Building High Performing Teams

My initial years were spent as a market researcher.  Most of the time I was an individual contributor, doing my bits in the research chain. As I moved out of research and into corporate communications role, I had to learn to manage a lot of vendors and how to make them work together. I still continued to do my own thing as I was the team and the manager, all in one. As I progressed further, I suddenly realized  that the volume of work had grown manifold. Now I needed a team.

I was continually recognized as a high performer in the organistaion. Once I started putting the team together, I realized the team also needs to be high performing.  However, on day one, I had no clue how

I would make that happen.  Like everything else, I learnt it through my own hands-on experience. Here I share some of my key discoveries.

Once I hired for two or three roles, it became clear that I have to invest significant amount of time in hiring the right people. It’s important to have the person with the appropriate skills, but the right attitude was even more critical. I also realized that if I didn’t have the right person in place, any amount of training wasn’t going to help. I learnt this the hard way.  As a manager, investing time to recruit the right people for the team, is the first critical step. This is an activity that cannot be just delegated to a recruitment person.

Right people join and stay when they are excited about a compelling vision. I needed a vision for the team and had to articulate it clearly. Once I had the team, it was critical to rehearse the big picture consistently. Every person on the team has to share that common vision and the goal. That is the most effective way to keep everyone aligned and involved. And it was not enough to do this once a year, but multiple times over the year, to ensure that each of us saw the same picture ahead.

Marketing teams by design have a lot of individual specialists who think specific to their function. They are also very imaginative and have a lot of creative ideas (of course this is not a biased opinion!).

I wanted to harvest these ideas and cross pollinate. But it’s not easy to do it among equals and “specialists”. So I had to create a forum and a process to make people open to share and receive ideas. After a few tries, the team got comfortable sharing the ideas. Every idea is heard, without judgment, as no idea is bad. Soon we were weaving them into the plans. Now sharing ideas across the team is an established norm.

I also experimented with situational leaders for executing the ideas. It didn’t matter if the person was in a junior role or not in the logical operational area. But she would be the project manager for executing the idea, if she demonstrated capability and passion.  She would assign the roles and responsibilities to others. I found this was a reward and affirmation for the team members who showed initiative. It was also a great way to grow leadership.

When a team has people from different backgrounds and experience, they are bound to operate differently. I needed to foster a team culture that is common and met certain expectations. That included basic operating principles about meeting deadlines, timely responses, preparedness for interactions,  respect for each other, collaboration etc. These were transparently discussed in the team meetings. So each team member was clear about what was an acceptable behavior and what was not tolerated. I also realized that one key ingredient for creating the team culture is focusing on the team goal and not just on individual goals.  And the job of ensuring that the team goal comes first, rests with the leader.

Appreciating good work doesn’t come naturally to many people, me included. But I realized that appreciation was not only key to sending the right signals about the operating culture, but also created high motivation within the team.  Appreciating the gifts and qualities we admire in each other and what we wanted to imbibe from each, created a great deal of respect.  The other important aspect was to ensure continuous learning.  This was done through formal reflection sessions after a major project. We reviewed what went well, what could have been done better and how we would handle similar project next time. Team always referred to the reflection notes before starting a new program. Because of this, we got better at execution.  We were able to anticipate and thus better prepared and more importantly, enjoyed working with less stress!

While teams go about doing their mission, what is the glue that binds people together at a human level? Personally for me this is a real challenge as I do not find it easy to make personal connects. But I was lucky to have one or two people in the team who are able to help me in this area. They had an incredible ability to come up with events and activities that created an element of fun and fizz and reinforced the team-hood at an informal and human level. Better team harmony, greatly enhances team productivity. And this is something I will consciously try to build into any of my future teams as well. Creating bonds outside work, through some common social activity always helped break down the barriers and create better interactions and connections.

All of these sound very simple. But like all simple things, when done with high intention, their effect is profound. As a leader one needs to constantly create an ecosystem and keep that eco system nurtured and healthy. It is hard work. But seeing the team grow, mature and become more responsible is the most fulfilling reward I could ask for.


3 thoughts on “Building High Performing Teams

  1. Beautiful post Sangeeta. Absolutely spot on. The team is only as strong as their weakest link! Motivating factors are of course different for different people. (For many it is money and personally I find these don’t last very long) Most I agree are compelled by an exciting vision.

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