Why Leadership Matters – How to Lead a Successful Team

This Series looks at why leadership is still so important in an increasingly diverse and democratic workplace. We’d like to invite you to consider your own leadership style and how to invest in your leadership development. In turn you’ll be better equipped to engage those around you, so that together you can reach your personal goals as well as your corporate objectives. We’re going to look at five areas of leadership with the potential to change the way you do business. This week: How to Lead a Successful Team

It’s an oft-quoted African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. There are few better images of a successful team performing well under pressure than a world-class yachting crew. The margins for error are extremely tight and the crew must constantly fight to get the most out of the elements, propelling themselves forward, each playing their part. The term “collective precision” is used to describe their reliance on precise timing and teamwork. However, for many of us that experience of collaborative purpose and passion is a long way from the office. Our experience is of the drag created by colleagues not pulling their weight, malfunctioning IT systems or senior management out of touch with the day-to-day running of the business.

Why Collaboration Has A Bad Reputation

Collaboration can seem counter-productive. Meetings can quickly eat up valuable time and what was supposed to be “two heads are better than one” rapidly deteriorates into “too many cooks spoil the broth”. A recent article from the Harvard Business Review describes the incessant drive for teamwork as “collaborative overload”.

Whilst we all recognise that more heads should make us more productive. Our experience is that the time spent in endless meetings ‘collaborating’ actually appears to get less done. Sometimes it feels as though it would be easier to take back that task we delegated last week and just do what it takes to make it happen ourselves. At times like these it’s easy to believe that no-one can do what you do as well as you do.

The Problem with Other People

During a 1961 address to the Canadian Parliament, President John F. Kennedy said, “Geography has made us neighbors. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners. And necessity has made us allies … What unites us is far greater than what divides us.”

These days our daily interactions are far more diverse than they would have been for most Americans or Canadians at that time. Looking up from your desk you may see a diverse collection of colleagues, more likely to have shared the same holiday destination than the same country of origin. Within your team or department there will be strong characters and many opinions about what works and what doesn’t, as well as how to get things done. Add to this unresolved issues and unspoken criticism and this leads to divisiveness and mistrust. Very quickly you have a group of people better at competing with each other than with the competition.

We are all naturally inclined to spend time with people like us – in age and stage, in background or language, in wealth and influence. It just feels more comfortable. Thrown into a team or project with people we don’t know and may not particularly like requires a certain level of commitment to get the best out of ourselves, let alone anyone else. It costs us a lot more in time, energy, and possibly money, to listen to, engage with, and incorporate into our lives, those who are different from us.

However when problems arrive and solutions are needed – as they inevitably will and do – it’s that very diversity that is better able to creatively resolve the issues. It’s everyone performing at their best which will produce new approaches to old problems, enabling you to share those solutions with your customers, as equally diverse as they will be.

Harnessing Diversity

In fact, research shows that diversity doesn’t just help to solve existing problems by bringing different perspectives and experience to the table. It actually increases productivity. This suggests that the energy it takes to engage with a diverse workforce is well spent and will in turn create results which are measurable and performance-related.

A McKinsey Report out last year shows that, “companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians”. Most companies are becoming aware of this and intentionally recruit and promote individuals to further that goal of diversity. But what do they do with the challenges that brings, such as –

  • what language – national or cultural – do you use to communicate vision?
  • why does it matter whether you eat or socialise together?
  • how do you motivate a team driven by a variety of cultural values?

This creates a huge learning curve for growing businesses. And inevitably leaders are asking the question, how do I lead a successful – diverse – team?

How Do I Lead a Successful Team?

As leaders we have the opportunity to harness that diversity, so that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and lead our teams to excellence. Helping diverse teams to work together is what we do at Moving Performance. An orchestra is a perfect picture of – among other things – finding unity within diversity, as those who excel in their own instrument come together to create a corporate performance. We believe that equipping diverse teams to work together isn’t just about people getting along better but it’s about bringing out their best when it matters most.

Five Steps to Leading a Successful Team

  1. Start by acknowledging that you have in front of you a vastly diverse group of people, all coming from different perspectives, with different strengths and weaknesses. However instead of seeing that as a problem, see that diversity as part of the solution, with each individual contributing their best to a common goal. Think of it as parts of the body, each with a different function.
  2. Communicate a common purpose – whether this is a company vision statement or a project outcome. It’s your role as leader to keep the mission in front of the team at all times. It needs to be an authentic rallying cry to the question of ‘why are we doing this?’, something which empowers each individual to play their part to contribute to the whole.
  3. Be attentive – take time to hear people and give them time to talk. They will likely see problems, as well as solutions, that you don’t. So that together the team can avoid the pitfalls one person alone might not have seen.
  4. Enable each person to excel at what they do. Ensure that each person has a specific function and each person’s responsibilities fall within that role. Help people to succeed. Encourage their successes and celebrate team victories, however small. This creates momentum and will help carry the team forward to what’s next.
  5. Make meetings work again –
    1. Be intentional. Meetings can still be relaxed and relational but set clear goals. Close the meeting when goals have been met and summarise what’s been achieved.
    2. If the goals can’t be met or people seem to be getting bogged down in the details, take a break, have lunch or come back tomorrow. If regular meetings do become sluggish and futile, cancel them and re-schedule at a better time or in another location. It’s surprising what a difference to mood and motivation a small change can make.
    3. Save unresolved or side-issues for after the main meeting and for only the people who need to deal with them. Once people start to see that meetings are relevant and useful for them they’ll turn up better prepared and more willing to engage, making the time spent more productive again.

For your part, be a great leader. Theodore Roosevelt stated, “The leader leads, the boss drives”. Cattle are driven and no-one wants to be driven. Your role is to bring the best out of the team enabling them to accomplish your shared objectives.

Previously in this series we talked about Leadership Style. Next in the Series we talk about What Makes An Excellent Leader or Consistently Performing Well Without Losing Your Soul

I have had the pleasure of sharing Know the Score® with clients as part of leadership programmes designed to cultivate leadership strengths, passion, self-awareness and better understanding of team dynamics. The session is wonderful. It helps open everyone’s hearts as well as providing rich and powerful metaphors for attunement, listening, team performance, risk taking and unleashing excellence. Ben is masterful at facilitating participant reflection and drawing the leadership lessons from his interviews with the conductor and the performers. People leave Know the Score® uplifted, engaged and focused on their own leadership journey.”