Building and leading a successful team

Have you noticed something that is common in most successful projects? Or a client who is delighted by the service? Usually these are backed by high performing teams.

Of the entire story of Elon Musk which is some sort of a legend today for many like me, the most fascinating part is that of Space-X. For most earthly folks, dreaming about the moon and the stars would have been the height of imagination, but not for this man. He dreamt of putting man on Mars. It wasn’t even easy to say this, forget achieving. He struggled with the Russians to get the rockets or even the hardware to build one, but to no avail. What ensued was the launch of Space-X that aimed to build rockets at cheap price. Where was the team? Nowhere. In comes his first hire- Tom Mueller, employee number 1. Ashlee Vince in his biography of the maverick says that Musk often called up Universities and spoke to the brightest students on campus. At times impressing them with his knowledge, he managed to build his team largely by selling his genuine dream. Putting up a team to achieve this impossible looking task was in itself a task. What Musk focused on was not university degrees alone but a queer mix of passion, intelligence, experience and skills. The rest as they say is history (perhaps in the making, if he succeeds in putting man on Mars in his lifetime).

Building teams is not just about hiring. In fact, it is not even about hiring anymore. It’s about identifying the strengths of individual members and giving them responsibilities they either love to do or never knew they could do so well. A good team always begins with a passionate and sometimes crazy team leader who knows exactly where it is headed. Having a clear idea about the goals and objectives helps identify and pick up people who share the same. If the team leader can’t sell his dream to his team mates, the team is just a motley group of random people working together. You can never get an ideal team; you choose the best fits and make them ideal for a given task.

In his book ‘Stories at Work,’ Indranil Chakraborty tells you about his stint at Mahindra Holidays where he took it upon himself to set a company culture with a new vision and mission. One of the highlights was ‘No room for ordinary’. He tried his best to inculcate the goal through traditional modes. But one example of an employee packing lunch for the hungry kids of a customer stuck on the highway traffic, provided him the right fuel to drive ahead. Finally, his team had understood the true meaning of ‘no room for ordinary’. It is only when every employee understands and absorbs the values that the team can flourish.

Each employee comes with his own set of goals and objectives for life. It is the role of the leader to understand this and align those with the company’s goals and objectives. So it takes very stringent selection processes to identify such employee who fit well. People drop hints about the levels of passion, the extent to which they can go to accomplish and how well they will gel with others. A routine formulaic kind of recruitment process that selects people based on set criteria only gives you so much results. But someone with a deep understanding of human psyche will select a candidate with lesser marks and no experience just by applying his special tests.

A robust, optimally functioning team needs to be nurtured through continuous communication. Team leaders need to talk and stay connected with each member regularly. Many times, what can be missed through digital communication is sensed when you meet personally. The subtle change in tone, body language or the demeanor of a person cannot be fully understood through calls and video chats. Visit your branches regularly and chat up with teams. See them in the eye and assess their behavior. Smile at them and talk more about their work than what you want them to do. Listen more, talk less. Listen with your eyes as well.

Push the limits when it comes to performance but embrace failures as well. It’s okay to fail for it shows you tried. Google X or the Moonshot Factory in California actually has a reward for failed attempts. If only success stories would be rewarded, there would be few people who’d bet on shooting at the moon indeed.

Measure performance but don’t make it the only criteria. What can be measured can be improved, isn’t it? Not always. Times are when someone would be facing personal problems or battling ailments-physical or mental. Provide the resources need to accomplish. Push for the best but understand how people work and what drives them. What pulls them down too, for good measure. Be sensible and sensitive at the same time. Reward wins but acknowledge efforts too. Leadership must be more like the parent who runs behind the kids as he learns to ride the cycle. You’re not holding him but he can always bank on you when a fall presents itself.

Foster collaboration, knowledge sharing and synergies among teams and team members. No one has been able to achieve much alone, anyways. Let your team know that multiplication always adds up more than addition. Create forums and avenues to interact and share. Anything withhold and hidden never quite grows. Share your experiences- big and small achievements, setbacks, lessons learnt and demons defeated. Let your team know about you through your work. Encourage the others to share the sameat proper times. A good part of someone’s personality is at display in how he/she perceives experiences and how he/she responds to them. Encouraging teams to express also gives you a peek into the deepest recesses of personality.

Earn your respect, not fear. A team that is fearful of its leader only pleases the leader and accomplishes little. Respect is something that builds trust. Be trustworthy yourself. Don’t speak about anyone behind their back. Be 100% transparent when it comes to personal integrity.

A team is as strong (or weak) as its leader. That should provide you enough fuel to make it good.

What traits of a successful team have you noticed that has made a difference? How did you form your team that delivered success stories? Take a moment and comment below.

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