(This post is written for alumni of LEAD365, although all are welcome to read it.)

It’s easy for me to think of great leaders—Nelson Mandela, Ghandi, Steve Jobs, and Bono all come to mind. Great leaders show up in many different parts of the world and sectors of the economy. What’s harder for me to come up with is a list of great teams. Why is that? It might be partly because as Americans we are so focused on individual achievement. It might be because it’s a lot harder for a team to get up on stage like Steve Jobs did and inspire and excite people with new products, ideas, and opportunities. Whatever the reason, great teams are often overlooked, even though by now I think we all know that very little can be accomplished on a large scale without teams of people working toward the same goal.

Today we’re wrapping up a three-part series on building a great team. We’ve explored hiring right and firing well. Once you have the right mix of people and talents on your team, it’s time to develop them. It’s important to develop both the individuals and the team as a whole. Let’s start by diving into developing individuals.

Developing Individuals

Think back to the DoKnowBe Tree. What makes you tick? What gets you out of bed in the morning (besides kids that wake up too early and dogs that have to go out, that is)? For most of us, our passions motivate us. We love to do the things that we love to do, circular as that sounds. Think, too, about what kinds of rewards you appreciate when you work hard. Some people love a bonus check; some like public affirmation; some want lunch out with the boss. Everyone reading this will have something different that motivates them, and the people on your teams are the same way.

The first part of developing individuals is to get to know them. Figure out the root system of each person on your team, or at least each of your direct reports. If your team is large enough that you can’t possibly do this for everyone, empower your direct reports to do this same thing. People need to feel significant, and appreciating each individual for his or her hard work—and then rewarding them in a way that is meaningful for that individual—makes a huge impact.

The second part of developing individuals is to make sure they have what they need to do the job right. Performance supervision should be a shared, ongoing, open dialogue between you and your team member. Make goals together. Communicate seven times, seven ways what you expect from them. Ask them what they need to do the job well, and most of all, listen to them. Do what you can to make sure that they are set up to win. They will love you for it.

Developing the Team

Finally, let’s talk about developing the team as a whole. Rodger, Jeff, and I believe that the best teams have eight common characteristics. Remember what they are?

  • Common Goal
  • Commitment
  • Communication
  • Chemistry
  • Trust
  • Talent
  • Knowing Each Other
  • Grace

Big list, isn’t it? This list isn’t something to work toward, achieve, then pat yourselves on the back and move on. It’s an ongoing process that we never perfect. The growth is in the journey itself. Let’s take a minute to talk more about each of these:

  • Common Goal: This is where your purpose (or mission), vision, and values are so important. It’s hard to function as a cohesive team when you don’t have a shared understanding of where you’re going and why. Think of a rowing team all rowing at their own pace, with no regard to what the other team members are doing. You might move, but who knows what direction it will be in. Establish your purpose, vision, and values, and then share those with your team until you’re sick to death of it. At that point you might have a common goal to work toward.
  • Commitment: Everyone on the team needs to be committed to what you are doing, how you will go about doing this, and to each other. The only way to make this happen is to communicate well, so let’s move on to the third characteristic.
  • Communicate: Even people who are aligned in passion and purpose will have disagreements on how to accomplish your common goals. Great teams can communicate openly and honestly, knowing that everyone is out for the same thing: that common goal. The best teams I’m aware of—like Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet (readers see Team of Rivals or Pixar’s creative team (readers see Creativity Inc) have some very heated discussions. Lincoln’s cabinet members didn’t like each other. Some of them couldn’t stand each other, and look what they accomplished together—an end to slavery in the United States. That’s big. These kinds of teams sometimes have incredibly heated conversations, but respect the decision that is made precisely because they were heard and their opinions were considered.
  • Chemistry: This can be elusive, but you know when a team just clicks. You can encourage chemistry by having some team members involved in later stages of interviewing new candidates. Do they get along well, even feed off each other in a way that will help the team? You can also foster chemistry by doing non-work activities and offsites together. Any time away from the office, especially car time and time outside of normal business hours, will help people get to know each other in a different way, which helps build chemistry.
  • Trust: Your team will not have those vital, difficult conversations if they don’t trust each other. Trust is another characteristic that’s developed by spending time with each other as a team. Trust can be fostered as well by you, the fearless leader. Make sure the expectations of the team are clear. Expect that team members who have an issue with each other talk it out, even if you have to be there to facilitate. Don’t let the little issues get stuffed down until they become big explosions. Deal with those interpersonal issues as they emerge, and you will see trust grow. This is another characteristic that’s nurtured by those retreats and offsite activities. Hey, why not take them on a blind trust walk? It can do wonders.
  • Talent: You might have the greatest chemistry and trust in the world in your team, and if you don’t have the right mix of talent, you won’t accomplish much. Make sure when interviewing that you know what kind of talent you need, and give your team members opportunities to grow and learn new skills. If someone doesn’t have the right talent to be on the team, you might need to move them off the team, hard as that might be. In the long run, it hurts the entire team to have someone on board who simply doesn’t have the right talent to do the job.
  • Knowing Each Other: We all have different root systems, and great teams know a lot about the roots of each individual on the team. What are the different beliefs people have? What values stand way above the others for certain individuals? Who is going to be in the March Madness pool with you, and who is much more interested in watching Survivor instead of March Madness, or in turning off the TV altogether to read a book? Celebrate the strengths and diversity on your teams to help the team as a whole learn about and appreciate each other. At my last job, everyone in the office knew who to go to if the toilet was overflowing or the light wouldn’t stop buzzing. He wasn’t a janitor—he supervised missionaries—but he could fix anything and we all knew it. 
  • Grace: And finally, grace. Make grace an expectation on your teams. Is someone doing something that drives you nuts? Assume that it’s unintentional until proven otherwise. Help your team understand that grace means talking to each other, sharing perspectives honestly, and giving each other the benefit of the doubt. Grace doesn’t mean sweeping issues under the rug, but it does mean that we are quicker to trust than not, quicker to forgive than hold grudges. Doing this for others helps those people do it for you.

I want to wrap up this series with one of Lincoln’s most famous quotes: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” He said this about the United States during our Civil War, but the same can be said about our teams, insignificant as they may be on a historical scale. Is your team great? If not, what is it costing you? How much of your mission are you willing to sacrifice to keep the status quo? I hope I’ve given you something to think about these last few weeks as we’ve explored teams and what you as a leader can do to create the great team and just maybe do something much bigger than you ever dreamed.

Image by crschmidt. Used under CC by 2.0 license.