TEAM BUILDING

How to Build a Strong Foundation for Your Team

Your values form the foundation for your team members' expectations, actions, and performance. Have you build a strong foundation for your team?
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When my wife and I built our home, I discovered that leadership corresponds to the phases of homebuilding. Constructing a house occurs in three major phases: foundation, framing, and finish-out.

Building a team, like building a house, requires starting from the ground up. Our values, like a foundation, affect our team the same way all the time. When you lay a foundation, the homebuilder is committed to a certain floor plan once the foundation is set. This floor plan dictates how the house will flow. The team builder is committed to foundational values--how the team will flow and interact.

The 3 F's

I remember the first time I expressed my leadership values to my team. I called them "Lee's 3 F's": focused, fair, and fun. They formed the foundation for what I expected from my team and what the team could expect from me.

Framing defines the parameters (systems and processes) within which each team member performs his or her job. Leadership framing consists of goal setting, training, decision-making processes, work procedures, problem solving--all the mechanisms used to get work done.

The finish-out adds the final, personal touch--it makes each house special and each relationship unique. Finish-out makes people think that the house or team they built is their very own. As a result, they treat a house with a sense of ownership, versus an "apartment job" they view as short term. Leadership finish-out comes in the form of building relationships and trust with our team members by living our values, by walking our talk.

Regardless of how well designed our framing and finish-out are, our team's house can only be as strong as the leadership foundation we have built, and our commitment to inspire excellence can only be as strong as our foundation.

Finding Cracks

Sometimes, cracks in our foundational values are difficult to detect. Our tendency is to fix the problem at hand. We see a crack in the floor tile, so we replace the tile. A bedroom door doesn't swing quite right, so we adjust the hinges. A window doesn't close flush, so we caulk the bottom to seal the gap.

A crack in our team's foundational values can initially look like a simple finish-out or framing problem. It's funny how we can find ourselves continually fixing the same framing and finish-out problems, but we do not realize these are symptoms of a deeper crack in our values.

For instance, we might have several departments that are not keeping one another in the loop, so we restructure departments. This quick solution will not address the root cause of lack of mutual trust.

If we find ourselves dealing with the same issues repeatedly, we are probably not going deep enough with our solutions. What looks like an innocent crack in the wall (a small blip in employee turnover) could actually indicate a deeper crack in our foundation (the team sees a disconnect between values and actions).

Inspiring leaders look beyond the symptoms to ensure that they are protecting team values. They know they must pour a strong foundation before they build a house to lead in.

Get started by asking these questions:

  1. Do my team members know my leadership values?
  2. Do they understand how my values translate into performance expectations?
  3. What can I do to ensure my values guide my actions and my team's actions?

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IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: May 7, 2014

LEE COLAN | Columnist

LEE COLAN is founder of The L Group, a consulting firm that equips and inspires leaders at every level. He is a leadership advisor, presenter of practical ideas, and a Thinkers 50 nominee for Top Management Thinker.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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