Have Your Leaders Got the No.1 Skill for Today’s Success?
Got a New Role? Here’s How to Get Up & Running Faster
As a leader, you are impatient to get your new team up and running fast. You want to get things off to a strong and confident start, avoiding missteps and generating a good first impression.
You certainly don't have the patience for the normal ‘forming, storming and norming'. Instead, you want your team to get to ‘performing' fast. Here is a guide to help you.
What happens in the early stages of a new team can have an inordinate impact on its trajectory. If a team gets off to a solid start, then it is set up for success not just in the short term, but longer term too. But, what does a ‘solid start’ mean? Well, our research says it includes the following 5 elements:
- Clarity and alignment among team members and stakeholders about the team’s purpose, its priorities and the results it must achieve (and how they will be measured). Also, its overall contribution to the organization (its business needs and priorities).1
- Growing clarity and alignment regarding the roles of different team members, the right work and rights resources, etc. Also, that the team owns these factors.
- A sharing of perspectives on the type of team that people want to belong to. Including what people want from and for each other (as well as from their leader).
- A chance for people to connect with and get to know each other socially. This is essential to developing a shared sense of purpose, as well as mutual understanding, trust and respect.
- An environment that promotes collaboration, as well as learning and innovation – that provides for safety, as well as respectful challenge.
How long will it take before your team is fully up and running? In the past, leaders may have said it would take many months. They may have added that it could take years to build a cohesive, high-performing team. However, today’s leaders don’t have the luxury of time. They must get their new teams into the zone of performance fast. There’s no time to waste.
Asking what ‘a new team’ is sounds ridiculous. However, the answers can be surprising. For example, in the context of an 150-year-old organization, a ‘new team’ could be three, five, or seven years in operation. So, years are not the only factor that defines newness.
Even an existing team may be new in ways – it may have a new role or purpose, new membership, or a new strategy. It may have emerged from an organizational restructure, have a new reporting relationship, or gained a new leader. It may have expanded or shrunk, either in terms of power and importance, membership or scope of activity.
Starting a new team can be an exciting and challenging opportunity for any leader. Whether you are forming a team from scratch or inheriting an existing one, here are steps to accelerate your teams.
- 1. Go Beyond Storming & Norming
- 2. Begin with the end in mind
- 3. Co-create Ways of Working and Interacting
- 4. Build Relationships and Trust through Open Dialog
- 5. Welcome the Cynics and Skeptics
- 6. Don’t be Pollyanna!
- 7. Balance the ‘Me’ and the ‘We’ of team
- 8. Engage & Energize Stakeholders
- 9. Understand & Respect the Context
- 10. Make the Health of the Team A Priority Too!
- 11. Adapt and Optimize Continuously
Use the above list to navigate to any particular point of interest. Alternatively, scroll down for the detail.
1. Go Beyond Storming & Norming
You are probably familiar with the ‘storming, norming, and performing' model of team development—if only it were that simple. Some new teams can stay ‘storming' for a very long time; others may struggle to ever reach the performing stage. Left to their ‘own devices', the evolution of teams is unpredictable and uncertain.
A key job of the leader is to accelerate a team's developmental journey, and in the case of a new team, to get that journey off to a great start. That is a start that will build confidence and generate sufficient energy and momentum to propel the team forward despite obstacles or doubts.
2. Begin with the end in mind
Engage your team in clarifying and defining success. That means dialoging questions such as:
- What does success look like?
- What is it that the team must deliver?
- What does it want to be known as/for by others?
- How will your team add/create value (for its various stakeholders)?
- What will the team look like in 12, 14 or 16 months?
- What benefits will members derive from being on the team?
Alignment on priorities, results, and purpose is essential for a focused and motivated team. Agree on a set of KPIs or metrics that will be used to measure and track success. Ensure that these metrics reflect not just team performance, but health too.
Obviously, success for the business, as well as its customers and shareholders, is key. However, don’t neglect the key group of stakeholders, which is your people. Make sure your team has a definition of success that connects with the goals and interests of all team members, too.
Ensure there is a shared, compelling (fit-for-purpose) purpose that energizes and engages the team over the coming months.
It sounds obvious, but make sure that your team is clear on the key business needs and priorities. It is all too easy for teams to become focused on their own issues and goals, but lose sight of the bigger picture.
3. Co-create Ways of Working and Interacting
The effectiveness of a team cannot be left to chance. Key to this is attending to ways of working within the team and specifically the 9 Rights where: the right people are in the right roles, doing the right work, working together in the right way, with the right resources and the right rewards, to achieve the right results. Also, in this age of hybrid working, that they are in the right place at the right time (given the work required).
This 9R mantra becomes a central tool for the team to use in planning its work and reflecting on its effectiveness. A new team is a blank canvas filled with potential. Clarifying roles and responsibilities, as well as the right work and the right result is critical for the team and its individuals to be effective. The process is central to generating high levels of ownership and accountability.
Take advantage of this fresh start by actively involving team members in shaping its behaviors and norms that will guide the team. To what extent will your team create its own unique subculture and ways of working?
Decide on the type of team that you need to be. Is it a crowd, a group, a team or a high performing team? The latter typically accounts for fewer than 1 in 20 teams and is not always what is required. So:
- What type of team will you be?
- What type of team do you need to be to deliver on the organization’s business needs and priorities?
A key factor here is the level of synergy or interdependence between individual team members (in their work), as well as the extent of mutual accountability and shared compelling purpose. These factors come at a price and may not always be necessary.
4. Build Relationships and Trust through Open Dialog
Trust is the foundation of any successful team. Invest in building strong relationships among team members from the beginning.
Teams may be spending a lot of time together, interacting with each other daily. However, much of this interaction may be task focused and agenda driven. It is important to enable the team to spend time together to really connect – time without a list of actions or a fixed agenda. The result is that people may be working together for years and not truly know or understand each other. What motivates them, what is happening in their lives, what their life experiences have been and so on.
Encourage open communication, collaboration, and mutual support to create a cohesive and effective team.
Create a safe environment where people can be open and say what they are really thinking. That requires patience, openness and humility as a leader. It may also require external facilitation – a primary advantage here is that it allows the team leader to participate as a team member (as well as a leader).
5. Welcome the Cynics and Skeptics
Some people need to be convinced about the team, its purpose, or its potential. Engage them in finding the answers. This is essential to creating an environment of psychological safety, where people can say what they are thinking.
Embracing doubt and uncertainty is key in an environment where there is respectful challenge. Remember, cynics may just be disappointed idealists; they may need some little help to risk being disappointed again.
6. Don’t be Pollyanna!
Engage the team in talking about risks, obstacles and dependencies in respect of the team’s key projects and deliverables. This will prevent shocks and surprises.
Moreover, far from being demotivating, this exercise of openness builds resilience and trust. It also enables better planning and risk management. To build confidence and momentum, plan for some quick wins too.
7. Balance the ‘Me’ and the ‘We’ of team
Bringing individual high performers together is not enough to create a high performing team. Indeed, individual high performers may struggle to collaborate effectively. To help them collaborate rather than compete, a shared compelling purpose is required, also a sense of shared identity and belonging.
The right balance between individual contributions and teamwork is crucial for high performance. Understanding the personal and professional motivations of individual team members is key.
Understand any other responsibilities that team members may have (e.g. they may also belong to other projects or teams) and the potential for competing priorities or allegiances.
8. Engage & Energize Stakeholders
Stakeholders are key to the success of your team, so engage them from the very start. Understand, shape and manage stakeholder expectations. Ensure consistency in how the team interacts with internal stakeholders.
Present a clear and consistent message for, and mode of interaction with, internal stakeholders from the very start. You don’t want stakeholders to say that your team is still ‘finding its feet’ after 3, 6 or even 9 months.
9. Understand & Respect the Context
The team is not operating in a vacuum; there may be a lot going on within the organization that generates noise and uncertainty. Moreover, for a team born out of change and disruption, there may be old wounds left to heal. For example, people may be fatigued or cynical as a result. Enabling team members to come to terms with these issues is key to enabling the team to perform fast.
10. Make the Health of the Team A Priority Too!
Demonstrate your commitment to the health and vitality of the team and the importance of social connections and supportive interactions between team members.
Obviously, team performance and effectiveness are the primary considerations. However, the social health of a team is essential to sustained long-term performance. In addition to getting the work done, team members should bring out the best in each other.
Remember, in addition to your role as the leader of the team, you are also a member of the team.
11. Adapt and Optimize Continuously
The challenge of optimizing, energizing, and aligning within a project or team is ongoing rather than once off. A project team could be perfectly aligned in terms of its priorities and results at the start of a quarter but find itself out of alignment by the time the quarter comes to an end. This does not indicate any defect within the team, but rather that it is responding and adapting to the dynamic environment within which it is operating (incl. changing business needs and priorities).
Team leadership is an ongoing challenge, and success requires continuous effort. Every time there is a significant change to your team, treat it as a new team, see it as an opportunity to optimize, energize and realign the team's focus.
SOLUTIONS & SERVICES: Here are some of the ways that our research & insights are put to work by our clients:
- Note total clarity may not be possible, but at least there should be the objective of improving clarity & alignment.