Leading Teams – What Does it Take?

Leading Teams – What Does it Take?


How do you build high performing teams? How do you build trust? How can you become a corporate athlete?

This is about what it takes to build teams and lead them in today’s business world. This isn’t about authority; it is about influence. This is about the Law of Solid Ground. And understanding that trust is something you have to earn as a leader. Knowing when to train, perform, celebrate and rest are some of the key traits of being a corporate athlete. Because building a team is a marathon, not a sprint. And The 4 stages of team performance are form, storm, norm and perform. It is important to know what stage you are in, and how to get to the next one.

Building trust is step one.  According to John C Maxwell’s book “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” trust is the foundation of leadership.  He talks about the Law of Solid Ground. To build trust a leader must exemplify the qualities of:  competence, connection and character.  People will forgive occasional mistakes based on ability, especially if they see that you are still growing as a leader.  However, you need to own up to it and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

How do you build trust in an organization?  How do you know you are on Solid Ground? Go through “The Trust Check List” and evaluate your ability to adhere to certain behaviours.  These behaviours, if followed consistently, can help to build trust.  Ask yourself these questions, do you:
1. Keep promises and honour commitments?
2. Acknowledge and apologize for your mistakes?
3. Remain loyal to the absent?
4. Share information, both positive and negative, with the people who need it?
5. Involve others in decisions that affect them?
6. Give credit where credit is due?
7. Communicate consistently, regardless of the situation or the person’s authority or influence?
8. Honour confidential and sensitive information?

Even with the foundation of trust teams go through 4 stages before they really get to performance:  form, storm, norm and perform.   You can’t skip a stage.  When you add a new team member that team has to go through it all again. So, what are the stages and how do you get through them?

Forming – this is the stage where you are just getting to know each other and everyone is polite and has not figured out how to challenge the leader or the team.  This level may feel very nice but it can get you into trouble as I learned when I was working in advertising.  The team was so new that we did not know how to challenge the advertising campaign that was being created.  It led us to make the worst advertising campaign I have ever been associated with…I wish we had known about the 4 stages of team performance then.

Storming – this can be the scariest stage. This occurs when people start to challenge the leadership, other team members, and begin to jockey for position. There is a lot of tension and it is best if someone helps the team to get through the storm.  Here you get the opportunity to create some “rules of engagement”.  People need to be able to challenge the work and the direction of the team.  This is really for the purpose of making it better.  Keep it out of the personal and focus on the work or task at hand.  If you are a team that can storm well, you will get to a high performing team that will exceed expectations.

Norming – now we are all starting to calm down, settle into our roles and forgive each other’s little idiosyncrasies.  At this stage you are able to focus on the work and not be distracted by the little things.  You understand each other better and have come to appreciate your differences and how this adds to the final product.

Performing – this occurs when the team has gelled and come together and knows each other so well that you can almost anticipate things they may say, or recognize that their insight will take an idea to the next level.  I had the opportunity to lead a team like this and we increased revenue for our company, for our clients, and won awards for our product.  I don’t think we realized at the time what we could accomplish.  It doesn’t happen often but when it does it is magic.

Now how do you make sure that your team doesn’t burn out.  What can we learn from athletes? We need to train, perform, celebrate and recover.  In the corporate world we do not always take the time to celebrate even if it isn’t a 100% win but to at least take a pause and reflect on what we did well and what we learned, so we can apply it to the next challenge. We do not rest. We do not recover.  You spend most of our time in the perform cycle 12 – 14 hours a day – this will burn you out. As a leader, give yourself and your team permission to rest and recover. I did, and it worked. We had off-sites outside, skiing or hiking, and no business was discussed, just fun – this is how we recovered as corporate athletes.

Building and leading high performing teams is not easy but it can be done.  Start with trust, as that is the foundation of leadership.  Make sure you are on Solid Ground by adhering to your Trust Check List. Evaluate which stage of performance your team is in and get them through it. Don’t forget to celebrate, and rest.  Remember this is a marathon, not a sprint.

Photo credit: Antony Blake on Fivehundredpx

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