No one person is more important than the whole team.

The best teams win together, learn together, adapt together, lose together, and grow together. In high performing teams, their interactions and communications are fluid, relevant, and even playful. Great teams are capable of achieving astonishing results, because, in part, their leader intentionally shapes the conditions that help people do exceptional work together.

The complexity of human nature and office politics can obfuscate where a leader needs to focus his/her attention. Amidst office drama, jockeying for resources, or decoding the tone of the boss's emails, it is easy to become distracted and overlook what needs to be done to build great teams. These are, however, daily realities of business. The exceptional leader can rise above the distractions. When he or she does, the following ten areas become more apparent paths to more meaningful work.

Focus on Clarity

Clarity is made up of four items: goals, priorities, expectations, and a short feedback loop. With clarity, a team knows where to shift its focus and determine the level of effort necessary to finish an assignment. In the absence of clarity, teams make up what they think is important. The leader is rarely pleased with the outcome.

Focus on Relationships

It is easier to trust and understand colleagues when relationships are high-quality. Great teams make time to eat together, have coffee together, plan together, review progress, and even share a drink together. We find safety in relationships where there is a bond.

Focus on Solutions

High-quality teams solve problems. They do not get to absorbed in idolizing the problem. Instead, they develop a bias for solutions and what is possible. Central to this focus is clarity and quality relationships. Clarity provides the parameters to solve problems. Relationships help us determine who needs to be involved and when to achieve the desired solution.

Focus on Radical Candor

In a results-oriented culture, people practice radical candor. Author and consultant Kim Scott popularized the term in her book with the same name. Scott explains radical candor this way:

"Care Personally at the same time that you Challenge Directly. When you challenge without caring it's obnoxious aggression; when you care without challenging it's ruinous empathy. When you do neither, it's manipulative insincerity."

Focus on Progress

It is maddening and demotivating to spend time on a project that goes nowhere. Progress is particularly powerful for teams. Leaders must remain aware of impediments to progress and then remove barriers swiftly.  

Focus on Strengths

A strength is not just what we are good it. It is also something that energizes. It's a performance advantage to pair up a strategic thinker with another team member who is strong in execution. Know how to position team members to maximize their strengths individually and collectively. This also boosts work fulfillment.

Focus on Purpose

A team that knows its purpose and how they make a difference can innovate, adapt to change more easily, and make stronger decisions. A sense of purpose is a calling that unifies the team's collective effort. Without purpose the team's focus can meander, undermining performance and discipline.

Focus on Workplace Climate

Climate is what it feels like to work in the team. In a cause-and-effect relationship, employees' perception of their boss influences their commitment and effort that ultimately effects results. As a leader, know what your actions and words create. Collaborative, affiliative, and coaching leadership styles have a positive effect on climate and motivation. On the opposite end of the spectrum are authoritative and controlling leadership styles. Both approaches undermine motivation and often lead to toxic workplaces. 

Focus on whole-employee growth

Team members' commitment and performance increase when they believe you are genuinely invested in their success. Broaden your perspective on growth. Instead of focusing only on professional growth, also spend time helping each person on your team grow outside of work. Simple ways to do this include not sending emails after 6 pm. This signals to employees that downtime from work is key. Another way to invest in your employees' growth is paying for classes that enrich their lives.

Focus on Values-Alignment

Employees want greater alignment with their personal values and the company's, too. One way to look at this growing workforce expectation is a source of fulfillment. Fulfilling work is an intrinsic motivator that has a long-lasting influence on performance. Evaluating the opposite dynamic--believing in a value but not acting in alignment with it--we become anxious. Lasting cognitive dissonance becomes distracting and consumes our thinking. It is difficult to summon the mental focus to do phenomenal work when doubt shadows our thoughts and actions.

Each of the focus areas is important. But knowing when to use them is far more valuable and effective. The place to start is understanding your current team's reality and where you need them to be.

Published on: Jan 15, 2018