. The 12 team member competencies. There are 12 team behaviors that directly affect the quality of your team’s results, their ability to make smart decisions and commitment to implement them. One of your roles as a team leader is to help your team develop these skills. These competencies are especially useful during Stage 2 of team development where, in order to address what’s under the table, team members need to develop problem-solving, conflict resolution and communication skills. For more information, read The 12 Team Behaviors That Drive Team Performance.
7. How to leverage the power of diversity. Successful team leaders celebrate differences and use diversity as a strategic advantage. It might feel comfortable if everyone on your team looks the same, acts the same and shares the same mindset. But don’t count on original thinking or the ability to respond to unpredicted challenges and opportunities.
The perspectives that others bring because of their gender, nationality, etc. make discussions richer, more robust, and more relevant. When the team knows how to leverage the power of diversity, together they find creative solutions and produce creative new ideas and approaches. If there is any question in your mind about this, watch Halla Tomasdottir‘s TedTalk on how her financial services firm used five traditionally “feminine values” to lead Iceland’s recover from their economic collapse in 2008.
To fully benefit from the power of diversity, team members must learn to appreciate and value diversity during Stage 2 of team development. For more information, read 12 Things Collaborative Leaders Do.
8. How to hold relevant and worthwhile meetings. According to a recent study, most managers spend about 35% to 50% of their time in meetings. And most team members report meetings are “the biggest distraction and waste of time presented by the workplace.”
There is really only one reason to have a meeting – to create and tap into the collective wisdom of the group. The team leader needs to know when to hold a meeting and when to use other vehicles for communication. For information on how to build a worthwhile agenda and when and how to involve your team, read The Art of Hosting Meaningful Meetings.
9. How to delegate effectively. The key to team cohesion and high performance lies in the team’s ability to talk among themselves about their team functioning and assume responsibility for their development and performance. This important shift from leader dependence signals the entrance to Stage 3 of team development. And unless the team leader understands how to delegate effectively, that shift cannot occur.
Delegating is often one of the hardest things for a team leader to do. You give away your authority to make decisions but are still responsible for the outcome if something goes wrong. For guidelines on determining what to delegate and steps to delegate effectively, read How to Delegate Effectively and Minimize the Risk.
10. How to ask good questions and listen. Successful leaders are intensely curious. In fact, your questions are more important than your answers, especially during the later stages of team development as the team moves toward peak performance. The team leader needs to know that giving directions interferes with the team’s autonomy. Remember, the role of a team leader is to do for the team only what it cannot do for itself.
Successful team leaders ask great questions… and they listen carefully – not just to people they already agree with but also to those who hold different perspectives. If someone annoys you because they frequently bring up negative views, consider that they might be voicing the views of others besides themselves – views that you need to take into account. For more information, read Successful Leaders Listen.
What a great checklist! I see where I need to focus my efforts. Thank you!
Thank you, John. As you consider where to focus your efforts, you might want to consider getting some feedback from your team also.
Great list, and thank you for providing the resources for more information!
So glad you found it helpful!
Comprehensive and well-written. I especially appreciate your definition of team. Our manager calls us a team, but we work in silos and don’t really need each other for much.
It’s common for managers to refer to their direct reports as their team, when in fact there is no common purpose. I see this at all levels of organizations from the senior leaders down. And there is a missed opportunity. Even if the group works in silos, they can assume shared responsibility for the success of the department (or organization, depending on level of the team leader) and hold conversations that are more strategic about the department (or enterprise) as a whole.
Wow! What a rich piece on teams, Jesse.
Thank you, Marye Gail. So glad to hear that.