Picture this: eight to ten executives huddled around the base of a table, arms extended, half-smirks line their faces as they try to stay focused on the task at hand: catching their colleague as she falls blindfolded from the table-top into their arms. The message: if one of us falls blindly, or fails to deliver, the rest of us are here to break your fall. Great message, but is it applied practically?
Trust in teams isn’t built in one broad stroke. It’s built up over time, and requires the right amount of dedicated collective attention. A big missed opportunity I see with many leaders is investing real time to develop the team – especially the team at the top.
There is a difference between team-building and the concept of building team:
- Team-building: an event designed to get people moving, in a novel environment, where parallels can be drawn (sometimes easily, and sometimes with effort) to life back at the office.
- Building Team: A dedicated effort to build alignment, trust, accountability and relationships required for high performance and success – all in the context of the organization’s strategy. Essentially, it’s ensuring the right people are on the bus… in the right seats… driving in one, clear direction.
There are benefits to both, but when we reflect on the concept of deliberate practice, it’s the constant focus and effort put towards building teams that generates high performance. Geoff Colvin says: “Turning groups of individuals into great teams is a discipline in itself… that’s why the best organizations follow one additional rule: Develop teams, not just individuals.”
So as leaders, what can you do?
- Be clear on your expectations of the team. Don’t focus only on individual coaching and performance;
- Address team dynamics with the whole team, not just with individuals;
- Use every opportunity to build trust – when processes or systems fail, talk with the whole team about what happened and use the opportunity for learning rather than punishment;
- Engage in high impact conversations as a team – ensure collective accountability for results AND interpersonal impact.
Essentially it comes down to building your collective leadership bench strength – where together you can accomplish more than any one could do individually. That’s the sweet spot of high performance teams… and it takes work.
I’d love to hear from you: what’s the best team you’ve ever been a part of? What made it great?