Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a four-part series by Dean Brenner addressing strategies for building successful teams. The first article, “Five Deadly Pitfalls that Threaten Team Failure,” appeared in the June 2010 edition of Waypoints. Brenner recently served as keynote speaker at the Sail America Sailing Industry Conference.
“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress.
Working together is success.”
- Henry Ford
In the last issue of Waypoints, we reviewed why certain teams fail. In this issue, we’ll share some important things to think about when you are building your team from the ground up. Sometimes we lead, or are a part of, legacy teams. But other times, we have the opportunity – and good fortune – to build, or be a part of, a team from the beginning. That’s our topic today.
When we inherit or join an existing team, often the best way to make that team great is to fine-tune the necessary adjustments rather than start over. In other words, sometimes you just have to play the hand of cards that you have been dealt. Conversely, when given the chance to build a team from the beginning, it is a fantastic opportunity to create something special. Making the most of that opportunity requires some planning and forethought.
Here are six steps you can take the next time you are in the position of building a new team:
- Define Your Goals. The first step is simple: decide where you are going. Decide what your team’s goals are. Decide upon your purpose or mission. This is required and critical, because only when you clearly know what goals you are trying to achieve do you have a reasonable chance of reaching them.
Ask yourself: are we launching a new product? Are we managing a time-sensitive project? Will our success be determined by our ability to manage cost, hit timelines, expand creativity, or something else entirely? What are we trying to accomplish, and how will we know if we have been successful? We must start here; this decision will shape nearly everything else that’s done in the team-building process.
- Identify the Necessary Skills. Once you know where you want the team to go, you then need to profile the skill sets individual members need to possess to achieve the goals. You should notice here that we are not yet talking about naming candidates. Discussing names of potential team members too early in the process can be dangerous and counterproductive. Doing so can lead to conscious or subconscious decisions on who we want before we are sure that person is the correct fit. You can have an incredibly talented individual with a great attitude who would not be a good fit on your team for other reasons. No names yet.
The second step is about focusing on the skills you’ll need to accomplish your goals. As a starting point, we recommend completing the following sentence: “If we are going to reach our goals, we will really need a person or people who can ______.”
- Identify the Necessary Behaviors. So now you know where you are going and the skills you will need to get there. But we’re still not ready to discuss names. When building a new team from the beginning, you also need to profile the correct behaviors. That “perfect” candidate with the right skills might also be difficult to work with, or might be a terrible communicator, or slow on meeting deadlines. And if you decide those behaviors are important to your success, then that “perfect” candidate may turn out to be not so perfect after all. So, in addition to profiling the skills you’ll need, you should also profile the behaviors that will be conducive to creating a positive team dynamic.
- Identify the Rules and Expectations. Now that we know where you want to go, and what skills and behaviors you want potential team members to possess, it’s time to start setting some ground rules for your team. We believe it is important to establish some norms for how your team will work together, and set some expectations for what it means to be part of the team. This framework can serve to create team agreement on how you will treat each other, work together, communicate, plan, meet, and so forth. This step has two major benefits. First, such an agreement framework can be used to screen potential team members. It essentially asks them, “Are you willing to be a part of this?” And second, once your team is formed and is moving forward, you can return to these pre-established rules and expectations to solve any issues, disagreements or problems that arise.
- Start Naming Names. With your goals, skills, behaviors, rules and expectations defined, it’s time to name the people who will fit within your team. Following steps one through four should allow your search to be logical and focused since you know what you’re looking for. I’m always intrigued by how often that “perfect” candidate everyone wanted to talk about at the beginning turns out to be not so perfect at this stage in the game – and how often we end up considering someone we never would have considered otherwise.
- Create Agreement on the Team Plan. Once you have named your team, the last step is to bring everyone together and communicate a number of things. We coach our clients to communicate all the steps they have taken in the building of their teams, and why they took them. Why? We believe it is important for people on the team to understand the goals, the skills and behaviors that were profiled ahead of time, and what the team rules and expectations are. In other words, you want people to understand why they are there and what attracted you to them in a team setting. You want people to understand how you expect them to behave individually and as a group. Now, depending on the situation, this last step (or any of the steps, in fact) can be done in collaboration with other key members of your team. Perhaps you are not forming the new team on your own. Perhaps you have a partner or two. Seeking input from others can always be valuable.
These six steps can help you assemble a good, functional team in a logical way. Conversely, when we just start putting people together without forethought, we may end up with a team that is functional in one way, but dysfunctional in another.
As I have written many times before, teams fascinate me. Successful teams can be incredibly productive, and satisfying to be a part of. On the other hand, failed teams can create intense frustration and disappointment.
Since each team is nothing more than a collection of individuals, and since each individual is unique, then each team, by definition, is also unique. Therefore, assembling our teams in the workplace, or anywhere else, requires thought and care. If we are given the luxury of building a team from the ground up, it is an opportunity that should not be wasted. Take the time to implement some thoughtful, logical steps to build that team in the correct way. You, and everyone else on your new team will be the better for it.
Dean Brenner is president and founder of The Latimer Group, and is a recognized expert in persuasive communication. Holding an MBA in Finance, he is an executive coach, public speaker, author, and an Olympic-caliber athlete who has coached executives, sales teams, leaders, managers and technical experts. Dean is chairman of the US Olympic Sailing Program who was first appointed to lead the program on a part-time volunteer basis in 2005 through the 2008 Games, and was also asked to serve as Team Leader for the 2008 Olympic Sailing Team which returned home from Beijing with Gold and Silver medals. Based on the overall success of the program, Dean was appointed by the US Sailing Board to a second term as Chair through 2012. He is also a well-decorated Olympic-caliber sailor, with seven national and North American championships and five international team racing championships to his credit. He was a member of the US National Sailing Team for three years, and placed second in the 2000 US Olympic Selection Trials.