I posted on LinkedIn this week that I’m going back to California for the release of my novel Grace Group. I say ‘back’ because I now live in the Greater Seattle area, and have for over four years, and yet when I want to be surrounded by people who truly care for me and have played a significant role in my life, I go to Southern California. Many of these people will be former colleagues, which got me thinking about the role of work and the impact it can have on your life.
Some of the best and worst experiences of my life have been on the job. It’s difficult in our culture to keep a job in its proper perspective. Often, we elevate it to a pedestal it was never met to occupy, as it begins to represent, safety, security, and provision, and all the things we crave on the bottom of our hierarchy of needs, rather than being one means to those ends. Sometimes, we believe this to the extent that we compromise our values, or sacrifice other areas of our lives to keep this god pleased with us. Many of my worst work experiences have boiled down to expecting a job to provide things that it didn’t or couldn’t.
On the other hand are the great experiences. The ubiquitous ‘they’ always claim that at the end of your life you won’t look back and wish you’d worked more. I understand the concept, but those times where I was contributing my highest and best with a dedicated group of people doing the same, in pursuit of a goal that would not just make the company more money, but would positively impact people’s lives? Those I will look back on and be happy that I was right where I was supposed to be and I won’t regret a minute.
So how do you foster that? How can you develop a team that can and will move mountains, and will look back on it as a defining life moment? As I review the times it’s happened, there are some common characteristics. As with any leadership advice, though, this comes with a caution. Any of these things must be done authentically and with sincerity. Exploiting these to get higher productivity is not only highly unethical, it also won’t get you the results you seek. It can’t. So here are the things that build a forever-team:
Mine for gold
All too often when I help companies interview, it seems like they are using a ‘weed-out’ approach, where they use the interview time to try to find out the candidate’s flaws, so that they can avoid a bad hire. This seems to continue after the hiring process. Reviews are less a celebration of accomplishments than diligently recording all the ‘misses’ in an effort to overcome challenges. Positive coaching has indicated that ‘rounding’ is ineffective, and there is a strong and growing argument for playing to people’s strengths. Using this information, a leader is better served looking for all the unique gifts each team member has and finding out how they fit together, than in making sure everyone has an acceptable level of every skill.
The reality of working with people is that they will let you down from time to time. We all screw up, hurt each others’ feelings, and occasionally worse. Working with, and being, imperfect people requires the regular application of grace and forgiveness. It’s all too easy to judge others on their actions, and ourselves by our intentions. The most meaningful, life-changing team I was on saw me at my worst, with all my imperfections, and told me I was still welcome on the team and had something of value to contribute.
It’s impossible to feel entitled and grateful at the same time. One way to make sure team members are on the same page is to model intentional gratitude. This means resist the urge to ‘vent’, or even to encourage venting from your team. Rather, point out the things to be thankful for. If you’re not used to this, you may annoy yourself initially, but it will grow on you. It’s usually contagious, but the bright side is that the unrepentant complainers will become frustrated with you and stop complaining.
Welcome positive ‘conflict’
Shutting down venting and welcoming positive conflict are entirely different things. One of the very few risks in a strong, united team, is the tendency to lapse into group think. This weakens your team, so it’s good to work through a problem from all angles. If you don’t have a natural devil’s advocate on your team, (which would be surprising), appoint a revolving one. You can set norms on your team about how to bring up concerns and problems in a way that strengthens the team, and encourages healthy dialogue.
Take the hill
All great teams have had a major obstacle to overcome. This is what you tell stories about for years to come. If you want to unite a team, you need to find a common enemy. Finding the right enemy/challenge is what separates the great leaders from the destructive ones. I’ve heard all too many supervisors rally their teams very effectively against ‘corporate’ – a short-sighted, disempowering move to say the least! Instead, form reasonable and audacious goals, making the problem you are overcoming your common enemy. If your company has an unexpected setback, use that to mobilize your team into action.
Overall, the experience of being on a strong team is transformational. If you’re a leader who wants to learn more about how to create a team that will move mountains, click here to go deeper.
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Carrie Maldonado is the founder of Today’s Leadership Solutions, a Seattle-based consulting firm providing comprehensive organizational development solutions for companies who are growing and who truly value their people. With certified Executive Coaches, Organizational Behavior Management (OBM) practitioners, SPHR-certified HR professionals, and Organizational Development Specialists, Carrie’s team brings a unique perspective and a cross-functional approach to providing workplace solutions that work. Carrie can be reached for consultation at firstname.lastname@example.org