A leader’s ability to create a collaborative environment through open communication and mutual understanding is undoubtedly becoming a critical leadership skill in today’s faster-paced, increasingly interconnected world.
But how do you establish and maintain team harmony if those team dynamics are in constant flux? As team life spans continue to shrink in response to faster industry/market changes, how can leaders not only ensure team cohesion, but adapt to the changing team and personality dynamics that inevitably occur when old team members leave and new ones join?
These are questions that came to mind when I was re-elected to serve a second term as chairman of the Governing Board for one of the regional high schools. While I might be familiar with the goals and challenges we’ll have to address, the team itself has changed as more than half of the members are both new to the team and new to the process of governing an educational institution.
The opportunity to serve in a leadership capacity for this mix of old and new team members brought to mind these three key principles leaders need to encourage in themselves and within their employees to maintain a sense of team harmony regardless of how often their team dynamics might change.
1. Listen and observe to understand team dynamics and individual motivations
Regardless of whether you’re the team’s leader or one of its members, it’s easy to come into these team efforts armed with what you personally want to accomplish or focus mostly what matters to you.
In many ways this manifests itself with the leader (and sometimes other team members) trying to press changes for how the team operates to better suit their needs/interests. For everyone else on the team, such efforts often come across as a power grab or marking off territory of who’s in charge or in control of what. In these scenarios, there’s clearly little interest in trying to understand why things are approached in the manner they are as the focus is more on having one’s way.
As the team’s leader, your focus should be on spending more time listening and observing what your team members have to say; to understand what they hope to accomplish, what would make them feel like they are contributing in a meaningful fashion, and how to make them outward-focused on the team’s needs instead of inward-focused on their own.
Remember that irrespective of what title, role, or expertise you bring to the team, the simple truth is that all of you are members of the same team. For those in charge, that means making sure you’re not using your authority to try and control the process to suit yourself.
Rather, your goal should be to empower everyone at the table to be full contributors and participants. How leaders can go about achieving this can be seen in the next principle.
2. Demonstrate trust and respect through your words and actions
One of common false perceptions surrounding leadership is the notion that in order to lead others one has to be the smartest person in the room. This is why employees often resist change as those in charge spend little time explaining the measures or trying to understand the concerns of those they lead, opting instead to use their authority to simply push their decisions from the top down.
While those in leadership positions do carry the burden of responsibility for the outcomes of their team’s decisions, leaders still have to bring their team members into the discussion, openly welcoming and soliciting their input because they understand that their team as a collective will be far smarter and capable of determining the best course of action than if they were to simply chart it on their own.
It’s important not to overlook the fact that each person is on that team because of what they contribute – of how their insights, experiences and knowledge can help inform and shape the decisions made by the team as a whole. It’s a point that leaders need to communicate and evoke by treating each member with the same level of trust and respect, irrespective of what their roles might be outside your team.
This is especially important when new members join an existing team, as there can be concerns over whether long-time team members would be willing to hear an ‘outsiders’ point of view. By reminding your team through your words and actions that everyone rightfully deserves a place at the table, you will not only help empower all your employees to create and add value to the discussion, but you will also facilitate a sense of ownership in their collective efforts.
As Tony Hsieh wrote in his book “Delivering Happiness”, “people may not remember exactly what you did or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”
3. To be a good leader you need to be a good follower
Once leaders become comfortable with accepting the reality that they don’t need to be the smartest person in the room to effectively lead others, the next key principle to successfully managing an ever-changing team dynamic is accepting the fact that you need to be a good follower in order to be an effective leader.
I’m sure we’ve all worked on teams where one of the members has experience leading other teams and insists on using that experience to rationalize their efforts to continually point out how they’d run meetings or come to make decisions. While they might be thinking that they are helping others to become better leaders by imparting some of their experiences, the reality is that they are simply trying to be another ‘leader at the table’ by focusing more on what works for them than on understanding what works for the team.
This is why so many of today’s successful leaders not only encourage delegation of key projects and decisions, but why they also make a habit of letting others lead the teams they serve on. They understand that to be a good leader, you have to be a good follower by putting the needs of those you serve ahead of your own interests.
Providing others with the opportunity to lead reminds both leaders and their employees that it’s not about those in charge, nor is it about those who served on the team the longest, or any external, unrelated roles or functions. Rather, it’s about what they all want to collectively accomplish as a team and community.
Regardless of what field or industry you operate in, the ability to build and empower constantly-evolving teams while maintaining team harmony has become a leadership necessity, one that the old command-and-control model cannot help leaders to effectively address.
By adhering to these three interconnected principles of leadership and teamwork, leaders will be more successful in guiding their employees and organizations forward towards achieving their shared purpose, while embracing both the rapid pace and demand for change required by today’s global economy.