Strong, positive teamwork is defined by a leader who has a vision and the ability to inspire his or her team to work toward the realization of that vision.
The leader is not threatened in the least by the expertise and diversity of his or her team. Rather, a good team leader engages his or her teammates in a discussion about what quality looks like, what is needed to perform and complete the job, and empowers the team members to always strive for quality improvement.
Let’s break all that down into its component parts. The first is a clearly defined leader. I believe every team must have a leader. There must be someone who is in charge and makes the ultimate decisions.
Team members may take turns being the leader as long as everyone is clear who the leader is on any given day. Another variation of that theme is to have certain people be the leader for projects that are in their area of expertise. However, in every event, there can be no question among teammates who is the leader for that day or project.
The leader needs to have a vision. This is similar to Covey’s second habit, “Begin with the end in mind.” A true leader creates the end product twice—once mentality and then in its actual form. It is impossible to lead toward a fuzzy vision. People are simply not inspired to follow uncertainty.
Having the vision is not enough to inspire teammates to strive toward the same goal. A good team leader knows how to help each teammate see how the end product or service will be useful and what, exactly, their individual contribution is toward that end.
How does the janitor contribute to fans’ enjoyment at a professional baseball game? By providing a clean, neat bathroom experience—that’s how. If the janitor sees himself as a critical cog in the big picture goal and he receives positive recognition for it, then he is more likely to perform his job with enthusiasm.
Another component of being able to inspire one’s teammates is having a clearly defined mission that everyone, preferably, has had a part in developing, but if not, then at least team members can agree to the previously established team mission.
This becomes important in times of conflict between team members. When there is a dispute to be solved, it is helpful to have an already established way to measure the solution. Solutions are always held up against the mission and whether or not it will move the team closer or further from the ultimate goal.
The other advantage of having a mission that has been agreed upon by all team members is that it can enhance cooperation. One of the most difficult things to manage on a team is an individual ego. There can be petty jealousies and a competitive spirit that can kill the cooperation of the best team. The mission statement is a way to minimize this potential for disaster.
The mission remains the focus that everything else is compared to. An individual’s action is either helpful or hurtful to the mission and dealt with accordingly. The group’s goal must always be placed above any individual’s desires or ego. Jealousy and backstabbing have no useful place on a team.
A good leader is in no way threatened by the expertise and diversity of his or her team. The best leaders are always seeking information from the front line people who are doing the actual work. Without information from team members, the leader’s hands are tied behind his or her back.
It is also critical to use team members in their areas of expertise. Leaders can’t know everything about everything. There will be team members who have skills and abilities that surpass those of the leader in certain areas. A good leader will ask for help when it is prudent.
This is also a time to value diversity. Having a team made up of people who all do the same jobs in pretty much the same way really has no value. One person could more easily do the job than assembling a homogenous team.
The value of a team comes from its heterogeneity. Getting feedback and suggestions from people who do things differently is what will spark the creativity and the genius of the team. This is what masterminding is all about. Tap into the wealth that is already there.
Finally, a good leader holds the bar high. He or she does not ask his team to be average or mediocre. Average and mediocre can be easily replaced. The leader asks his or her team to collectively do their very best and when they are done, the leader asks them to always strive for continuous improvement. The work is never done. The team should always be evaluating what has been implemented and be comfortable making suggestions for ways to do it even better.
Previously, I mentioned that a good leader empowers his or her teammates. Creating a need-satisfying environment does this. Team members must get along and know that the leader and the company have their best interests at heart. They must feel important, listened to and respected. They must have the freedom to make choices within the context of their assignments and they must have some fun in their work.
It is also critical for team members to feel safe. This means that they are not fearful in any way. The team leader is critical in fostering this environment for the empowerment of the entire team.