Forming and running a high-performing team is at the core of any successful business or project. Here are the key things to build your personal dream team!
No man is an island. Our prehistoric ancestors probably realized this pretty early on. Whether it was hunting big game or building early settlements, collaboration in teams was essential to our success as a species.
While a lot has changed since the heady days of mammuth-trapping and civilization building, we still haven’t forgotten the key to our success. Whether it is on a local, national, or global level, we form teams to carry out complex, multifaceted tasks in the best and most efficient way.
The question for every responsible and driven team leader is how to go about forming and running an efficient team. I know – this can really make your head spin given how sometimes dealing with your own personal tasks is hard enough.
In this blog post, I’ll try to outline the main things to do to build a dynamic and high-achieving team. These tips will help you form a team for whatever task you undertake – whether it is a major endeavor or a minor side project. So let’s get to it!
As a team lead the real work starts either individually (if there is no authority figure above you) or with the management team of your organization. This phase requires some serious thinking to really understand the end result your team needs to reach by what time and using what resources.
What it all boils down to is setting a SMART goal (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound) which you and your teammates can use as a reference point throughout the project. In addition, you have to understand how much money or resources you have either to fund the project or hire specific experts for your team.
Since main goals tend to be pretty far off, I’d suggest defining milestones along the way with clear deadlines for a better planned and structured project. In addition, having an in-between milestone can help with motivation along the way, if the end result is distant and vague.
Once you have a clear understanding of the end goal and, if necessary, have received the blessing of the top management, it’s time to form your team.
Here it’s pretty hard to give concrete advice as to what kind of people to actually pick as each project is very different. For instance, if there is a major art installation that has to be set up, you can probably dispense with accountants and legal advisors and get yourself some arts graduates. Conversely, if you are tasked with expanding your business in a different state or country, the team has to contain economists, accountants, lawyers, and all sorts of other experts.
During the team-building process there are two things to remember. First, it usually pays off to have a diverse team to back you up. While this is particularly true for businesses, practically every project can benefit from employees/contributors of different walks of life, experiences, ages, ethnicities, opinions etc. This diversity can help you get the message to everyone, avoid unfortunate mishaps, and build a better end-result.
Second, get to know the strengths and weaknesses of all your team members. Everyone has some talents or special skills. A good team leader will be aware of these, putting them to good use whenever new tasks need to be assigned. Conversely, if someone has a genuine weakness a real team leader will know how to mitigate or outright avoid it. Knowing your team doesn’t just make it stronger. It also signals to your team members or employees that you care enough to notice and consider their unique characteristics and circumstances.
Once your team is formed, the next step is to explain not just the overall plan to achieve the final goal, but to clearly outline what is expected of everyone. Each team member should have a role, a purpose, and a list of main tasks and the expected results.
True efficiency requires that everyone understands what result is expected of them by when. Clarify how much time you expect a team member to spend on a certain task and what kind of an end result you have envisaged.
While making your expectations clear is great, remember to avoid the urge to micromanage. Whenever employees are allowed a degree of autonomy and creativity, they flourish and perform well. Conversely, the more excessively they are controlled, the more they tend to lose interest and drive.
Sure, I know it’s hard. Especially if you feel close attachment to the project or the idea. Still, if you want the best results from your team members, you have to let them take control more often than not. By giving them greater stake and a degree of ownership you’ll ensure a more engaged and driven workforce that feels responsibility for their work.
You can’t expect your team’s performance to be anything better than what you yourself are bringing to the table. So if you are asking for high productivity and engagement from your team, best be ready to bring your own A-game.
Be smart about how you organize your day. The overall workload you take on, the meetings you attend, and the communication (calls, emails) you engage in – all should be considered in advance not to stretch yourself thin. If you fail to do that, your lack of strategic planning may undermine your own abilities and the team’s faith in you.
While all of the principles outlined in this article are important, I would argue that open and honest communication is at the core of every successful team. Encouraging team members to communicate their challenges, reservations, needs, wants, preferences, and pretty much anything else related to the project is essential. This way you can find out problems and solve them before they threaten to derail the end result.
Effective communication also entails updates and explanations from the management’s side. Keep your team members up to date about anything related to the project (unless the information is secret). This is important not just because transparency encourages trust, but it also increases team members’ sense of project ownership as well as gives them an in-depth understanding of all the goings-on in the project (changing priorities, potential obstacles, lack of resources) so they can plan their time and tasks accordingly. Otherwise, you risk having a constantly disoriented and disgruntled team.
There is another important dimension of communication that should be singled out – feedback. It’s impossible to solve inefficiencies if individual team members are unaware of this weakness. Performance reviews and one-on-one conversations with constructive feedback are essential to boost productivity and performance.
Feedback is not just a top-bottom kind of thing. After offering team members’ your observations and comments on their work, don’t forget to ask for their thoughts on what impacts their performance. Most importantly, encourage open discussion about team leadership and whether there is something that they think should be improved in the way things are organized, communicated etc. Maybe they would like more autonomy or the opposite – more guidance and management involvement.
Don’t worry if the feedback conversations do not go seamlessly right off the bat. Trust, honesty, and openness take time to form and develop. The more you meet up with your team, talk, learn, and actually commit to both helping them and improving yourself, the better results you’ll get.
The principles outlined above are essential to help your team function smoothly over the long term. There are, however, a handful of other things that I’d like to throw out there. Since they may not merit a separate section and this article is already getting a bit unwieldy, let’s combine them in a concise bullet point round.
• Rethink Meetings. We did an entire article on meetings, so be sure to check it out too. But the essence here is that you don’t want to keep your team bogged down in endless meetings. Keep them short and straightforward. Dispense with them if they are not absolutely essential. When you have meetings, set a clear agenda and a time limit.
• Create a Productivity Boosting Work Environment. This requires a blog post of its own, but the physical work environment has a significant impact on our performance and productivity. If your team is not working remotely, pay attention that the rooms you are working in are light, clean, and well-ventilated. A touch of greenery always helps.
• Offer Incentives. A great team leader and a worthy cause can keep team members engaged and motivated. However, if your team members perform well, a pay bump or an extra day or two off can give the occasional and much-needed motivation boost.
• Don’t Dismiss Help. Whether it’s the HR specialist of your business, an outside consultant, or a handy piece of software (for communication, task division, cloud storage etc.) – all of these can help improve the quality and productivity of your work.
No team is exceptional from the outset. It takes a lot of work, commitment, cooperation, and trust to make it all work. However, if you keep these principles in mind it will help your team reach the best results in the most efficient way. This can be the start of your own Dream Team.
Author: Lote Steina