Building Effective Teams: How Individual Strengths Help Your Business Succeed

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We've all heard there's no "I" in team, but building effective teams requires attention to individual strengths and interests.

Do you have employees or team members? Are the individual strengths and contributions of your team members recognized and fostered?

In the words of Andrew Carnegie, “Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.”

Building effective teams within your company requires strong leadership. After all, if sports have taught us anything, it’s that a team is only as good as the coach. The right leader can take the same players to victory or to defeat.

So, how are effective teams built? It starts with recognition, growth, and learning how to play to everyone’s strength.

Employee vs. Team Member: Semantics Count

Does anyone really like being called an employee? Everyone wants to be employed, but few people want to be an employee.

There’s a cold chill to word employee (or worse, “worker”) that can squeeze morale out of an organization. Leaders may relate to the people they oversee, but relying on the term “employee” puts distance between management and workers that’s tough to bridge.

Is there really a difference between the terms "team member" and "employee"? YES!
via Pxhere

Getting the right people in the right seats of the bus means encouraging engagement and buy-in—qualities that come from team members, not employees. The title of “team member” promotes a collaborative environment. While there are workers who prefer to punch in and punch out without a second thought, excellent employees will welcome responsibility and rise to the occasion.

As a leader, it’s important to remember that if you want workers to feel the buy-in of being team members, you must treat them as such.

Does that really mean there’s a difference between the terms “team member” and “employee”? YES!

An employee is a person. They’ve been hired to do a job, get paid, and go home. Professionalism is essential to any business, but even professional “employees” will take orders rather than taking initiative. Why? Because their success doesn’t hinge on the success of the company. They don’t have any buy-in. Companies with an “employee culture” require managers—those who are in charge—calling the shots and giving directions.

Team members, on the other hand, work together. They share goals and try to come together to bring your business to the next level. Team members have a mentality that everyone succeeds or fails as one. When a team member needs help, another team member swoops in without needing to be directed. Teams don’t require managers; they need leaders who don’t hand down orders, but rather, work alongside them. You want your business to succeed, so enlist help from people you can trust with your dreams of success.

But the truth is, building effective teams isn’t just about semantics. It’s not enough to start calling your people “team members”—you have to walk the walk, too. Identify WHY each team member has value (and make sure the entire team knows it).

Hire people who share your vision and invest in people who want to be a member of your team. It’s that valuable, shared outlook that will benefit your business, long-term. Cultivate a culture of team members, not just employees.

Do You Provide Projects or Do You Ignite Passion?

Employees receive projects, tasks, and assignments. Projects need to be completed, and while good employees will get them done, without buy-in, they won’t put forth the extra effort. Employees expect management to direct their workflow. If you don’t tell them to do it, it’s not their fault it doesn’t get finished.

Employees might care about their jobs, but they aren’t comfortable or committed enough to give suggestions for areas that need improvement. They don’t believe their opinion matters, so why share it? In an “employee culture,” there’s little passion for the projects you assign—and with that mentality, business is likely to remain stagnant, with fewer opportunities for improvement and growth.

Team members, on the other hand, seek out projects based on their passions because they’ve invested in the work they do. A well-cultivated team still has specialists and experts, but all team members count. One team member is comfortable suggesting a course of action for another without fear of encroachment or power plays. Everyone respects each other, and employee conflicts are minimal.

Passionate team members take the initiative to seek out solutions rather than waiting for a manager or a higher-up to instruct them. They know how to problem-solve.

Employees often look at themselves as parts of a greater machine. They work every day, and they’re counted on to produce, but they’re ultimately replaceable when they wear out, break, or fail to do the job efficiently. Employee loyalty can be shored up with excellent compensation and benefits, but if that’s all your company has to offer, the situation will burn people out. Even employees that start passionate and ready to contribute can feel like they don’t matter if their contributions and ideas aren’t considered. Once that happens, it’s only a matter of time before they start looking elsewhere for work.

Think of team members as pillars. Pillars are vital structural elements. Team members do their best to shift the weight of work as evenly as possible. When one team member gets busy, another can pull some weight back to keep stress low. Pillars may need support, but they’re irreplaceable. They matter.

Team members want to feel like what they do matters to somebody, whether it’s the team, their leaders, or the customer. When you feel like someone’s paying attention to what you’re doing, you feel as though your work matters more, and that is important for the success of the entire business. It’s that feeling of importance that ignites the passion and drive to keep achieving.

Individual Strengths for Building Effective Teams

Team members in smaller companies often have the advantage of seeing their impact on the entire company
via Pxhere

Team members in smaller companies often have the advantage of seeing their impact on the entire company. In larger corporations, each employee may feel like no more than one of many cogs in a wheel.

But no matter the size of your company, it’s crucial that job components align with individual strengths (and compensate for weaknesses). Leadership must provide support for each team member and get to know the areas where they excel and the areas they could develop.

Meet with each person frequently to identify room for growth in their performance plan. Measure individual accomplishments that not only help achieve personal growth but also help the company succeed. Offer think time or downtime for brainstorming (and even time to pursue passion projects). This downtime allows team members to think more creatively and strategically.

A few years ago, I had the privilege of seeing Dara Torres, five-time Olympian and twelve-time Olympic Medalist (the most recent at 41 years old, no less!) speak at the UWM Women Leaders Conference. Her work ethic is both inspiring and contagious. She emphasized the importance of her entire team using a dramatically different approach as they worked together to achieve a common goal. They didn’t set their sights on winning the gold medal, but instead, on helping her optimize her total performance so she could win the gold.

Your people (the small muscles) need to work with the organization (the big muscles) within a particular strategic infrastructure (the bones). Just like the body needs a variety of exercises to promote balance, so does our business physiology. Think about it: Each of those little muscles plays a vital role in creating a well-balanced team! One neglected muscle can throw the whole team out of whack.

A well-balanced team includes a variety of complementary skills. Too many managers hire employees that have similar strengths as their own, but this serves to unbalance a team. Ideally, each person’s abilities should help round out the overall skills of the group. Consider whether you’re actually nurturing those skills for each person in your company.

Also, assess whether each team member is in the best position for his interests and experience. Sometimes you place an employee in a role only to find out later that he would thrive elsewhere. Don’t hesitate to move team members around until you find the perfect fit. (This will also cut down on turnover if you’re proactively making sure your staff loves what they do.)

Pump Up the Concept of TEAM Success

Leadership should foster enthusiasm about working together collectively to achieve goals. No one should feel separate from the team, so be sure everyone understands how significant their contributions are to the team and the company at large.

Promote team spirit by communicating frequently. Set SMART goals and regularly share company progress and achievements. Give kudos to those who have given their all each week. Discuss how you can work together to reach your goals even faster.

Personal interests can improve a company, too. For example, is there a team member who loves the environment? They’ll want to help you figure out new ways your business can go green. You make your workplace better when you let team members express themselves at work. The success of the project contributes to the overall feeling of accomplishment among the entire group.

While every team member wants to succeed on their own, they also want to feel like they’re part of something more substantial. Building effective teams means fostering both a positive team environment and highlighting opportunities for individual growth. Make sure each group or team has a mix of different personalities and different strengths.

When you have the right teams in place (the right fit for your company culture), leverage your tools to help individuals succeed for the benefit of the whole team.


Featured image and post images licensed for use via Pxhere.

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