Whether you’re starting a new team or restarting a team that is off the rails, there are a few steps you can take to increase the likelihood that your team will fulfill its potential. These techniques help align your team around what you need to do and how you need to do it. If you aren’t clear on the answers to any of these questions, it’s worth pausing the action to get everyone on the same page.

1. Be clear on the value you’re expected to add.

The first step for any team is to define why it exists. It’s a simple question, but the answers don’t come easily. Standard, but insufficient, answers come from regurgitating the team leader’s performance objectives or reiterating the team’s operating plan. The most useful answers start with a lens on the external environment: What trends are affecting our customers and our organization, and how will those trends affect what the organization is counting on us to deliver?

Next, discuss the unique role that the team plays relative to the teams above, below and beside it. What is it that you pay attention to that no one else does? Don’t settle for a simple aggregation of each team member’s responsibilities. Instead, determine how the team adds value by co-creating across roles. Until you can answer these questions, your team won’t be sufficiently aligned and will likely run into role conflict, poor accountability and stalled productivity.

2. Determine what it will take to deliver on your mandate.

Make the connection between your purpose and your operating principles. Once you know what your team exists to do, what systems, processes and behaviors will allow you to deliver on that mandate? Are you meeting about the right topics, with the right frequency and duration to accomplish what you need to? Are the tone and tenor of your discussions driving the right outcomes?

For example, if you’re supposed to be cranking out innovation, how will you foster diverse ideas? If you’re presiding over a mature business managing decline, how will you let go of old ways and be open to new ones? Basically, what will you have to be good at as a team for you to deliver?

3. Understand the humans around the table.

Once you’re clear on the task at hand, spend some time getting to know the people who will work together to accomplish it. Use a style tool, preferably one that gets beneath people’s behavior and addresses what they need to be successful. Determine what each person brings to the table, what you need from each other to be at your best and what to expect when you’re under stress. Understanding one another goes a long way toward preventing friction.

Beyond an appreciation of the individuals, you also need to understand the team overall. What are the gaps and strengths of your team? If you have a void in a particular style, you’ll miss perspectives that contribute to effective decision-making. If you have too much of a good thing, you’ll introduce considerable risk into your decision-making. Either way, you’ll need to hardwire the required behaviors into processes and systems.

4. Contract on behavior.

Before you get into trouble, before there’s tension or conflict, contract with each other about what acceptable and unacceptable behavior looks like. Have an open conversation about how you want to approach conflict. Set the norms around decorum (good), disagreement (better) and back-channel discussions (bad). Talk about how you’re going to handle uncomfortable discussions and interpersonal tension. That way, when conflict inevitably comes, you’ll be ready – with your rules of the road already in place.

Investing in these areas will push your team to high performance quickly. It might feel like you’re off to a slow start, but a little investment up front will keep you aligned, promote a healthy team dynamic and save you countless hours down the road.

Share