How to Become an Effective Team

By David W. Hasenbalg

The Question

Her face looked panicked and then went blank as I repeated myself: “It’s a wonderful accomplishment to move into this level of management. Now that you’re in charge of an important team, what is the first thing you need to do as the team’s leader?”

This was the beginning of my exchange with a manager I had been asked to work with in a strategically-important department of a long-time client. Her challenge as a new team leader was an all-too-common one for leaders at all levels of organizations.

How would you answer the question? What is the first thing you need to do as a team leader?

To help answer that question, let’s first set a baseline for what a team leader needs to know about effective teams. Here are just three essential things to understand:

  1. Teams are the primary mechanism by which most outcomes in any organization are produced.
  2. Teams exist to produce an outcome that is bigger than what the individuals could do by themselves.
  3. Teams thrive when they have a common performance objective.

Does this mean that the team leader’s job is to tell everyone what to do? Absolutely not! That isn’t leadership; it’s trying to be the “boss.” Leadership is about creating an environment for your team(s) to thrive, which brings us back to the question:  “When you find yourself in a position as a new team leader, what is the first thing you do?”

The answer for truly successful leaders is this: you have your team members talk about how each of them is going to work together as a team. 

The research is clear. Teams that collaborate for the sake of a clearly understood and shared purpose are significantly more successful. Teams that share a commitment to work together and support each other through mutual accountability are wildly more successful than those that don’t. In short, HOW a team works together has the biggest impact on its results and its ultimate success.

Of course, it’s not enough just to have casual conversations as a team. There are critical topics that real teams need to explicitly talk about, starting with why the team exists in the first place. Why are you a team, and what is your purpose?

Once it’s clear why you exist as a team, each person on the team needs to commit to you (the team leader) and to each other how they are going to work together as a team.

For guidance on having that conversation, read our next post: Becoming an Effective Team (Part 2)

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