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Building Blocks for a Successful Team

By Lawler Kang

The key to management is making teams work. It doesn’t matter if you are a hospital administrator running a wing or an order-entry manager looking for six sigma perfection. If you can’t make a conglomeration of skills, experiences, backgrounds, values and mindsets called a ‘team’ be productive, both your organization and your personal success will be severely thwarted.

So how does this collective catharsis come about? Here are a few building blocks for creating a team that not only dents the door of poor performance, but potentially blows it off its hinges.

The first and most important building block is to make sure you, the leader, are passionate or inspired about the focus of this effort. This is absolutely critical as the leader sets the tone and culture for the team. How do you identify and align your personal passions with this mission? Look back through your range of life experiences to cull out those brilliant nuggets of what you absolutely loved about particular experiences. Look for patterns in these nuggets and connect the dots with your current mission.

If this doesn’t tie out, then you may not be the best person to run this particular team. Although this may seem like career suicide, do you really believe taking on projects you could care less about will boost your career without burning you out? It may be heroic to boldly shoulder projects and teams that are heavier than a black hole, but the odds of your energy being sucked over the time horizon, never to return, are quite real.

The second building block is to ask potential team members to go through a similar exercise to explore their personal passions and current mission. The reason behind this is simple. A surefire way to minimize risk of team dissonance is to align the missions and passions of the leader with those of the rest of the team. Once you all are on the same impassioned page, the ability for group speed-reading with excellent retention and comprehension will suddenly appear.

Building block three is to take a good inventory of your potential team member’s offerings, bearing in mind that you want to emphasize their assets while minimizing their liabilities. Ask them to fill out a ‘personal balance sheet.’ List short-term assets and liabilities that are skill sets. Take a close look at the functions they excel at and those that repeatedly appear on performance reviews as ‘areas for improvement’.

Separate the long-term entries into two categories: values and experiences. Values are those qualities with which team members respectively love and hate to work. Experiences, on the asset side, are those life experiences you want to draw on all day. The liabilities entries are those life experiences you still want to have (your dreams!). The reason they are ‘liabilities’ is that they haven’t been realized yet and they are accruing lifetime interest.   

Why is this detailed and squishy information so important? A few reasons. First, you want your team not to be an agglomeration of pitchers; you want the best pitcher, the best catcher, first baseman, etc. you can find for your specific needs. Matching up requisite skill sets with those on their balance sheets is a good way to select your squad.

Second, skill sets are only a small part of what makes teams really thrive. Having a common set of values is absolutely critical to the success of your efforts. Additionally, the more your team members can draw on their life experiences in their daily affairs, the more fulfilled (and productive) they will be.

Once the team has come together, generate a mission statement for the group. Something short, sweet and perhaps a little sassy that plainly spells out how you will measure your combined success.

The more you can align your team members’ dreams with the goals or outcomes of your project, the more of their personal passions you will be able to draw on. It could be something simple, like giving someone who has always wanted to visit the Grand Canyon a free ticket for outstanding performance. It could be giving a team member a savings bond to help send their child to college. Being able to understand the real reasons why your team members are going to give this project their best is understandably a blessing in terms of motivating and compensating them for their (impassioned) efforts.

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