The number one question that I get from leaders around the country is, “What is the secret to building an effective team?” Ironically, there really is no secret. Building a team is easy, in theory right? However, in practice, it can be much more challenging. This is why many leaders struggle with building effective teams. I’ve taught techniques for building effective teams in various leadership programs, and it always gets an amazing response. That’s why I want to share with you the 10 secrets of building effective teams.
#1 — Have a mission and vision statement.
One of the ways to build effective teams is to have a mission and vision statement. Many companies have them, but the mission and vision statements are sitting in a drawer and not leading to any impact on how they conduct their business. I was working with a company and asked the team of executives if they had a mission and vision statement. Of course, two of the executives gave me two different answers – one said that they did, while another thought that they didn’t.
If the executive team of an organization can’t decide whether a mission and vision statement exists, then it probably doesn’t.
Why do I believe that they’re so important? As once said by Theodore Heshburgh “ The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” If you’re building a team, one of the key elements of team morale is to have a common belief and culture. Having a mission and vision statement will help to build a common belief system and a culture to support that belief.
If the company has a national mission and vision statement, it is then up to you as the leader to help the group translate the mission and vision to a divisional, local, and team level. Let’s face it—a National version only goes so far. Team members need to know how it translates to them at their level. The act of creating a divisional, local and team statement will be a bonding experience, and you will get better buy in form the team.
#2 — Hire well.
When you’re building an effective team, you have to hire people who are highly competent and, as important or perhaps more importantly, are a fit with the current culture of the team. I see far too many people in leadership roles who hire someone because a job needs to be filled or because they are in a jam are desperate. This doesn’t make a team. Ideally, you want to hire people who are smarter than you. When they are hired, the team will be impressed by their capabilities and intelligence.
It may seem obvious, but the impact on the team is significant. It causes the team members to look at the new employee and say, “Wow, we really have a smart team,” and they will be proud to be a part of that team. Additionally, you may want to consider making team members an integral part of the hiring process. This means that during a certain phase in the interviewing process, team members would interview the candidate, in addition to you. They would then give you their feedback and impressions of the applicant. This will build a much better sense of team, no matter what. If they give positive feedback on an individual that is hired, they’ll be pleased. If they interview a candidate that they don’t like, at least they will have been part of the process.
Lastly, when a new employee starts they will not be a complete stranger to the team, because they will have already had some conversation. When you hire well, it benefits the existing team in two ways: first, they’ll have colleagues that pull their weight (which they deserve), and second, the visibility of the team will be enhanced in a positive way.
#3 — Have a proper orientation.
I see many companies, of all sizes, who don’t give a new employee appropriate or proper orientation to get them started. Why? Some companies tell me that they don’t have “an orientation class”. I find that humorous, because orientation should not necessarily be limited to a classroom. To me, orientation is a 6 to 8 week process which allows an employee to learn their job responsibilities, how their job relates to other roles within the team, and the company’s organization history and culture.
Here is a sure-fire guaranteed way to have an effective orientation program. All your organization needs to do is to create a plan which lays out what the new employee will be doing for the first 6 to 8 weeks. When they arrive on day one, they will be given the aforementioned plan by their manager. This not only makes the new employee feel like they are valued as a new team member, it also dramatically increases the possibility of being successful in their new role. An additional way to build a strong team is to give each team member a role in helping the new employee ramp up. So during that 8 to 6 week period the new hire might end up working with each team member to learn new skills and information.
As a side note, I don’t that believe the orientation actually starts (nor should it start) on the first day of employment. I believe the orientation actually begins in the last few interviews before the candidate is hired. This is where the expectations of the team can be laid out in detail with the new potential employee so that they already know what to expect before they start.
#4 — Have regular and consistent team meetings.
I was working with the manager of an organization who was concerned because he didn’t feel like the team was a cohesive unit. He requested that I conduct a one day training program. When I asked him what his objective was for the training, he told me that it was “for them at the end of the day to feel like a team.” I explained that by the end of that day they wouldn’t yet feel like a team, but they would start the process (which could take 12 to 18 months) of building a team bond.
Upon further investigation, through various interviews, I was able to determine that there were a couple of problems with this team. First of all, they each had separate mission and vision statements, none of which coincided with the national one. Secondly, they were so spread apart geographically that they hardly ever met face-to-face. In fact, they’d met twice a year, for a day or two at a time. A team cannot feel like a team unless they meet face-to-face on a regular and consistent basis. Geography is not an excuse – it can be overcome in creative ways. Teams must meet regularly.
When you have team meetings, there are several ways of ensuring that the meetings are effective. Make sure that there is always an agenda for the meeting and send the agenda in advance to the team members to see if there’s anything they like to add to it. If they have a say in shaping the content of the meeting, they’re much more likely to buy into the meeting itself. Secondly, as a leader it’s a good idea to rotate the responsibility of facilitating the meeting from team member to team member. This gives each team member the responsibility and involvement of leading the meeting at various times.
Additionally, you must encourage and foster open and honest communication amongst all team members at all times. What does this mean? It means that if there are issues between team members, you have to work out now. You also have to insist that people be honest with one another. I have attended meetings where there were obvious issues that were being ignored, danced around, and denied, but the reality is that they need to be addressed during the meeting and resolved. Lastly, don’t make meetings boring and long. If you have meetings on a regular and consistent basis, they don’t need to be that long. I would say that 75 to 90 minutes is the best length of time for effective meetings.
#5 — Have regular social team meetings.
No, I’m not talking about a few people having beer on a Friday night in a casual manner. I’m talking about specifically defined social team meetings—such as attending a baseball game, soccer game, or some other public event as a team, sponsored by the company. I recently did training for a client in Madison, Wisconsin, and one evening the leader planned a nice dinner cruise. Obviously, the point of the cruise was not to conduct business in a formal sense, but to provide an environment where people got to know each other on a social level, as opposed to a business one. When this happens, people start to feel like they’re part of the team.
Here are a few recommendations for having effective team social meetings. Make sure that everyone is invited and included. It’s a horrible idea to do some type of activity which would exclude someone on the team. Let’s say, for example, you decide to have a golf outing for your team. However, you know that 4 out of the 10 staff members are not golfers. Not a good idea. Make sure that the activities or social events that you plan enable everyone to participate. This may go without saying, but make sure that the team activity is clean family fun that would not offend anyone on the team. I once accompanied a leader for a team social event when the entire group went to see a play. It seemed like a good idea. However, it ended up being a near disaster—the play was full of profanity and partial nudity. The key lesson here is if you’re going to take the team to see anything, make sure to check it out in advance yourself first. When planning a team social event there’s no room for surprises. Additionally, once a year you may want to consider having some type of event for the employees so they can invite their families or significant others (such as a picnic or a visit to a local amusement park) so that team members can get to know not only their team members, but their families as well.
So those are the 5 suggestions for building an effective team. I know they seem incredibly simple, and they are. But leaders across the country tell me that they know them, and that they understand them but they’re not committing the time and energy to getting it accomplished. Therefore, the teams are not as effective as they should be, period. Keep in mind that I’m not advising you to do any of these things to be nice or to be good. Those are endearing qualities, however, the real reason you should do all these things is to build an effective team. It is your role as a leader to create a team that gets results. The results are not delivered by you; they are delivered by the team that you surround yourself with. In translation, you’re only as good as your team.
Next week, I will give you the last 5 elements of building an effective team which, when combined with the first 5, will give you 10 specific techniques that will make your team unstoppable.
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