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Leadership Part 1: Team building


One of the most challenging aspects of being a good leader is building a team that can support the initiatives you will set forth. Without a team that will stand behind you and one that you will fight for can be the difference of success versus failure. I’m sure most of this sounds like a no-brainer and your reading this going “Duh, he’s stating the obvious.” While this may seem so obvious it’s still important to reiterate.

Myself, I have read numerous books, see below, on how to build a strong teams and they have all helped mold my approach. One of the most influential experiences for myself was having the opportunity to spend some time around the Military and learning how to build a team when you don’t necessary get to choose your team members. Learning how to find the strengths and weaknesses and put everyone in the best position to succeed is an art form that will take practice and you will undoubtedly like myself make mistakes along the way.

Team Building Books

Get to know your team members

This is something that I learned the hard way on how important it is to get to know each team member. Now depending on your team size it may be more difficult to get to know everyone as time and logistics will be a hurdle for you, but I can promise that the more you get to know your team the stronger team you will have. So how do you go about getting to know your team? For myself what has worked is the following structure.

  • Direct Reports
    • Weekly one on one sessions
    • Required to also have weekly one on one sessions with their direct reports
  • One Level down
    • Monthly touch points
  • Two levels down and below
    • Quarterly full team meetings with small group break outs

The one on ones are really a key to getting to know your team. During this time make sure not to just focus on work related projects but also get to know your team members personally. Keep them light, laughing is ok and allowed at work despite what HR may say, and make sure that they also report back to you on their direct staff and what’s going on. This helps you gauge not only how things are going with the team as a whole and keeps your team accountable for making sure that your process is being followed.

Quarterly full team meetings can be an opportunity to get out of the office and plan a team building event. These don’t have to be those silly get to know you events we all went through when starting school. Find activities that challenge everyone to work as a team in a fun way. One of the best events I ever did was relay go cart racing. This required strategy, planning and learning the strengths of all different team members.

Don’t put all the rock stars on the same team

Now that you know the different personalities on your teams and who the rock stars or potential rock stars are it brings up the question of, how do I group my teams? My rule, and yes this is my rule you don’t’ have to listen to me, is to never put all my rock stars on the same team. Why you may ask? Well it’s a lesson learned from doing exactly that in the past. What it left me with was one team that got all the accolades, did a majority of the work and worked on all the cool projects. As for my other teams they became resentful and felt like they were in a dead-end position.

This made me take a step back and change my way of team structure and focus more on having strong leads on each team and leads that were not only experts in their field but also knew how to mentor and share their knowledge with the rest of their team to build them up. Team leads on any of my teams are required to have three key attributes:

  • Expert level understanding of their domain
  • Ability to mentor and train other team members
  • Ability to say “I don’t know”

The last one to me is key as I much rather get the right answer to something that have them feel they need to answer on the spot, make something up or assume they might know the answer. “I don’t know” to me means you don’t know the answer now, but you will get the answer and get it right in a short time frame.

For the actual organization and team structure make sure to put individuals together that don’t have conflicts or personality clashes. It’s a careful blend of with the goal to get the optimal output out of each team. Don’t be afraid of change either, the expectation your going to get the perfect teams on your first attempt is unreasonable. Conflicts will arise and some can be worked through and some can’t.

With that said don’t make it too easy either and put a team together because they are already friends or have worked extensively in the past together. You want to make sure that everyone is slightly challenged and not in too much of a comfort zone.

There is nothing wrong with keeping people on their toes. I compare this to a new pair of shoes, sure they are uncomfortable at first and need to be broken in but they don’t prevent you from walking, just reminds you that walking isn’t as easy as you remember in that old broken in pair.

Set a defined career path

This may be the most important thing you can do as a leader. People who don’t know what their career path looks like tend to become detached and don’t put in the investment needed to be the best team member possible. It’s also one of the primary reasons someone will start to look for another job, as they start to feel like they don’t matter and start looking for a place that will appreciate them. Now not everyone on your team may want to climb that proverbial corporate ladder so career paths are not always a way to move up but sometimes just a way to make sure they keep their skills current and are recognized for their achievements.

What is a career path? First, let me start with that it’s not a dictatorship or ultimatum. This should be a collaborative effort making sure to align not only the companies/team’s goals but also the individual’s goals. Employee A may have aspirations to be a CEO one day and employee B may be perfectly content with just doing their current job and knowing everyday what time they are going home. So, with that said here’s my definition:

  • Collaborative exercise that is reviewed at least yearly (I prefer quarterly)
  • Geared towards company and person goals
  • Measurable goals
  • Defined outcomes for meeting goals

I want to take an extra few moments to focus on the third point of Measurable goals. This is one of the easiest mistakes to make, making a goal that can be left up to interpretation will lead to very uncomfortable and possibly contentious conversations. Don’t let yourself or any of your leaders go down this path as no good can come from it.

Example of bad goals:

  • Become an expert in area X
  • Lead a conversation in area X
  • Increase revenue

Example of good goals:

  • Pass exam X before 4/1/2019
  • Achieve certification X before 12/31/2019
  • Server as technical lead for 1 project that was completed with no schedule delays before 12/31/2019
  • Raise top line revenue by 25% by 7/1/2019

As you can see the second list is well defined and makes sure there is no interpretation and leads to clear cut conversations.

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