Maybe it’s happened to you: You’ve carefully assembled a team of talented individuals to tackle a specific project. But despite all your efforts, the team isn’t functioning as a cohesive unit. Members don’t exhibit camaraderie. They’re not exchanging ideas. And they don’t seem to care deeply about the project.
You’re frustrated because you know that a high-performing team could generate valuable benefits for
your company — including creative ideas. How might you turn your team around?
Effective team leaders apply the following four strategies:
First, recruit the right members
Second, articulate a clear goal
Third, foster commitment to the goal, and
Fourth, ensure collaboration
To see how these strategies work in practice, let’s listen in as Grace assembles and leads a team.
Grace is a manager at Medi-Eye, a company that makes medical equipment. Her boss has asked her to lead an important task force charged with investigating new medical-imaging technologies and recommending a technology to upper management. Grace recognizes that this is a visible leadership role and wants to lead the team to produce impressive results.
Grace starts by applying the first strategy for team leadership: recruiting the right members. She
identifies several people at the company who have extensive technical expertise. She knows she will also need people with skills other than technology, so she identifies additional individuals from various departments within Medi-Eye who excel at problem solving and communication. Ultimately, she thinks of seven people she would like to include on her task-force team — and, with help from her
boss, gets permission from their supervisors to “borrow” them for several hours a week during the course of the critical project.
With the team members identified, Grace moves to the second strategy: articulating a clear goal. She
meets individually with each team member and carefully explains the team’s goal. The task force is to review new medical-imaging technologies and propose adoption of a technology that will increase Medi-Eye’s profitability. She further clarifies that upper management has set an objective of increasing profitability by at least 20% in the coming year.
With the team’s goal spelled out, Grace now tackles the third strategy for team leadership: fostering
commitment to the goal. At a launch meeting, she welcomes everyone and asks if they all understand the project goal. Around the room, people nod. Over sandwiches and sodas, the team members introduce themselves. Grace describes each team member’s expertise and why she thinks that person
will be a valuable asset to the team. Grace carefully explains the timeline and milestones for the project deliverables, as well as the resources the team will have available. The meeting closes on a positive note, although it ends abruptly with members rushing back to their regular jobs. However, Grace soon begins to wonder just how much commitment her launch meeting generated. Over the next weeks, as the team starts its work, she notices that some members don’t show up for
status meetings. And others don’t follow through on assigned tasks. She understands that team
members still have their usual workloads and that the task force is an additional responsibility — but it
is also a highly visible project.
During an impromptu chat with Abdulla, a colleague, Grace mentions her concerns about her team’s apparent lack of commitment. She tells him, “I don’t understand — we had a good launch meeting.”
Abdulla asks what was covered at the launch. After she relates the details, he replies, “It sounds like
you left out a couple of things — like explaining how the project fits in with the company’s strategy, and the recognition team members will get if their technical recommendations successfully contribute to our strategic objectives.”
Grace thinks back on the launch meeting and nods, “You’re right. We ran out of time, and I didn’t cover that.” At the next team meeting, she takes a moment to correct the situation. She tells the team members, “This project is essential for Medi-Eye’s push into new imaging markets. The executive
committee is backing this, so our team — and our recommendations and their impact — will be highly
visible. This is a major opportunity for us to be noticed and recognized for contributing to a strategy that’s crucial to the company.” This new information gets immediate results: team meeting attendance rises, and people start honoring their commitments.
Several weeks later, Grace has an opportunity to apply the fourth strategy for team leadership:
ensuring collaboration. Through talking with a few team members, she uncovers that two people are doing most of the work and that several members aren’t sharing information and ideas. She realizes that although she has secured people’s commitment to the project goal, she hasn’t succeeded in getting them to cooperate with one another. She knows that collaboration is essential to a team’s ability to achieve its objective.
Remembering how helpful Abdulla had been, Grace decides to check in with him again. After Grace describes the problem, Abdulla asks her how power is distributed throughout the team. Grace answers, “Since the project is so critical, I’m having people report to me on their progress every day.” Abdulla cautions that a stiff reporting structure can discourage people from sharing information. He suggests, “You might want to try having team members report to each other instead. Nonhierarchical communication often encourages more collaboration.”
Grace follows Abdulla’s suggestion and notices that collaboration within her team does indeed
improve. Members not only begin exchanging information and ideas more freely; they also start sharing resources and putting the team’s interests above their own personal concerns.
This increased collaboration leads to success: The team identifies an emerging technology that they then have customized to enable radiologists to interpret medical images created at any hospital from locations anywhere in the world. After incorporating the technology into its offerings, Medi-Eye meets its objective of increasing profitability 20% by the following year.
And upper management does not forget to recognize and reward the task force members for their significant contribution.
Grace discovered firsthand the importance of the team leadership strategies: First, recruit the right members. Second, articulate a clear goal. Third, foster commitment to the goal. And fourth, ensure collaboration.
Apply these same strategies, and you can help your team produce equally valuable results.