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Eight Ways Leaders Build Great Teams

Updated: Dec 21, 2022

A great team is the result of the effort put in by the leader in growing people. That is just an inalienable fact of leadership. Here are eight ways you can build great teams.

Dartmoor Zoological Park was bought by Benjamin Mee after its closure. He reopened the zoo and wrote a book about his experiences called We Bought a Zoo, which was loosely adapted into a family movie.

In the movie, one of Benjamin's staff asks him, why he bought the zoo despite knowing nothing about zoo management, being from the city, having to drag his kids to the middle of nowhere, his simple response was, "Why not?"

1. Why Not?

A simple yet powerful thought, Why Not?! On numerous occasions we don't move forward in life because we frantically search for the answer to the question ‘should I, do it?’, all the while the better suited question is, ‘Why Not?

I know, it might sound reckless and precarious, because unplanned and spontaneous action has its consequences. However a leader can encourage a ‘Why Not’ attitude or a mindset with his or her team.

The leader is careful in using ‘why not' as a mental model, a mindset, as an internal dialogue or as an attitude and not as a strategy. Using it as a way to break stereotypes and challenge the team to achieve their capacity and build camaraderie as they take this daring action.

2. Collective Internal Question

By creating a workplace culture that not only depends on formal training activities but uses informal and casual communication to share experiences, mindsets, and attitude with one another, the team grows to its capacity and cohesiveness.

One of the ways to bring out the best in your team is to help the team to collectively reframe the internal questions about self, others and the team, will change the way the team functions.

Let’s imagine you are offered the position of a CEO and your first task is to draw up a 5-year plan by selecting only one question from the following four questions.

  1. How Do I Satisfy the Stake Holder

  2. How Do I Satisfy the Customer

  3. How Do I Satisfy the Employee

  4. How Do I Satisfy the Social Legacy

The question you choose to ask yourself and others, will set the tone for the next 5 years that will shape the organisation culture and activities.

This phenomenon can be especially observed when a new leader joins the workplace, or when a politician takes office, etc. The darker side of this phenomenon is how the new leader tears down everything the previous leader has created. Many leaders who do this are leaders with an insecure internal schema, who ask themself these questions when they take up the new leadership role;

  • How can I show I am better than the previous leader?

  • How can I tarnish the image of the previous leader?

  • Am I enough?

  • Do people respect me more?

It simply means that the questions we ask ourselves internally as individuals and teams are expressed externally in the way we conduct our leadership and set the tone for the team culture.

So, by helping the team members to frame the most resourceful questions, will set the scene for the team dynamics and productivity.

Remember, it all starts with you, as a leader, what is your internal question regarding your leadership, team and organisation?

3. Unpopular Questions

Let's go back in time, to the time when our ancestors were nomads, moving from one place to another in search of food and water. All the while asking one fundamental question, ‘Where Can We Find Our Next Food or Water?’. And I am sure, one crazy ancestor had the audacity to ask, ‘what am I doing, why can’t the food & water come to me?’

I am sure, there were a hundred voices that labelled him or her crazy and tried to subdue him or her by saying “this is our way of life, this is tradition. There are so many cliches like this that keep us stuck in the pit of mediocrity. Great questions pave the way for great possibilities.

I can say with certainty, there will always be at least one person in your team, in your organisation, in your community, in your family; that asks questions that are not of popular opinion.

The next time you hear it, take a pause before you judge them. Maybe adopting their question might help you solve a problem you are stuck with and pave the way for great possibilities.

When a Leader encourages unpopular questions, not only is the leader opening up new possibilities, but the leader is also reassuring to the team members that the leader values every opinion and is willing to explore the viability of every idea.

4. Space for Change

Capacity is a misused and abused word that is marred in controversies because when a person transitions and expands their capacity, it is messy, sometimes it is even difficult to accept what the person has become.

Even though we often quote the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, "change is the only constant.”, we are generally unwilling to be gracious about the process of change. Oftentimes we are eager for the end result, although we do not want to create the space required for the inevitable mess when a person expands their capacity.

How do we create the right space to navigate the turbulence of change? As a leader, break free from the business agenda driven development model, rather focus on the unique capacity of the individual and creating the right space for personal growth. A coaching environment is the right space for expediting the team members journey to their potential.

When a leader reassures that the mess and fuss that comes with a change is positively handled, the team members become more engaged in personal growth and more willing to take risks in increasing their capacity.

5. Infinite Potential

Capacity is the maximum amount that something can contain or the amount that something can produce. When speaking about the capacity of an employee, there is a maximum an employee can produce, based on his/her maximum ability.

Imagine a car has a fuel tank capacity of 60 litres and gives you 20 Kilometre per litre. Which means, the maximum fuel that the tank can take at any given time is 60 litres of fuel and since the car gives a mileage of 20 kmpl, the maximum in an ideal conduction the car can go in a full tank of fuel without refuelling will be 60 litre x 20 kilometre, i.e 1,200 kilometres.

Now what needs to happen if you want to go another 100 kilometers without refueling? You can either retune the engine to give out lesser BHP thus increasing the mileage per litre, or increase the size of the fuel tank.

Interestingly human beings are not limited by any tank size, humans have infinite potential, provided they have a growth plan, a growth environment and a growth mindset. A person on an intentional growth plan, over time becomes more valuable, and increases their capacity to produce.

I have personally witnessed time and time again people do remarkable things despite being oblivious to it when we began our growth journey together.

Therefore, I believe at the heart of any great team, is a leader who recognizes that the team has infinite potential; and that they can always do better by being provided with the right resources that not only enable them to get better but keep them together.

6. Limit on Infinite Potential

Now there are some flawed perceptions about infinite potential that leaders subscribe to, regarding what actually entails a growth mindset, growth plan and infinite potential. Thus, in effect creating a toxic work culture that is detrimental and counter -productive in the long run.

Infinite potential does not mean anyone can do anything. Yes! Theoretically anyone can do anything, but that does not mean everyone should try to do anything.

I play badminton, but can I become champion of the BWF World Championship like Loh Kean Yew, maybe - maybe not, but is it something that I am naturally inclined towards, definitely not!

At the workplace, this misunderstanding causes leaders to set unrealistic expectations from their team members. By all means, every employee can definitely become more than who they were yesterday, be it in skill, emotions, relationship, intelligence or physically, provided there is a strong realistic need backed by a growth plan.

When a Leader believes that the team is not limited but understands the limitations, and ensures those limitations are considered while creating collective expectations, the team members are inspired to be themselves and contribute originally.

7. Need Alignment

What is the need that drives a person to drive the organisation to its potential. Afterall, a business is like a rowboat, depending on how the people are rowing, the boat will make its journey forward. The boat itself cannot go anywhere unless it is rowed. That is exactly how an organisation is, the people row the organisation to its success.

There are studies that say only a small percentage, less than 15 % of employees believe in the vision of the organisation and are willing to go the extra mile for achieving it. This small percentage of engaged employees put their sweat into rowing the boat, and they take the burden of success upon them, because their need is aligned with the organization's need. While the bigger chunk of employees is just creating enough drift to keep them relevant. Meaning, that which is true for an organization is true for teams.

When a leader aligns the needs of the employee to the goals of the team by creating an environment that enables the individual needs and team goals to grow in tandem; the team, as a result will keep expanding its potential and achieve great results.

8. Am I in the right place?

Many times, leaders and business owners don't want their employees to ask the question ‘am I in the right place?’, because they are worried about what they will find. so instead they try to trap them in the role either through illusion of hope or fear. That is why so many people feel so exhausted at work, because they are either consciously or unconsciously battling the question, am I an imposter here?

As a leader, by allowing your people to find themselves will fetch reward. Yes, it is true, there may be attrition and disruption, but you can be sure, you have filtered the right kind of people who are happy to be working with you, thus creating a more engaged and connected team.

Building great teams has historically been a difficult endeavor for any leader. When we look into the success stories of the pandemic it has brought out how important a great team is for organisational success, because during any transition, it is the employees that take the organisation's vision and mission forward in the face of adversity.

I know it sounds like a utopian idea, but then again, every change in human thought, behaviour, society and technology were a utopian idea at some point in history, for that reason, I hope more leaders will work towards creating great teams in workplaces that are cradles for expanding individual capacity and imbibing self-actualization.

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