April 13, 2021 6 min read
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Let’s talk about team building. It’s likely that throughout your career, you’ve done many activities to strengthen your team and thought about forming better organizations in your career. But it has never been more important to focus on what really works to create a good team than now, with remote work looking more like a long term reality.
To make sure teams are not just surviving but thriving, there are a few key strategies that have helped me drive meaningful professional conversations, bring people together and focus our organization for success.
Step 1: Observe
When I’m new to a team, I always begin by observing. How colleagues interact with each other as well as other groups, and how they collaborate and solve problems, are indications of how your team unites. As you work with any group of colleagues, I believe the most important thing is to approach them with empathy and understanding, acknowledging that you have a lot in common with the people you work with because at the end of the day, you have that human connection.
Observation has been particularly critical in my experience when joining a team. In a recent Redpoint Office Hours’ Tomasz Tunguz podcast episode, I talked about when I became the General Manager of AppDynamics several months ago, I joined an amazing team. For many leaders who come into a new role, it is tempting to reset and rebuild. However, what those leaders are ignoring is the dedication, expertise and experience of existing team members. When you have great people already in existing roles, your job as a leader is to find the best way to utilize their strengths.
Observe and build relationships. Find out what is most important to them and how they see the company. From there, you can begin building a plan for how to integrate your vision and drive the organization forward. When in doubt, listen first.
Step 2: Play to strengths
You as a leader must thoughtfully consider each individual’s strengths and nurture their goals. Beyond the technical skills and current level of work they’re contributing, ask yourself: How can I support them in their career development? What can I take off or add to their plate to align with their goals and strengths? How do their individual aspirations tie to the team’s overarching objectives?
Working with individuals to answer these questions and supporting their strengths, talents and goals will ultimately pay dividends and positively affect your team, your organization and the product or service you offer.
Step 3: Get into formation
Now that you have an understanding of the individuals, you need to position them according to their strengths and talents to fully unlock the team’s potential. Putting your people in positions that leverage their strengths within the group structure and helping them build connections with each other creates a team that understands how to work together. This is the core of efficient team building.
To put it into sports terms, once you know who your players are and what positions they should play, you have to put them in the right formation so you can succeed as a team. At the end of the day, you win as a “we” and not a “me” when you ensure team members are placed in positions that build their strengths and ensure they individually understand how the collective team will come together to succeed. How they play a role in that bigger picture is critical, and you can help them find it through effective positioning.
Step 4: Teamwork makes the dream work
Going from individuals grouped together to being a team is about more than work contribution and placement. It requires emotional intelligence as well as being able to build relationships. It’s about connecting with people, understanding what motivates them, how they communicate and how they think. Building these relationships is what makes teams cohesive and able to perform at the highest level. Sometimes this is about 1:1 conversations, and sometimes you have to get different team members to communicate with each other and build their own relationships. Conflict can be good and healthy, but relationship conflict needs intervention.
The National Soft Skills Association compiled findings from Harvard, The Carnegie Foundation and Stanford Research Center which highlighted “85% of job success comes from having well‐developed soft and people skills, and only 15% of job success comes from technical skills and knowledge (hard skills).” These findings enforce previous research, which found similar patterns in a study of 1,500 engineers more than 100 years ago.
Leaders need to make an effort to understand and connect with each other in order for them to succeed as a whole. At the end of the day, you win and lose as a team.
Step 5: Goal setting
Once you build your team, you’re ready to focus everyone on the goals.
After taking time to lead with empathy, recognizing your team’s strengths, and aligning them to each other, you can focus them on the plan. Narrowing your team’s focus to a concise, clear set of priorities and measures of success early allows you to plan where you want to go. Set goals and check your progress against them moving forward to strengthen focus and accountability. It’s important to be flexible, but simplifying the core purpose and direction of your team leads to greater alignment and overall engagement.
Stay focused, keep it simple and enjoy it.
If you’re about to start this process, a former colleague gave me the book The First 90 Days, which is my favorite read anytime I take on a new role. This book provides a great reminder to step back and evaluate your situation with fresh eyes so you can streamline your team’s energy toward your ultimate goal.