Work requires us to participate in many forms of project groups and teams. We’ve all had (many!) frustrating experiences working on teams that are poorly led and managed. If you want to be a great team leader who delivers strong results AND attracts the best talent, you’ll need to do an ‘About FACE’. High performance teamwork happens by design, not by default. Great team leaders understand the architecture of high performance and take deliberate action to set their teams up for success. They also sustain high performance by helping the team continuously learn, adapt and develop. The legacy of a great team leader is a track record of strong results AND a team that has developed the will, capability and conviction to carry on—even without the leader. Here are the ‘About FACE’ practices that in my experience distinguish the best team leaders from the rest.
F = Focus and Fit. High performing team leaders refuse to lose by ensuring the critical few priorities and expected outcomes for the team are clear and compelling. They clarify both longer-term vision / intended business outcomes AND the critical few intermediate milestones/tasks that will ensure progress and momentum in the near-term. They inform AND inspire team members by clarifying (1) which few priorities matter most, (2) what success will look like in tangible terms, AND (3) why our work matters—to our stakeholders and to each of us. Beyond establishing clear focus, great team leaders actively recruit members who are a great fit for the work at hand, especially in the few ‘pivotal’ roles that will have disproportionate impact on team success or failure. They don’t settle for mediocre players in these pivotal roles. They realize that these few people will set the tone and create a “wake” of momentum for the rest of the team. Finally, they ensure that the team as a whole has the capability, credibility and commitment needed to deliver outstanding results AND represent key stakeholders whose support is critical to success.
A = Alignment and Accountability. Next, high performing team leaders ensure that their goals and deliverables align in support of higher-level business and customer priorities. Aligning the vectors is critical to delivering outstanding results that exceed the sum of the parts. They also clarify which team members are accountable for what tasks and decisions because when everyone is responsible, no ONE is accountable and friction, confusion and underperformance is the inevitable result. Architecting alignment and clear accountability sets the team up to be supported, productive and successful—individually and collectively.
C = Capability and Communication. Clarifying goals, roles, work processes, and ground rules for sustaining positive interpersonal relationships (GRPI) provides the architecture or structure for effective teamwork. Beyond this enabling structure, leaders must identify any motivation, ability, and support “gaps” within the team and take action to close these gaps and optimize the individual and collective capability of the team. Finally, great team leaders identify critical interdependencies with other individuals or departments that will support or limit team success. They ensure the team proactively engages these stakeholders to understand their needs, interests and concerns and identify opportunities to develop win-win solutions, or at a minimum, to invent an implementation path of least resistance. Sustaining ongoing, two-way communication with each key stakeholder is a critical responsibility of assigned team members. This structure, capability building and proactive two-way communication help teams succeed by building a capable and committed guiding coalition up front rather than being surprised, and potentially derailed, by inevitable resistance later in the game.
E = Engagement & Execution. Engagement research has shown that individuals who feel valued, challenged, and able to make meaningful progress give significantly more discretionary effort. High performing team leaders sustain engagement by establishing clear short-term milestones, monitoring progress, course correcting as needed, and celebrating successes. Beyond “checking on” task progress regularly, great leaders continuously “check in” to understand how members and key stakeholders are feeling and what can be done differently to improve effectiveness and efficiency. They “lean into discomfort” early and often to surface inevitable questions, concerns and frustrations before they disrupt progress and undermine relationships. As they uncover issues, concerns and ideas for improvement they take action to help the team learn, adapt and overcome or avoid obstacles. This leadership support builds motivation, improves ability to get things done and demonstrates the support that drives commitment and turbocharges execution.
“About FACE’ represents a “go slow to go fast” approach that helps team leaders deliver better results by design rather than defaulting to mediocrity or average performance. Because we all want to be part of a winning team, it also ensures team members have more fun in the process and feel more committed to the project and the leader. And last but not least, these leadership practices help build strong intra and inter-team relationships that can create competitive advantage: a culture that embraces real win-win collaboration and commitment to winning versus one where people default to compliance, complacency and minimal cooperation.