Your personal development and the development of your people are two key areas to which you probably have made commitments. The third, not as widely recognized, area is team development.
Leaders usually start with personal development, then move on to people development, and finally, if at all, to team development. Yet it is an area in which tangible results can be realized. Team development is unique in that it is not a solitary or one-on-one relationship. Team development is a dynamic, multifaceted endeavor with potential for true synergy. There are no limits to the heights an effective team can reach.
A shared feature of all three development areas (personal, people, team) is that they are aspects of development over which we possess a high degree of control and influence. Personal, people, and team development are the three areas that we can directly impact.
Personal and people development are supported by the massive resources that organizations devote to these efforts. HR departments dedicate talent, learning, and development functions to managing these initiatives. Such development efforts are high profile, whether they are achieved through executive education, leadership programs, executive coaching, or assessment centers. What is less obvious to many organizations—but is gaining steam—is the importance of team development. With its power to create extraordinary results, why is team development under recognized? Let’s look at several reasons:
Building a high performance team is hard work. During team development sessions, I often ask my clients how many of them are married. Many participants raise their hands. I then ask if marriage is easy. Inevitably the answer is, “Marriage is hard work!” Imagine you are leading a team of eight people. Now multiply the hard work of marriage by eight. This illustrates the degree of complexity involved in developing a high performance team. The team must be developed within the context of eight different styles and personalities and within a complex array of relationships, all of which come with conflicts and a lack of natural team cohesion.
It requires expertise. One of the major reasons leaders don’t spend more time developing their teams is that they don’t know how to do it. Team development involves much more than running good meetings. It demands having a comprehensive view of the team in the context of mutual relationships and interactions, goals, culture, markets, clients, organizations, and stakeholders. It requires a view and a vision of what the team wants to accomplish over time and a road map guiding the members to the goal. The team leader needs to be a good facilitator (or have the wisdom to find an external one) and to possess a reasonable level of emotional intelligence. Building high performance teams compels a leader to acquire this knowledge and experience.
Developing teams takes time. During off-site team interventions, take advantage of “low-hanging team fruit” to see noticeable results within one to two days. Yes, it’s true; after two days, the team will start to visibly transform. But make no mistake: moving all the way to a high performance team takes time—usually from one to three years. That’s why clients often engage consultative support over a series of interactions. What happens during team interventions is important, but what happens between interventions is equally vital. It’s during the “back to the office” time that positive habits develop and sustaining interactions occur.
Developing teams doesn’t happen naturally. What is natural? Beginning at birth, we are concerned with ourselves and our own needs. As we mature, we find ways to meet those needs. In many Western societies, the prevailing axiom is, “Look out for number one.” In some Eastern societies, the group mentality is deeply ingrained in the psyche, however even Eastern societies are increasingly trending toward individual focus. Thus, in any culture, moving beyond personal focus to include team focus is not a natural mindset. It takes conscious effort to focus on the team ahead of the individual. That requires strong motivation and conscious intention. The paradox is that in order to engage successfully in a high performance team, members must operate from a strong sense of team and feel deeply that team welfare is paramount.
Given the above factors in regard to team development, less time and energy tend to be devoted toward that development. As a result, the team concept suffers. Focusing on team development requires a rethink of where the leader will spend his or her development time, energy, and focus. Through reflection, most leaders will realize that investment in their teams will yield a sizable return.