April 4, 2024

Leading Teams

Organisational teams are the backbone of any successful business. They develop ways of working together that deliver material results, they are often closest to the customer, they drive transformation, offer practical solutions to problems, and create a culture of continuous improvement. Not only this, they also nurture the leaders of tomorrow.

But none of this happens without the effective contribution from a Team Leader. It’s up to the Team Leader to help create the right environment for the team to pull together. This bottom-up approach fully engages and gathers their team members’ input, ideas, and feedback to collectively achieve success.

In short, Team Leaders have a critical role in your leadership ecosystem, they focus on results, drive commitment and accountability and cultivate relationships capable of weathering any storms. Team Leaders are so often the difference between a bad day at the ‘office’ and great experience of work. 

However, when Team Leaders aren’t effective, teams become less engaged, conflicts arise, and deadlines are missed. Plus, people may leave, either physically or emotionally. 

Managing these challenges requires effort and skill. This blog highlights the essential things we think a Leader at this level needs. Find out the challenges and key areas for your Team Leaders to focus on to create high-performing teams.

The role of a leader in context

A Team Leader’s main job is to create an environment that supports their team to reach their goals, keeping them focused and motivated. They understand how their role fits with other leaders and the bigger picture of the business, looking outwards rather than inwards to make smart decisions and prioritise actions that set others up for success.

Knowing how their role fits with other leaders helps them see beyond their team’s immediate needs. With a broader understanding of the business, they can link their team’s efforts to the overall strategy and goals. 

For example, a marketing Team Leader might team up with Sales and Product Leaders to make sure their marketing plans fit the company’s goals. By using resources wisely and keeping everything consistent this teamwork can increase sales and reach more customers.

Team Leaders also take charge of their own learning. They seek out opportunities to improve their skills, staying motivated to support business needs. This inspires their team members to do the same, creating a culture where everyone wants to improve and do their best for the business.

Connecting to strategy and purpose

You’re not alone if you’ve ever been assigned a task and questioned its relevance to your role or your team’s objectives.

It’s pretty standard to feel puzzled or uncertain when given a task that doesn’t seem to fit with what you know about your job or your team’s goals. This confusion can stem from a lack of clear communication or alignment within the team

As teams must work together to perform well, everyone must understand how and why their roles connect to your overarching business strategy. It’s tough to make progress when employees don’t connect their tasks to strategy and purpose.  

In fact, 37% of employees mentioned that increased visibility and clear goals would boost their performance. So, involving teams, even in small ways, in setting goals can drive success. That’s why your team leaders must help others understand the rationale behind such tasks and how they contribute to the broader goals of the team or organisation.

Nevertheless, just 35% of business leaders are confident that their future leaders have the skills to keep current organisational tasks and activities running smoothly without interruptions. 

When team leaders explain how each task links to the team’s goals and the broader strategy, it helps team members see the importance of their contributions, keeping them engaged and motivated and operations running smoothly. 

This well known story from NASA shows how important it is when team members have a clear, aligned purpose. During a visit to the NASA space centre in 1962, President.Kennedy saw a janitor with a broom. He stopped his tour and asked “What are you doing?” The janitor replied, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”

The point is? When your whole team has a shared vision and sense of purpose, amazing things happen.

This clarity boosts morale and gives team members a sense of confidence when navigating complexity. As a result, individuals are less reliant on the leader, can act with more autonomy, confidence, innovation and deliver even better results as a consequence.

It’s no wonder that 74% of business leaders emphasise the importance of giving team members clarity and direction. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Team leaders need good communication skills to work with their teams. Establishing how tasks fit into the company’s goals and inviting their input, they make a space where team members feel free to share ideas and ask questions about their work. 

Not only that, when leaders of teams are truly curious they make team members feel heard and part of the conversation. Individuals can start to make their own links, increasing personal belief and sense of personal achievement. Not only that, when Team Leaders ask rather than tell,  they learn so much from their team that they can significantly improve their own performance.

Creating and sharing a clear plan outlining the team’s current status and goals helps everyone understand and agree on what must be done. This makes for great teamwork as employees work towards shared objectives. Without a clear connection to the broader organisational plan, people can work in isolation, focusing solely on their own tasks without considering how they fit into the larger picture.

Not only that, all their hard work and overall effort may not add value and in many cases, effort can be at odds with others in the team, causing frustration, distraction and slowing performance.

Let’s imagine a factory worker on the assembly line. They diligently put together components every day but don’t grasp how their work fits into the big picture of the production process or company goals. Despite their dedication, if they aren’t aware of quality standards or customer requirements, their efforts may not contribute effectively to the company’s success. As a result, their hard work may not add tangible value to the manufacturing process or the company’s bottom line.

What’s more, employees might work against other teams and hinder the business’s goals. Using the same manufacturing company scenario, this factory worker puts in effort but makes things harder for their colleagues. Their actions lead to increased workload or responsibilities for quality assurance colleagues, causing them to work harder or longer to correct sub-standard work.

Developing the environment

Team leaders can make or break an employee’s work experience. McGregor’s (1960) Theory Y suggests that creating the right conditions for your team leads to success. Therefore, team leaders must recognise that the quality of the work environment directly affects performance.

The impact of team leaders in developing a healthy working environment is seen in companies like Gem.com, a talent acquisition technology company. With 96% of employees saying it’s a great place to work, it highlights how effective leadership builds trust, independence, and teamwork, leading to a positive work environment.

“I love the level of trust and ownership given to each person at Gem. I’ve found this to be so empowering. I can make decisions quickly and easily collaborate with everyone at the company,” –Gem.com employee

To ensure team members thrive in a great working environment, leaders must develop effective strategies to build a positive team culture. Here are six strategies to consider.

1  Build strong relationships

We believe in the principle of “relationships first always” because in most cases, work relationships arise from some form of conflict. By focusing on building strong relationships from the beginning, you pave the way for success in any situation, ensuring that you’ve already agreed on how to work together to solve problems, achieve goals and deal with issues as they arise.

And because Team leaders create a workplace where everyone understands their role, trusts their colleagues, and works together smoothly toward shared goals, you end up with a productive and willing team.

2  Resolve tensions quickly

According to research, unhelpful conflict at work affects over one-third of workers and results in a yearly cost of £28.5 billion in the UK. Team leaders need the skills and confidence to encourage open dialogue between parties involved, actively listen to each other’s perspectives, and address misunderstandings to resolve tensions quickly, before they escalate, without the need for constant intervention from the Team Leader.

When attention turns towards issues instead of focusing on results and resolutions, progress can be delayed, and morale among team members can decrease.

This is why at LIW, our programs focus on the ability to effectively build positive relationships from the outset, equipping your Team Leaders with the skills and techniques to develop team members to do the same, so they can effectively handle and resolve tensions in different situations.

3  Promote healthy conflict

Encourage an environment where diverse opinions are valued and positive disagreement is welcomed. Team leaders exhibit healthy conflict resolution behaviours, leading by example, showing empathy, genuine curiosity, and seeking collaborative solutions in their interactions with team members..

For instance, a marketing team brainstorming ideas for a new product. The team leader creates an environment where diverse opinions are appreciated and constructive disagreement is encouraged. During meetings, the leader listens to various viewpoints, understands team members’ concerns, and encourages teamwork to tackle challenges creatively.

Team leaders create a workplace where everyone understands their role, trusts their colleagues, and works together smoothly toward shared goals. They encourage autonomy by empowering individuals to take charge of their work and make decisions within their expertise, which boosts responsibility and accountability.

Encouragingly, there’s a slight improvement in work relationships. According to a report by CIPD, the percentage of employees who indicated their manager or supervisor successfully promoted collaboration increased from 53% to 57%. Adding this to a clear sense of direction is a recipe for success.

4  Recognise progress and achievements

Did you know that three in four employees would be more productive if recognised for their accomplishments more frequently? And did you know that Team Leaders recognising the right kind of effort and behaviors is just as crucial?

Leaders of teams ensure employees feel valued and appreciated for their contributions, which boosts engagement, commitment, and motivation for better performance. Examples may include:

  • Celebrating employees’ accomplishments publicly, whether it’s reaching sales targets, completing projects, or demonstrating exceptional teamwork
  • Offering opportunities for growth, such as learning in the flow of work to show their commitment to employees’ career development and progression
  • Encouraging professional networking, such as attending conferences, or joining professional organisations to expand their knowledge and connections

5  Practice coaching

When employees feel supported and encouraged to make their own decisions, they become more empowered and capable of achievements beyond their goals. Effective Team Leaders ensure that employees have access to the resources, tools, and training they need to succeed in their roles, but they don’t do Team Members work for them.

The best Team Leaders focus on developing Team Members to be self-sufficient, creative and confident. They do this by encouraging Team Members to think for themselves, raise their awareness and maintain responsibility.

Since employee stress is at an all-time high, team leaders need the skills to prioritise employee well-being and work-life balance. The best way to do this is by supporting Team Members to create their own conditions for success.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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By learning and working with Team Members to help address their needs regularly, leaders maintain psychological safety at work, prevent burnout, and boost morale, leading to higher job satisfaction and productivity. 

6  Promote a sense of belonging and inclusion among team members

Arranging social events such as team lunches, after-work outings, or team-building exercises to foster camaraderie and strengthen bonds among team members is great, but it’s not enough.

Team leaders need to recognise and appreciate team members’ unique backgrounds, experiences, and identities by raising awareness, celebrating diversity, promoting inclusion and working to ensure shared understanding of different viewpoints, back stories, experiences, cultures and perspectives.

This takes a complete shift in mindset. It’s been said that diversity is a fact and inclusion is a choice. Holding and promoting a mindset that diversity is a precious and valuable asset in any team, helps to make the decision easy. Actions and behaviours follow mindset and inclusion puts a team well on it’s way to creating a culture that celebrates unique thought and boosts innovation and creativity

These strategies help leaders of teams set a positive tone by creating an environment where open communication, trust, and mutual respect among team members is the norm, not the exception. It’s no surprise that improving people managers’ understanding of their roles and developing their soft skills are top priorities for 2024 among business leaders.

Defining impact

We’ve already seen how team leader behaviours create an ideal environment by addressing tension and conflict promptly and avoiding distractions from performance. 

Team Leaders increase their effectiveness when they recognise their own influence and prioritse self-awareness. Since the work environment shapes employee behaviour and performance, a team leader must understand their impact and adapt their leadership style for positive results. 

This means team leaders need to stay informed and genuinely curious about their effect on the well-being of individual team members, the entire team, and the organisation as a whole. They must strive to understand their impact and use it productively, role modeling open communication, vulnerability and a genuine desire for feedback, to address any issues and enhance the work environment. This leads to increased job satisfaction and performance among team members.

Why is this important?

Constructive feedback helps Team Leaders identify what they’re already doing well, so they can do more of it, and the areas that need improvement and further action.

Introducing a culture of feedback can be hard as it’s sadly, far from the norm, so an easy way in is for Team Leaders to start by giving themselves feedback publicly. This sends a clear message and tends to be far more effective than simply asking “do you have any feedback for me?”

When team members give their views and opinions on how a Team Leader responds to unhelpful conflict or recognises exceptional effort, they can adapt their leadership style and approach.  As a result, Team Leaders become more skilled, motivated, and productive, leading to greater success for everyone.

Not only that, when team members are actively encouraged to give feedback on Team Leader performance, it promotes professional growth and demonstrates the value of continuous improvement to their team. In turn, individuals understand the value of constructive feedback, become more comfortable with vulnerability, and less likely to take feedback negatively. However, this can only happen when Team Members feel safe enough to share their observations and experiences without fear of backlash.

Delivering results

Let’s be honest. Managers and team leaders feel overwhelmed. The sheer volume of tasks and responsibilities they are expected to manage within their roles can lead to stress, burnout, and difficulty maintaining productivity and focus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Prioritising tasks and delegating responsibilities can reduce overwhelm and improve well-being. Team leaders aim to achieve results by setting clear goals, guiding and supporting their team, and, as we’ve seen already, ensuring everyone is focused on success. 

That said, according to the 2024 PwC CEO survey, business leaders believe that 40% of the work in their company is wasted productivity.

If team leaders fail to deliver results, it can significantly impact the team’s morale, motivation, and overall performance. It may lead to missed opportunities, such as failing to meet deadlines or losing clients, decreased productivity, and lost trust and confidence in leadership. So, it’s no surprise that trust is at the core of any successful and productive team.

Finally, understanding individual and team strengths and weaknesses delivers results. Team leaders collaborate with all their people, appreciating their unique strengths and encouraging personal responsibility toward team goals. 

Team leaders grasp each member’s motivations and recognition preferences, ensuring everyone remains engaged and committed to team performance, resulting in enjoyment and satisfaction.

Therefore, team leaders must prioritise delivering results and take proactive measures for high performance. This means establishing efficient processes and ways of working, breeding familiarity, developing positive work habits, and making it easier to deliver consistent results through familiar routines and rituals, habitual innovation and creativity, robust systems and processes. All designed to make it easier to do great work.

This approach was adopted by Bill Gates, Founder of Microsoft. He showed leadership by encouraging innovation and continuous learning. He focused on developing employees through initiatives like “Bill Gates Think Weeks,” where he took time to reflect and brainstorm future strategies, inspiring his team to do the same.

The result? The team enthusiastically embraced innovation and explored new markets, working together to create groundbreaking ideas and solutions.

Support your leaders of teams with LIW

Effective leadership is essential for the success of any organisation. By prioritising the development of strong leadership skills and providing support and resources for team leaders, you can build and maintain a culture of innovation, collaboration, and high performance. 

We acknowledge the crucial role team leaders play in shaping their environment and aligning with other levels of leadership to boost organisational performance. It’s clear that with the right leadership, you can navigate challenges, inspire entire teams, and achieve your goals more effectively.

At LIW, we’ve worked extensively developing leadership skills at all levels. We hope this blog has given you some valuable insights. We’d be thrilled to hear your thoughts or chat about leadership. Feel free to reach out to us anytime!

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