Leading thriving teams

Paula Leach describes 8 ways you can elevate your team from coping to thriving

A key role for any leader is to inspire their teams to work together, and be at their best individually, but most importantly, collectively. However, we know for many employees, challenges with wellbeing are on the rise, workload is high, and many do not feel their voices are heard. Leaders and employers are feeling the impact in a highly mobile workforce with attrition rates continuing to create difficulties. We might look to increase pay or to hire more resources to retain talent or to ease workloads, but at present, neither of these interventions are likely to either be meaningful or viable options for employers or to meet the needs of their employee base. So, what do we do? We need to look at the things that we can control and proactively meet deeper human needs for engagement. Here are 8 ways you can elevate your team from coping to thriving that cost nothing and can have lasting positive effects on wellbeing for individuals, and ultimately team performance.

1. Ensure there is clarity of direction
It is every leader’s responsibility to ensure that there is clear direction. This is not a one-off act of communication, but an ongoing process of discussion, listening and incorporating the best perspectives of the team. This means doing two things really well – determining where you are going and providing opportunities for everyone to make sense of this and translate this to their language and working reality such that there is a shared ambition and common parameters. This constant reinforcing of clarity avoids unnecessary work, and misunderstandings which can lead to higher workload and tensions between colleagues.

Early 2-way conversations about expectations reduces the need for more difficult and therefore emotion-filled conversations about performance

2. Have meaningful 2-way conversations about expectations
With greater clarity comes a much better opportunity for early, upstream, conversations about expectations. Regularly talking to individuals and teams about what you need from them as a leader and how you can support them, and asking them to share the same (that is what they bring and will do and what they need) helps to prioritise workload and builds a culture of support and working together. This approach of early 2-way conversations about expectations reduces the need for more difficult and therefore emotion-filled conversations about performance. Expectation sharing relies on a reciprocal discussion which builds trust.

3.  Ask more questions
People have an in-built need to feel seen and heard. It is part of our social conditioning to feel that we belong. If we want to build a culture where employees are thriving and giving of their best, we need to be deeply interested in their experiences and perspectives. Being ‘in it together’ as a team benefits from the leader taking the time to ask more questions and listen actively to the viewpoints of others.

4. Encourage collaboration
We thrive when we are part of something together. Social connection is a key human need and was a foundation of our survival in our primitive ancestors. This is still a basic human need today. As a leader creating opportunities for people to work together, solving problems, building upon opportunities, and being rewarded for collaboration creates an atmosphere of belonging for all. For everyone to feel the benefit, this needs to be led effectively such that everyone is encouraged to understand how to work with each other’s strengths. Team psychometric profiling can be an option for some teams to build awareness, for other teams it may be carefully assigning work to different people in different teams to broaden perspective and create wider social support and connection.

5. Align around your purpose
A lot is talked about in today’s workplace with reference to meaningful work, and there is a reason for this. Human engagement is heightened by working towards a purpose, particularly if shared with others. This doesn’t need to be a deep and meaningful purpose; it can be as simple as a shared understanding as to why our organisation was established in the first place? Who are we serving and why? What problem are we overcoming? What is our team’s role in making that happen? What is the consequence if we don’t work together to this common aim? 

6. Reduce uncertainty
One of the main reasons people can experience stress is due to uncertainty. This might be about the security of a job role, it may be changes to a team set up, new technology or new leadership for example. Continuously being as transparent as possible regularly with everyone and communicating frequently is extremely important to reduce feelings of uncertainty. Even if there is nothing new to report, communicate and say that. It may be that there is something confidential that you cannot share yet, communicate that fact, and say you will share as and when you can. Even sharing no new, is better than saying nothing in terms of reducing uncertainty for others.

7. Create space for autonomy
You hire people for their capabilities and creativity and their experience. Wherever possible it is absolutely critical to ensure that everyone has the maximum space to complete their work in their way. This is why clarity of direction is so important because it enables leaders to step away and create space for others to deliver. Without clarity, it feels chaotic, and we risk stifling other’s capabilities by seeking comfort through certainty. If we gain that certainty up front by being clear on direction, we enable the space for others to work autonomously which is much more satisfying and fulfilling.

8. Share your belief in their growth and demonstrate this with opportunity
Career and professional growth are hugely important to individuals in terms of fulfilment. People are looking to develop and to build a career in the future. Regular discussion to understand each individual and how they see their professional development enables you as a leader to express your belief in them. This holds a huge value in terms of how valued people feel in an organisation. Development can mean promotion and hierarchical career growth, but equally it may be lateral opportunities for broadening perspective and learning and demonstrating your trust in their capability by asking them to lead a project or represent the wider organisation at an event.

Thriving teams are built upon a clear shared mission and the space to express their capability. As a leader, if you concentrate on these eight aspects with the individuals and teams who work with you, a virtuous cycle of higher performance, happiness and productivity can be achieved and sustained.

Paula Leach has her own business, Vantage Points Consulting, and is the author of Vantage Points: how to create a culture where employees thrive.

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