Effective Team Conditions

Building and leading a successful team requires you, as the leader, to create and foster the right conditions. Just hiring the best talent and throwing a vision statement at them isn’t enough.

First, be crystal clear about the outcome that is expected from them. A lot of leaders fail by going too far with this and fill in all the details about how to achieve the desired outcome. This may be well intentioned and natural if the leader has a lot of previous experience in this particular area, but this has a few drastic side-effects. For one, you’re not providing an environment that is collaborative and open to improvement. Many people will remain silent when they have an idea to improve the plan because they have less experience than you, and you’re the boss. Allowing the team to devise their own plan for success may, and often will, open your eyes to newer and better ways of doing something. An effective leader knows when to use their experience and help guide the team, but also know when to recede into the background and let the team do what they do best.

Second, the team is no longer responsible for the outcome — you are. They’re just doing what you, the experienced leader, are telling them to. Who are they to question what you know is best. They will now fall into a role of “just tell me what to do.” If the project fails, it’s your fault. They were just following directions. Now you’ve lost credibility with your team as a leader and your team has lost credibility within the business.

Instead, be clear about the desired outcome. Paint the picture of the end result and let them decide how to get there. Let them own and possess the responsibility to achieve the outcome. You as the leader are there to help and provide guidance, course corrections, and focus. The team as a whole is working together to achieve the outcome. Everybody is responsible for the success, or failure, of the outcome.

Setting good direction for a team means being authoritative and insistent about desired outcomes, but being equally insistent about not specifying how the team should go about achieving those outcomes.

Another condition that I’ve seen have devastating effects on a team is failing to give your team enough ownership. I’ve seen managers and organizational leaders back off from taking on what they perceive as too much for their team. Their intentions are well-meaning, but it becomes a facade that is easy to hide behind each time it’s used. Teams are motivated when they are given clear and challenging problems that have a large impact. That’s also one of the key ingredients required for innovation. The well intentioned managers and leaders are doing more harm than good when they water down what the team is responsible for, typically because they are worried about how well the team will perform. So they assign the team a smaller, relatively inconsequential part of the overall task. These are catastrophic mistakes. Having vague or relatively unimportant chunks of the outcome actually compromises team performance and morale. They feel like their work isn’t as important and consequential.

Make sure that your teams have a clear picture about the what is expected from them, what the desired outcome looks like. They need to be able to picture what success and being “done” looks like so they can get there. Also ensure that the outcome they are working toward is important and has a consequential impact on the business or project.

About the author

Terry Blanchard

I'm the Vice President of Engineering at Readdle, ex-Apple, design evangelist, drummer, and gadget junkie extraordinaire.

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