How well do you know your team?
Some may see this and say, good question. Others may ask why it matters. I would say that it just might be the most important thing that a leader can strive for.
My personal story goes back about two years ago. I had just received the results from a culture survey for my team and our work-life balance scores were in the basement. We had so much important work to do, and the status quo was not sustainable. For me, it started with a heartfelt conversation. What is balance for you? What do you need to be effective? How can I help?
We aspire to be transformational leaders. Through that leadership, we can inspire team members to align to a vision and go above and beyond their own perceived limits. Where does the inspiration begin? How can you convince them to do what needs to be done? How can you make them see your vision and want to be part of it? To want it so much that they are willing to commit the time and effort needed to accomplish the goal? That is transformational leadership.
We should always remember that an organization is not an object or structure that can be molded and shaped at will. Whether an organization is a team of 10 people or 10,000, it is a collection of individuals. Each one of them has hopes and dreams as well as problems and worries. The transformation begins with truly knowing our teams.
In Leadership Theory and Practice, leadership theorist Peter Northouse refers to the Clinical Paradigm and how it can be applied to organizations. The Clinical Paradigm considers how human development progresses through different levels. It starts with knowing that there is a rationale behind each person’s actions. It recognizes the inner life inside each of us, including our stories, hopes and fears. It includes the way each person deals with their emotions, and finally it proposes that our unique development comes about as a result of all the things that happen inside us and around us. Individual human behaviors are developed and manifest as a result of the combined experiences that each person has had in his or her life up until that moment. A great example is Michael from my team, who has 20 years of analytical and technical experience but who also brings strong leadership in team building and mentoring, built in part during the time he spends coaching little league every spring and summer.
The challenge begins with considering how to gather the knowledge. In a small team, there is the luxury of direct interpersonal interaction. In those instances, it could be possible to really begin to know team members through conversations, questions and observations. As the size of the team increases, those kinds of interactions may become more difficult. Intentionally seeking out the opportunities for interaction in both formal and informal settings will be even more important with larger groups. The act of asking for feedback itself can facilitate the deepening of understanding by modeling desired behaviors. In some situations it may be possible to make some generalizations about what team members might be feeling considering the specific situation at hand. For example, in a company that is undergoing restructuring or downsizing, a leader can assume that there will be some level of fear and anxiety for team members concerned about their positions.
Developing a Transformative Strategy
With the knowledge in hand, a leader can begin to develop a transformative strategy.
All aspects of the plan can be developed in a very tactical and intentional way, taking the mindset of the team members in consideration. The communication strategy can be built with the right messages in mind. Interactive sessions can be held in the best overall setting. It could be a formal or informal setting. It could be in a corporate office or at a baseball game. The tone can be fun, or serious. Follow up can be frequent or singularly focused. Once the team is known, there are many options that can be considered to build the effective strategy.
When a leader takes the time to know his team, and develops strategy by taking team members in to account, something wonderful happens. The team members know they matter. They feel like they are important. They believe that their contributions to the project make a difference. It connects to one of the most fundamental human needs of belonging. It can lead to engagement, widely recognized as an indicator of job performance, work productivity and employee satisfaction. That is a payback that extends well beyond the project. When you know your team, you know what matters to them. You know what motivates them. That information is the key to establishing consensus, getting buy-in and building engagement, which ultimately delivers results.
To close on my personal story, we began to meet as a team on a regular basis to focus on the team. We shared our work –life balance challenges. We did the Myers-Briggs personality assessment and shared our results. We did Tom Rath’s Strengths Finder 2.0 assessment and shared those results as well. In those sessions we developed a deeper understanding of each other and the team bonds were further strengthened. Two years later, our work-life balance survey results are some of the best in the company and we have engagement scores of greater than 90%. We are recognized as a high performing team and a team that our colleagues love to work with.
Considering all of this, it might be worth asking the question again. How well do you know your team?
Lisa Ruiz is Senior Director, Regulatory Affairs Latin America, for AbbVie Inc., and a Ph.D. student with the Center for Values-Driven Leadership outside Chicago.