Why team building is a leadership skill

Some people think of team building exercises as a staff away day, building rafts across a river. But actually, team building is much more fundamental than that. It needs to be embedded into the everyday activities of your business.

Great teams need great leaders at the helm in order to get everyone motivated and pulling in the right direction. Here are some of the ways in which leaders do this:

Lead by example

We’ve all seen – and many of us have admired – the leadership that President Zelenskyy has demonstrated during the Ukrainian crisis. I have certainly recognised in his behaviour some examples of great leadership. His decision to stay in Ukraine, for example, is possibly the most powerful signal he could have made to his people of how they should also respond.

Be authentic

Zelenskyy has demonstrated the importance of authenticity when leading people through a crisis. ‘You have to be honest,’ he said in a recent interview with The Economist. ‘Don’t try to make people believe you […] just show people who you are.’ Authenticity is a powerful quality in leadership; it inspires loyalty and commitment. But if employees start to find gaps between a leader’s vision and the reality, trust is gone.

Build trust

Trust is the first of the ‘Five Behaviours’* model we use to build teams (based on Patrick Lencioni’s ‘Five Dysfunctions of a Team’). Being honest – and potentially showing vulnerability – is key to building that trust, and it must start at the top.

Inspire commitment

Another of ‘Five Behaviours’ is commitment. Particularly powerful in smaller organisations, colleagues can see a clear connection between the work they do and the results it brings. If you want people’s commitment, listen to them, and allow them to feed into the process. It doesn’t necessarily mean acting on everyone’s suggestions, just make sure you give everyone a fair hearing. Otherwise, their effort can be half-hearted.

Recruit wisely

Recruitment is an unrecognised part of team building; if you recruit people with the right mindset rather than simply by skills, you’ll have a strong collective pulling towards your goals. People tend to buy into the leader before they buy into the project or product of the business, so it’s up to team leaders to attract and enthuse potential and new recruits as well as their established teams.

Communicate regularly

To keep your team pushing towards your goals, messages must be delivered clearly, consistently, and continually reinforced. The regularity of your updates to the company is for you to decide, but don’t let it get de-prioritised – otherwise people won’t think it’s important.

Make everyone accountable

Ideally you want your colleagues to hold each other to account, but they have to see their leader doing it first for it to become part of the culture. Let accountability slide and before you know it, poor decisions are made. So, encourage discussion, talk about what’s going well/badly, and nip problems in the bud.

Encourage ‘healthy’ conflict

Healthy conflict is about encouraging people to speak up sooner and providing constructive feedback. Meetings should be honest, but you have to demonstrate to people it’s okay to talk openly about how to make things better again. Mastering conflict can mean having to dig for it and bring it out into the open. It means asking the difficult questions and having honest conversations.

Stay focused on results

It’s important to have everyone focused on getting results – but not at any cost. Healthy competition is a good thing – but don’t let teams compete if it hinders the business goals. Help colleagues understand that the overall results matter more than individual or team achievements.

Zelenskyy’s stated goal in the Economist interview is ‘to save as many people as possible’, and he communicates to his country (and the wider world) nightly. He recognises achievements as well as losses and is realistic about the dangers ahead. He inspires commitment of his countrymen and women by painting a positive picture of what lies beyond the end of the war. He is bold in holding international partners to account and creative in delivering digital communications worldwide.

Keep it going

Teams are built every day, incrementally. You can’t let up; you have to build them every day with your actions and words and not spoil it with unthinking behaviour. By all means book that raft-building exercise if you think your employees will enjoy it but remember that day-long events won’t change anything on their own – they can only supplement what you’re already doing every day.

If you’d like an expert HR Director to help embed team building into your everyday processes, call People Puzzles on 020 3633 6830

Lesley Strachan

Lesley Strachan, People Director

*The ‘Five Behaviours of a Cohesive team’ are: Trust, Conflict, Commitment, Accountability and Results.

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