There’s something magical about a team that collaborates so well, they make their success look effortless. But you know the truth: There’s nothing remotely effortless about success.
Whether you lead a small nonprofit moving mountains with a tiny budget or manage hundreds of people at a multi-million-dollar organization, success takes hard work — more than you ever think it will and sometimes more than you think you and your team have it in you to muster.
But like a jumble of ants hauling a hunk of food hundreds of times their body weight (as shown in the video above, which I captured during my recent travels to Central America), a dream team can boldly tackle seemingly impossible feats — more successfully than you ever could solo.
Because you’ve invested the time to get to know everyone. Maybe you’re assembling a team from scratch. Maybe you’re pushing an existing team to accomplish bigger and better things. Either way, leaders who accept that team-building takes time, then make the time to get to know everyone well, have a leg up on those who lead way too far ahead of their pack.
Hold one-on-ones as often as you can. Even on busy weeks, you can make it a priority to connect with your teammates on a personal level. Take colleagues out to coffee or lunch or happy hour, or carpool to meetings together. Find out what makes your teammates tick. Venture beyond résumé or LinkedIn material. What’s your favorite/least favorite memory from high school? Where are you traveling next? What are you looking forward to in the next six months?
Challenge your view of “strengths and weaknesses.” As you get to know your teammates, keep your ear to the ground for clues (obvious or obscure) about work they love to do and work they can’t stand to do. Simone Janssen, a fantastic leadership coach, calls this analysis “cake or cringe.” It’s a more action-oriented, less judgy alternative to “strengths and weaknesses.” When your project hits a rough patch (and you know they always do), colleagues who know each other on a cake-or-cringe level can more effectively lean on one another and get things done.
Be open, honest and OK with vulnerability. A crucial part of getting to know your team is giving them the opportunity to get to know you. Embrace the vulnerability of what you don’t know about your teammates, and what they don’t know about you — yet. If your colleagues aren’t as assertive as you are about the getting-to-know-you process, find your own way to tell your story. Be as generous with the insights you share with your team as you ask them to be with you.
See tension and dissent as starting blocks, not roadblocks. No one wins when a poorly functioning team keeps slogging through whatever’s not working. Sometimes, it takes an uncomfortable meeting, with personalities flaring, for everyone on your team to come to a common understanding of changes that need to happen for you to move past obstacles and reach your goals. Share and invite honest feedback. Ask critical questions. Doing so as a team will give everyone a sense of ownership in the results.
Say no to “That’s not part of my job.” If this is something you’ve heard or said yourself in the last 30 days, it’s time to reassess your comfort level with the “other duties as assigned” category. Individually and collectively, everyone on a great team needs to be open to shifts in roles and responsibilities that can better support the team’s vision. Done right, those shifts can boost in productivity and morale.
Sure, staffing challenges can be terrifically tricky to solve. But if you’ve invested the time in getting to know your people, if you’ve fostered a work environment where open and honest communication is a shared expectation, you can make big, bold leadership decisions with decisive confidence.