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5 Things Smart Managers Know About Building Teams

Few managers know how to build truly functional teams. 5 tactics to perfect the skill.
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In order for your company to prosper, you must figure out how to build a team that works well together. That can be a difficult task.  After all, creating a team means bringing together people with different skillsets and varied personalities to work towards a common goal--a complex undertaking.

When I look at the tactics smart managers implement, I see five common threads to how they approach team-building:

1. Play to Individual Strengths

You need to understand what each individual member's strengths are and put each person in a place to shine.

It is very rare that an employee can improve upon a deficiency, especially if that deficiency is a part of their nature. If a team member isn't good at details, they will never be good at details. You need to decide if they do the rest of their job well and if so, partner them with someone else who can help shore up their deficiency.

I hired an account manager who was excellent with customers--especially our more difficult customers--but she was not good at details. I partnered her with another team member for one final review of the documents she produced before they were sent out.

2. Encourage Transparency

Teams are a lot like families, and you need to let them work things out on their own.  When things start to go awry, bring together those who aren't getting along and make them work through their concerns. Don't let them put you in the middle of a he said/she said situation. Your primary job is to help team members understand each other better.

This approach will feel uncomfortable, but if they learn that your go-to strategy is to bring them together to work it out, they will start trying that on their own and will only involve you when absolutely necessary.

3. Establish Ground Rules 

Your team needs to know how you like to operate. I'm a solution oriented manager. I am fine with talking about problems with a project or an approach, but I insist that everyone contribute ideas for resolution. When issues arise, and they will, I don't want to get caught up in whose fault it is, or why it happened. I prefer to take time to do that at an established and appropriate time later. I am known to say, "Don't bring me a problem without a solution" and, "I don't want to know why we can't do it, I want to focus on how we can."

Other managers prefer to do root cause analysis immediately and then move forward from that point with a solution. Everyone's style is different, and it is often based on the type of work you do.  The important thing is that your team knows your preferred work style so everyone is thinking toward that same goal.

4. Let Them Know You Have Their Back

As the leader of a team, your team members must know that you have their back and that you are their greatest supporter.  I see my primary job to remove obstacles that are in my team's way and to be there to support them when issues arise with a customer or other internal groups.  When you team members know they have your unconditional support, they can move forward with confidence.

5. Provide an Incentive

Create a goal that your team can work towards--a day off at the end of the quarter, flexibility in their work schedule, or a bonus.  Realize that just as your team members have different skills, they probably respond to different incentives, so rotating through the types of incentives you provide or allowing for flexibility is key to the success of an incentive.

I always have team members who prefer time off or an experience over money.  A bonus program, while nice, doesn't have the same impact as providing an extra day off or a gift certificate to a nice restaurant. It comes back to knowing that everyone's different.

Last updated: Sep 12, 2013




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