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Why is it important to have an effective team in your organization? How can you create a productive team?
Many factors make a successful business, but the most essential part of your business is a team. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to create a team that upholds your company’s values and gets the job done.
Read below to learn how to create a team in just six steps.
1. Decide What Type of Leader You Want to Be
Every team requires a leader. There are many types of leaders, but you have to decide if you want to be a great leader or an outstanding leader. Let’s look at the qualities of both so you can decide how you want to approach your leadership role before learning how to create a team.
Four Characteristics of a Great Leader
Since the mid-1980s, the authors of The Leadership Challenge have conducted studies asking people in both business and government what qualities they value in a leader, and what would make them willing to follow someone’s leadership. They’ve found that consistently, over time and around the globe, people most often name four specific characteristics. People want leaders who are:
1. Honest: More than any other characteristic, people list honesty as an important quality of a leader. Other words they use to describe honesty include “truthful,” “ethical,” and “authentic.” Honesty is considered a personal quality more than a professional one, and its importance illustrates that people want to follow leaders they can personally respect and identify with (if you follow a leader who’s viewed as dishonest, your own reputation gets associated with dishonesty).
2. Competent: The second most often cited quality is competence. People want their leaders to be capable, effective, and experienced; no one wants to follow someone who may lead them into failure. Leaders aren’t expected to be experts in everything, but they should have a solid understanding of their business and their organization—its structure, procedures, culture, and people.
3. Inspiring: The emotional energy that a leader puts forward will infect her whole team. A leader must be able to communicate her vision in such a way that other people understand her passion and believe that it will improve lives. If she is positive, excited, and energetic, her team will be too. If she shows little emotion, or displays anxiety, uncertainty, or discouragement, her team won’t feel enthusiastic.
4. Forward-thinking: People want their leaders to have a clear idea of where they’re headed. They want them to envision a better future and work toward it, rather than merely living with the current status quo. Leaders are not expected to be able to predict the future, but rather, should have a meaningful vision and plan for where they want their organization to head.
In general, then, people want to feel their leaders are truthful, know what they’re doing, have a positive attitude, and have a sense of direction.
Secondary Leadership Qualities
Other qualities of leadership that study respondents listed included being supportive, fair-minded, courageous, cooperative, and imaginative. The differences between what people prioritized in a leader were often dependent on who those people were, and what leadership skills their particular jobs called for. For example:
- People in health care organizations more often listed caring than people in other industries.
- Military personnel more often listed loyalty than others.
- Academics valued intelligence more highly.
- Older respondents named self-controlled more often than younger respondents did.
Five Principles of Outstanding Leadership
This brings us to the Five Principles of Outstanding Leadership, which will enable you to develop the qualities of leadership that create success. The five principles of outstanding leadership are:
- Set an example: Take personal responsibility, and set an example of the behavior you expect of others.
- Be inspirational: Provide an inspiring vision, and see that your vision is shared among your team so that everyone is on board and motivated.
- Challenge the status quo: Challenge the way things are done, meet adversity head-on, and take advantage of opportunities to lead your organization to new places.
- Empower others to act: Engage other people to join you on your quest. Foster collaboration and trust.
- Lead with heart: Genuinely care about your team, and let them know it.
Leaders using these principles find not only that their team members are more engaged and committed, but that they also lead their organizations to greater financial success. Researchers found that over five years, companies led according to these five principles had 18 times the net income growth and three times the stock price increase as companies whose leaders didn’t subscribe to these principles.
TITLE: The Leadership Challenge
AUTHOR: James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner
2. Find Prospective Team Members
When you have a better idea of what type of leader you want to be, it’s time to actually learn how to create a team. It can be a lengthy process to find competent team members, but luckily we’ve broken down the interview process to make things smoother.
How to Identify Candidates
In The Making of a Manager, Julie Zhuo recommends making a hiring plan: a list of roles you need to fill over the next year based on your company’s goals and vision as well as deficiencies among your current team. A one-year hiring plan will help you clarify the skills and experiences you’ll need future team members to have and when you’ll need to have those positions filled.
Once you start your hiring efforts, Zhuo recommends these steps to find candidates:
Step #1: Create a clear job description. Clarify core job duties, and be specific about the skills, experiences, and qualities you need. For example, if you need a project manager who’s detail-oriented and great at calmly navigating difficult conversations with strong personalities, be sure you note that preference.
Step #2: Decide where you’ll look for candidates. Zhuo recommends asking colleagues for recommendations before looking anywhere else. If none of their suggestions work out, you now have an idea of what kind of person to look for elsewhere.
Step #3: Prepare a template of interview questions. Be clear about what you want to learn, and use the same questions for each candidate interviewing for a single role. As Zhuo says, this helps you compare candidates based on the quality of their answers rather than subjective impressions.
The Interview Process
Once you’ve identified potential candidates, it’s time to interview them. The Ideal Team Player by Patrick Lencioni advises on how to conduct your interviews. Most importantly, focus your interview process on asking behavioral questions that uncover the three virtues as well as reveal red flags. Beyond that, here are a few ways to structure the interview process:
Ask specific questions that uncover whether the candidate has the qualities and behaviors of a team player. Typical interviews follow a generic format and questions that provide only a general sense of the candidate—for instance, you come away thinking, “She seems capable.”
Debrief managers immediately after an interview on whether the candidate seemed humble, hungry, and smart. Then use the next interview to ask follow-up questions on concerns or issues raised in the first. For example, if the first two interviewers agree that the candidate is hungry and smart, the third interviewer should focus on assessing humility. In many companies, various managers interview the candidate separately, and they don’t discuss what they learned until the interview process has ended.
Incorporate Group Interviews
Including group interviews in your process allows multiple people on the hiring team to hear the same things and compare their perspectives—for example, “How did you interpret what he said …” Group interviews also reveal how a candidate behaves in a group, which is a requirement for teamwork. Some people are better one-on-one than they are in groups, which isn’t necessarily a problem, but it’s something you should be aware of.
To get a better sense of a candidate, have someone take her out of the office to see how she acts in an unstructured environment—for instance, take her along on an errand. Remember to look for indications that she is humble, hungry, and smart.
In contrast, most interviews follow the same predictable, often awkward, format as they did 40 years ago. They focus on answers to stock questions that don’t tell you whether the person is a good fit for the company.
The first time you ask a question, you often get a generic answer. If you ask again in a different way, you may get more details or a different answer. If you ask a third time, but you’re more pointed, you may get the most honest response.
Ask What Others Would Say
Ask candidates what others would say about them—for instance, instead of asking someone if he considers himself a hard worker, ask how colleagues would describe his work ethic or his level of humility. Candidates tend to give more honest answers to questions framed this way, perhaps because they think you might ask their colleagues the same question and compare answers.
Pay Attention to Hunches
If you have a hunch that a candidate isn’t humble, hungry, or smart, keep digging until you resolve your doubt. Looking back on an interview, managers often recall red flags and regret ignoring them or not exploring them more fully.
Be Clear About Your Commitment
At the end of the interview process, tell candidates that you’re looking only for people who are humble, hungry, and smart. Stress that if a candidate lacking one of these critical qualities is hired, they’ll be miserable working for you if they don’t change. However, if they’re an ideal team player, they’ll love the job and the company’s culture. People often try to gloss over their weaknesses in an interview, but they may be less likely to do so if you stress that your company holds people accountable.
TITLE: The Ideal Team Player
AUTHOR: Patrick M. Lencioni
How to Evaluate and Select Candidates
After you’ve interviewed candidates, how do you decide who to hire? In The Making of a Manager, Zhuo suggests you take these steps to evaluate and select candidates so you can officially create a team:
Step #1: Review work they’ve done in the past. Evaluate a few projects they’ve completed that are similar to the work they’ll be expected to do at your company. According to Zhuo, this will give you a clear sense of their skills and ability to problem solve. It’ll also help you forecast how they’ll perform in the future.
Step #2: Ask trusted peers for input. Zhuo says you likely won’t get useful input from references a candidate furnishes. Instead, seek input from colleagues and peers in your professional network who’ll give you an honest assessment of candidates.
Step #3: Go with candidates who excite you. Even if a candidate has the needed skills and qualities, don’t choose them just because they could fit. Zhuo says to always give preference to candidates who spark enthusiasm in at least one interviewer. Candidates are more likely to add high value to your team when they stand out as unique.
Step #4: Prioritize diverse candidates. Hire candidates who have varied work and life experiences and who represent diverse races, genders, cultural backgrounds, and sexual orientations. Zhuo says diverse teams generate more creative ideas, solve problems more effectively, and produce superior outcomes.
Step #5: Choose people who have the potential to contribute beyond their designated role. Prepare for future growth by hiring candidates who are equipped to deliver more than you need immediately. For example, even if a frontline sales role doesn’t include supervisory responsibilities now, Zhuo says it’s wise to give an edge to candidates who have relevant sales experience and supervising experience. They’ll be able to step into bigger roles as your team grows.
3. Establish What Needs to be Accomplished
You’ve selected your new team members, but the work’s not over yet. Now you need to establish the goals your team needs to accomplish. By letting your employees know your intentions for your business, they feel they are important and can provide their own input.
Create Goals Based on Your Plan
Having the right goals is crucial in creating a team for several reasons. Firstly, for your team to be productive, they need to know exactly what you’re striving towards. Secondly, they need to be sure that they’re aiming for the right results. Finally, whether or not they meet their goals is often used as a measure of how productive they are. That measure will be inaccurate if their goals were flawed from the start.
Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg considers two types of goals that your team can use in tandem to enhance their productivity:
- Type #1: stretch goals. These are ambitious and far-reaching goals that will often take a lot of planning and effort to accomplish.
- Type #2: SMART goals. These are smaller, more focused objectives. They are often the smaller steps your team needs to take to fulfill their stretch goal.
A stretch goal is an aim so audacious that at first glance, it might not seem possible. Examples of stretch goals include running a marathon, starting a successful company, or writing a book.
Setting and pursuing such ambitious goals can transform your perspective of creating a team in three ways:
- These goals are inspirational. They challenge you to be more productive so that you can achieve things you’d never dreamed could be possible.
- The challenging nature of stretch goals prevents complacency. You know that to fulfill such an ambitious goal, you’ll need to work hard and push yourself.
- In your quest to make the seemingly impossible possible, you become more imaginative, innovative, and willing to pursue new avenues of thinking.
Research has demonstrated a strong link between setting stretch goals and increased productivity in teams. For example, a 1997 study found that Motorola ordering its employees to set stretch goals led to a tenfold decrease in the time it took engineers to develop new products.
SMART goals are also essential in creating a team. They must be:
- Specific: Your team must outline a targeted objective, not a vague aspiration.
- Measurable: They must be able to measure the goal’s success.
- Achievable and Realistic: They must actually have the time, resources, and capabilities to complete this goal; doing so has to be possible.
- Timely: They must have an expected timeline for accomplishing the goal.
These goals often have a much smaller scope than stretch goals. For the stretch goal of writing a book, a SMART goal might be writing one chapter or even one section of a chapter.
There are various benefits to setting SMART goals. Because SMART goals are by design detailed and have been extensively thought through, the path to achieving them is often very clear. This can have a motivating effect. It’s easier to motivate your team to work towards a goal when they have a clear plan to follow.
Likewise, by forcing them to set a timeline for the completion of their goal, SMART goals can encourage discipline. They can no longer procrastinate on a task: they’ve got a deadline to meet.
How to Use Stretch and SMART Goals Productively
When used alone, stretch and SMART goals both have pitfalls when learning how to create a team. For instance, if used alone, stretch goals can become too overwhelming. Your teams come up with big ideas, but have no idea how to act on them. Because they’re unsure how to move forward, they just do nothing.
Likewise, if you simply give them a list of snappy SMART goals without any overarching goal to tie them together, they can lose sight of their higher purpose and the objectives they should prioritize to achieve that purpose. They risk becoming too focused on achieving cognitive closure.
Cognitive closure is a thought process that’s rooted in a preference for decisiveness over ambiguity. In general, your brain is drawn to making quick, clear choices, rather than remaining in a state of uncertainty or confusion. You find yourself wanting to get things done and meet your goals because it makes you feel productive. It brings you a feeling of closure that is satisfying.
Chasing cognitive closure can sometimes be useful. It can help them to move forward efficiently, rather than spending a long time going back and forth over what to do. However, it becomes problematic when feeling the closure and satisfaction that comes with completing a goal becomes more important to them than the actual productivity of the goal. If they fall into this trap, they may be tempted to set SMART goals that are quick and easy to complete so that they can feel closure swiftly, rather than goals that will help them to move forward and achieve their higher aims.
Use Stretch and SMART Goals Together
To overcome these pitfalls and achieve maximum productivity so you can create the best team, you should use stretch and SMART goals together. You should start with an ambitious stretch goal and then flesh out the process of achieving that goal using targeted SMART goals.
Doing this makes the goal-setting process smoother in two ways. Firstly, if the team breaks down their ambitious stretch goal into smaller, easily actionable SMART goals, they can avoid becoming overwhelmed. Creating concrete steps towards meeting the stretch goal makes it much more manageable. You’ve created a framework they can follow to move closer to achieving everyone’s dreams.
Secondly, pairing their SMART goals with a stretch goal helps them to avoid the trap of cognitive closure. The stretch goal provides them with the focal point that they need to ensure that their SMART goals are truly productive, and not just fast-track routes to closure. If they create their SMART goals keeping the stretch goal in mind, they’re less likely to veer off course.
TITLE: Smarter Faster Better
AUTHOR: Charles Duhigg
Assess and Prioritize Tasks
After you have an idea of what goals your team should accomplish, Jeff Sutherland (the author of Scrum) says the first step is to develop the overall vision you have for your company: what problems you’re going to solve, what you’re going to make, how you’re going to make it.
To do this, he advises that you create a task list for your team, or what he calls a “backlog,” of all the things that need to be done to make your vision a reality. The task list should include every possible task that might be needed for the end product.
Then, with the task list complete, go through the entire list and rank each item by importance. Ask which tasks will have the biggest impact and create the most value for the customer, as well as which will be the most profitable and which will be the easiest to complete.
Once you have a clear picture of which tasks will bring the most value in the least amount of time, he advises that your team simply begin working on those tasks.
In this way, the Scrum method improves on traditional project methods, which would begin by making a big roadmap for the project. The Scrum method takes a much simpler and straightforward approach by simply beginning on the most important tasks without a large, comprehensive plan.
4. Create a Company Culture
In Scaling Up, Verne Harnish writes that building a values-driven culture of success is a crucial part of learning how to create a team. Cultures are the sets of norms, behaviors, and values that guide day-to-day behavior. As a leader, you want to create the conditions for a culture that values innovation, risk-taking, and strategic thinking, instead of complacency and short-term thinking. Harnish writes that you need to get people to buy into your scaling-up strategy, and making the values and priorities clear to new hires when they walk through the door is a great way to start.
In addition, Harnish recommends boot camps, retreats, and regular training sessions to help reinforce this message. Even if organizing these events and paying for training costs money, it will be money well spent that will surely pay off in the long run. One of the most important aspects of creating an effective team is also creating a psychologically safe environment that they feel comfortable in.
Create a Psychologically Safe Environment
Smarter Faster Better claims that when a team is psychologically safe, the members of the team believe that they can share their views and take risks without having to fear retaliation or rejection.
Psychologically safe teams have a culture that encourages participation from every member and discourages needless or overly harsh criticism or judgment. People don’t face punishment or humiliation for sharing their views, even if these views go against the general group consensus. Debate is encouraged rather than avoided. Such a culture requires respect and trust between the members of the team.
To create a culture of psychological safety in a team, two key ingredients are required: equal participation and social sensitivity.
Ingredient #1: Equal Participation
During meetings and other group situations, each team member should speak for around the same amount of time. Domination by one person or just a handful of people should be avoided. This equal participation helps team members to feel that they have an equal voice and affirms that their opinions are of equal importance to those of their team members. In turn, this will help team members to feel secure, valued, and psychologically safe within the group.
There is one caveat to this ingredient: equal participation won’t create psychological safety if nobody listens to their fellow team members. The person speaking needs to feel like everyone wants to hear their contribution. They shouldn’t be made to feel that people are listening begrudgingly or out of mere politeness. Team members need to be fully committed to both sharing their own thoughts and listening to everyone else’s.
Ingredient #2: Social Sensitivity
“Social sensitivity” is the ability to read others’ emotions using cues such as tone of voice and body language.
In a team setting, social sensitivity is an important way of monitoring people’s emotional reactions to discussions, proposals, and each other. It enables teams to detect whether any members are feeling frustrated or are having misgivings about the direction of the team’s work.
These members can then be encouraged to voice how they’re feeling. They will feel that their opinions are valued and their emotions respected, thus increasing their psychological safety.
Social sensitivity can also help team members to monitor each other’s general emotional well-being. If someone seems upset or preoccupied, the other members of the team will know that they need to check in with this person. This will make the upset person feel seen, valued, and cared for, again increasing their psychological safety within the group.
The Role of Leaders in Creating Psychological Safety
The most important player in creating psychological safety is the team leader. If you’re in this position, you need to quite literally lead by example. You need to encourage others to engage in behaviors that promote psychological safety by modeling these behaviors yourself.
Firstly, you need to ensure that every team member has an equal opportunity to participate in discussions. If certain members have been quieter during a meeting, you should directly ask them what their perspective is. Refrain from simply allowing the loudest team members to dominate the discussion. This will prevent equal engagement.
Secondly, you should make sure that team members feel listened to by discussing their ideas and answering their questions. A simple technique that demonstrates that you’ve been listening is to summarize what members have said after they’ve finished speaking.
Thirdly, you must encourage social sensitivity by monitoring and acknowledging all team members’ emotions. You also need to react respectfully and sensitively to these emotions. Don’t brush off team members’ emotions or ignore them outright.
Finally, you should prevent damaging norms from developing by refusing to engage in these norms yourself. For example, never interrupt others when they’re speaking. This may create an interruption norm that leads to team members feeling disrespected and not listened to.
By modeling these behaviors, you will encourage your team to follow suit. This will enable a psychologically safe culture to flourish. Your team will work together more effectively and will be more productive.
5. Give and Request Feedback
The second to last component of creating a team is giving and requesting feedback. Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work by Paul Marciano says managers should provide feedback with the mindset of a coach: I want you to be successful. This viewpoint makes employees feel cared for and lowers defensiveness (compared to the situation if the manager were just berating the employee).
80% of feedback should be positive and reinforce behavior, while 20% should be about improving performance (constructive feedback).
Give feedback often. Lack of support signals to the employee that she doesn’t matter much and there’s no hope for her. This can set off a vicious cycle of disengagement and confirmation bias by the manager (“I knew Tim was no good—look at how disengaged he is. I’m not going to waste time on him.”).
Good constructive feedback comes quickly after a problem begins. This wastes fewer resources from suffering the problem and makes it less awkward to point out (as opposed to giving feedback on a problem 6 months earlier).
If you give feedback often enough, performance reviews should not contain any surprises. Some managers give so little feedback, positive or constructive, that employees are left in the dark about how they’re doing. Then in end-of-year reviews, the manager shows up with a problem from 8 months ago. How does this feel fair to the employee?
Do not pile up all the bad news to unleash all at once. Would a coach wait until the season’s over to tell his team how much they could improve?
Seek Feedback From Employers
First Things First by Stephen R. Covey emphasizes the importance of managers seeking feedback to build better relationships with teams. To empower yourself and others is to seek out feedback. This is one of the most powerful things you can do to build both your character and competency. It’s also one of the hardest. It requires humility. This humility allows you to see your blind spots, let the perspectives of others change your own, and understand how others view you. But most importantly, it makes your employees feel as though their voices are heard and valued.
Feedback should always focus on a person’s performance rather than her character. Feedback should be specific and based on the criteria established in the stewardship agreement. Furthermore, feedback should be “360-degree feedback,” coming from every stakeholder, including employees, investors, customers, suppliers, and the community.
Once you get feedback, review it carefully. Then, return to the person who gave it to you and thank them. Ask them to help you create an action plan to address any pieces of constructive feedback.
One good way to ask for feedback is the “continue/stop/start” method:
- Continue: What am I doing as your parent that you’d like me to continue doing?
- Stop: What am I doing that you’d like me to stop doing in the future?
- Start: What am I not doing currently that you’d like me to start doing?
You can seek feedback at work or home. For instance, as a CEO, you might find that your employees want you to spend less time managing and working on projects and more time clarifying the vision for the company. As a parent, you can seek feedback from your children — they might surprise you with their maturity and thoughtfulness.
6. Invest in Continuing Education
The final important element of building a successful team is continuing employee education: in other words, constantly providing your employees with training and learning opportunities. This training shouldn’t only apply to the skills the employee was hired for. Rather, employees should learn about a variety of different skills and areas of knowledge so they can more easily innovate and adapt to new situations.
We’ll explore the importance of continuing education in the process of creating a team, using the retail company Zappos as an example.
Why Is Continuing Education Important?
As discussed in Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, Zappos makes it a top priority to keep its employees happy. Hsieh states that employees are happier and more willing to work when they’re learning and improving themselves, so helping employees do so is an important part of fulfilling this goal.
In addition, companies are only as good as their employees, Hsieh explains. Your company can’t grow and improve unless your employees do as well because they’re the ones operating the business. Thus, to keep innovating and maintain your company’s success, support your employees’ innovation and success.
Finally, continuing education is important for business succession planning. Many companies train their employees for a single, specific job, Hsieh says. Then, when those employees must adapt to another role—whether because of a planned promotion or an emergency—they aren’t prepared to do so. However, if your company prioritizes continuing education in a variety of skills and areas of knowledge, you’ll create a system where any time a role opens, there’s an employee ready to fill it. Not only does this alleviate employee stress, but it also provides a clear path of career progression for your employees, giving them a constant stream of goals to aim for.
TITLE: Delivering Happiness
AUTHOR: Tony Hsieh
Now you should have a better idea of how to create a team for your developing company. As your company grows, it’s important to always nurture your team to grow as well. Two ways to do this are to promote team members to new roles or bring new members on. Either way, building your team never stops and will be an ongoing process throughout your company’s success.
Have you recently created a new team for your company? Leave in the comments below your process and what it entailed.
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