Four key success factors for leading teams

Effective teams are ones that meet their objectives while maintaining their ability to sustain performance and providing satisfactory experiences for the team members. That definition, and  many of the ideas in this post, come from the work of my teacher, the late social psychologist Richard Hackman (see especially this, this, and this).

Leading teams requires attention not only to how the team does its work but also facilitating the collaboration process. So, what are the key success factors for leading a team? The four most important things leaders can do help their teams be effective are:

  1. Set a compelling direction
  2. Establish clear roles and responsibilities
  3. Facilitate interpersonal relationships
  4. Coach the group to enhance its performance

The first two are best done when a team is formed or when it has begun work toward a new goal. They can be revisited and adjusted as the needs of the organization and the team require. The second two are on-going activities during the life of the team or work group. They are among the most important responsibilities of a leader. Use the “Team Effectiveness Questionnaire” to assess how well you are addressing each of the four success factors.

  1. Set a compelling direction.

The purpose or goal should have three characteristics:

  • Challenging: Is it something that will inspire commitment and motivate extra effort?
  • Clear: Is it specific and can it be stated in one sentence?
  • Consequential: Is it something of significance that team members will care about?
  1. Establish clear roles and responsibilities.

Creating a structure for the team provides guidance for how work will be done and by whom:

  • Team composition: Do the team members bring all the needed knowledge, skills, and expertise?
  • Task design: Will team members see their assignments as significant and challenging? (see Guide to Motivating Others)?
  • Roles: Do team members understand who is responsible for what, including making decisions?
  1. Facilitate interpersonal relationships.

Monitoring how people interact and stepping in to smooth relationships and resolve conflict will help the team collaborate and be productive.

  • Norms: Are clear expectations set (and maintained) about how team members will work together?
  • Team relationships: Is there trust and open communication among team members?
  • Intergroup relations: Does communication with other groups or departments take place when coordination is needed?
  • Problem solving: Do team members take responsibility for the group’s performance and for how well its members work together?
  1. Coach the group to enhance its performance.

Coaching demonstrates a commitment to the success of your team members. Team coaching differs from one-on-one coaching only in that it addresses the needs of the team rather than any one individual Team coaching consists of three separate activities: motivation, consultation, and education.

  • Motivation: Are you aware of how best to encourage effort for team members?
  • Consultation: Do you take advantage of opportunities to provide advice about performance improvement, including how to approach tasks?
  • Education: Do you identify ways to share your own expertise, detect skill deficits, and offer learning opportunities?
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