Article by Paula Leach
High performance, collaboration, creativity, and innovation are delivered by teams who are thriving, not simply surviving. Thriving teams are inclusive, people work well together, have a collective energy, and are motivated to solve problems.
As leaders we need to be challenging ourselves to ensure that our primary focus is not so much on the outcomes and results, as creating the conditions within which our teams can thrive.
People work well together when there is certainty. A lack of clarity with regard to direction and what is important creates disharmony and confusion. An ongoing focus of ensuring that there are parameters and a clear view as to who is doing what and where we are headed together is absolutely crucial as a foundation for thriving communities.
The reason that we hire brilliant people with different perspectives, skillsets, and experiences, is to bring together this collective wisdom and creativity. When there are problems to be solved, or opportunities to decide how work gets done, then ensuring that everyone is involved builds greater ownership and accountability. And better ideas. Be curious and tenacious in seeking to understand every individual’s capability and contribution and then watch then rise up to be more participative and offer solutions and ideas.
We all thrive when we are seen and heard. It is a fundamental social need of humans. Leaders noticing work and effort and recognising this with the smallest of gestures, given often and with genuine intent will see a step change in how engaged and involved people feel. This builds confidence and a positive culture.
If you are a leader and you want to build a thriving positive culture, recognise that you as the leader are the culture. How people experience you will determine their behaviour. Building positive followership starts with self-awareness and a continuous practice of noticing and understanding how others see and experience our leadership. If you are stressed, your team will be stressed. If you are anxious about delivering results, your team will feel and replicate that anxious feeling. Work on yourself and this is the work of creating positive culture.
There is a balance between providing direction and satisfying your need to ensure that people are working towards performance and results and creating sufficient space for people to do the work, with opportunity to be creative, do things their way and feel trusted. Notice when you are asking for updates or reports and wait a bit longer. This builds trust. Notice when you are about to give direction and see whether you might ask a question instead to encourage self-starting rather than passivity.
Any employee survey in any organisation will predominantly have negative comments or emotions associated with workload. Helping to unblock resourcing challenges and prioritise work so that individuals and teams are not overwhelmed but are able to focus on their performance is a critical part of your leadership role. Seek to understand the nature of workload challenges and to find practical solutions so that overcapacity is short lived only in crisis situations, and people feel listened to and responded to when they identify that they need help.
The core of working together is having a shared endeavour that is meaningful to everyone. We are social and are hardwired to support and engage with each other in reciprocity and towards something with which we have belief. Help not only to clarify direction but also the purpose and impact of the work that you are doing, who will it make a difference to, why it is important and why is it important to you personally? By modelling this, others can find their meaning and purpose too.
Just as lack of clarity of direction can cause chaos, misunderstanding with regard to expectations can lead to assumption and judgement causing relationship difficulties in teams. Make it a regular practice to ensure that you are really clear with regard to your expectations and why these are important, and to seek to understand what other people’s expectations are of you, such that you can fulfil these or explain any variation openly. Open and transparent discussion of expectations pre-empts relationship misalignment and creates further foundation for thriving teams.
In survival we can get things done together, but it is not a long-term solution nor is it in any way optimum for the innovation, inclusion, and creativity we are seeking in our teams in this human age of the working world. Today the leader’s job is not to lead the task, but to concentrate time, energy and focus on leading people. This thriving team will in turn create the conditions for high and sustained performance and results.
Paula Leach has over 25 years’ experience in HR, most notably as Chief People Officer at The Home Office and Global Chief People Officer at FDM Group. She now runs her own business, Vantage Points Consulting, and is the author of Vantage Points: how to create a culture where employees thrive.