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Building Your Winning Team

Published on Feb 17, 2021

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We are all hopeful and excited that 2021 will bring fewer challenges and more success than 2020, even as our Auckland friends continue to bounce in and out of lockdown. Whilst there may be a motivated atmosphere within many Kiwi organisations as they focus on the opportunities ahead, there’s an ever-present danger that leadership can forget to invest in the foundations that enable long-term, sustainable changes: their people.

Running fast and pushing hard on goals and results is perfectly acceptable. But it’s important organisations are honest with themselves and their team - don’t pay lip service to sustainable team building because it feels like the right thing to do. Building a winning team is not easy, but it is absolutely key to long term business success and to building a culture where innovation flourishes. Here’s some of my ingredients in the recipe for building a winning team.

Ingredients to a winning team

Good humans

The most effective, enduring teams are made of good human beings with a high level of care. Hiring solid people to begin with is priority #1. If you have rogues, narcissists or slackers then focus on removing these people first. There is enough depth of talent across virtually all disciplines to find great people who are also incredibly talented. The modern NZ workplace culture can fold under the influence of a ‘brilliant jerk’, with many stories of companies losing top talent due to the presence of one problem child.

With this said, good humans don’t always manifest in their best form early on in a workplace, especially if there’s a well-trodden path of rewarding bad behaviours. A business must identify and treat culture toxicity to pave the way for good people to do their best work.

Clear and inspiring leadership

Even the most talented group of professionals can be rendered ineffective in the absence of clarity in direction and leadership. It’s up to the senior leadership of a business to define and illuminate a vision to its team that’s meaningful, achievable and clearly articulated. Back to the idea of ‘lip service’; vision is one of the most commonly mishandled parts of a business’ identity, with many organisations conflating vision with strategy or brand. A vision should be an honest, resonant mission, understood by everyone from the CEO to a new starter on their first day.

Inspiring a team can’t only be done with words, but it needs actions and behaviours too. Leadership will remain excited and optimistic about the potential ahead, steer the team towards the goal and pick up those who have fallen down or lost sight of their purpose in the business. An inspiring leader takes on challenges and navigates adversity with the outward display of resilience and ownership.

After 2020, where resilience was tested to its limits, it’s a timely reminder to your leadership team that they are a source of strength and inspiration to the wider team - and there’s recent history to prove it.

Managers who give a damn

The care factor is criminally underrated in business. A common trait linking all the successful businesses I work with is the genuine nature with which their managers conduct their employee relationships. The outdated notion of a manager as a position of superiority in a power dynamic simply must give way to a focus primarily about the growth and wellbeing of their people. A professional who eyes management in their career roadmap for reasons that don’t include a love of growing and supporting other people should be handled with extreme caution. The best managers I’ve worked with care deeply about others (not themselves - note the narcissist point earlier).

What’s giving a damn then? A manager cares as much about the success of the individual and their growth, as they do the overall business and associated results. A good manager understands and supports their team through challenges - and not just those confined to the work day. And a manager understands their role is to serve and support as much as it is to lead.

Making Team Members Feel Safe

When a team has been crafted with the above ingredients, the people within it feel safe. They are included and part of something, and are not left wondering as to their importance within that team. With safety in a role, individuals can focus on being their best and contributing to the business without the distraction of job instability or politics. This allows relationships within the team to strengthen (with each other and leaders), which grows trust.

Increased trust within a team allows vulnerabilities to surface in a safe environment. It’s in this dynamic that business’ teams are able to have constructive, spirited debates and challenges in the best interests of the business. With an underlying trust and respect between peers, conversations are more objective and about something, not someone. The alternative, which is all too common across the business world is that of the loudest or most insistent voice influencing direction.

Building Accountability

Safety and trust in a business creates space where individuals are willing and enthusiastic about taking ownership. Within a safe and trusting team, people are more likely to willingly accept accountability for their work. This flows across the business providing clarity of ownership for various programmes, actions and results. In an environment where people feel unsafe, paranoid and worried about perceptions, there will be a distinct lack of keen volunteers to take on roles and responsibilities outside their base job requirements. Remove this worry, and your people don’t just become accountable, but feel licensed to innovate and grow the business with their own brilliant ideas.

Growing With vs. Through Team Members

The theory around team building with the right ingredients is great, but to truly create the sustainable, high performing culture you are looking for, you need a clear commitment and philosophical belief that growing with not through your people is how you roll. Growing with people operates on the belief that a better, happier, more productive, more fun business/team can be grown if the team operates with a “people first” mentality

With the right foundational ingredients, you can create clarity on values and associated behaviours and on the emotional culture of the team (how you want people to feel when working together).

It will take time, it is an endless journey and no organisation is above it - just take one of the most powerful long-lasting teams in Aotearoa, The All Blacks as an example; clear values, expected behaviours and a “no dickheads” recruitment policy that supports a team culture built on strength and trust.

Closing thoughts

So some questions to ponder before you charge off towards your 2021 Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG):

  • Do I truly have the right people to build a winning team?
  • Am I committed to growing my business ‘with’, not ‘through’ my people?
  • Do I have management skills in my business to help to make the wider team sustainably successful?

If not, maybe we should chat?

Peter de Boer is an expert in guiding NZ businesses through growing a team and supporting managers to unlock their people’s potential.