6 Strategies for Building Teams that Go the Distance

Another New Year is nearly upon us. If your organization is like most, you’ve developed some big goals for 2016. You want to go farther, accomplish more objectives faster and increase your revenues. The list goes on. But how will you get there?

Together, and by strategically building teams that go the distance.

True, long-term success comes from teamwork, not from individuals alone. This African proverb sums it up well:

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.”

I know. That’s easier said than done. Most leaders, especially emerging and frontline leaders, can find it difficult to strike the right balance and build a championship team.

I’ve been able to put my own team-building skills to the test outside – as well as inside – the workplace. In addition to leading a business, I also volunteer as an assistant coach with an after-school program called Girls on the Run.

Picture a team of 20 grade-school girls. As you might imagine, there are all types of backgrounds, abilities, personalities, and emerging leadership styles. We have outgoing and shy, talkative and quiet, those comfortable out front and those who prefer the middle of the pack.

While running is a sport that hones individual mental and physical skills, these girls also experience what it means to be supportive and encouraging in an inclusive, collaborative environment. They’re learning the power of success through teamwork.

Of course, the same principle holds true at work – and in every aspect of our lives. Behind most every success are both individual contributions and those of the greater organization. 

If you’re ready to take your team to the next level, try these six strategies for high performance.

1. Define and document what teamwork looks like. 

Ask your team members to describe the actions that comprise their vision of teamwork and what it means to them. Also, as leader, create your own list of expectations. The key lies in the specifics of the actions. For example, if collaboration is mentioned as a key component of teamwork, dig deeper to find out what actions tell you collaboration is actually taking place. This approach improves engagement and commitment to teamwork because it’s created by the team, and it works for both formal reporting structures and cross-functional project teams.

2. Determine individual roles and responsibilities.

In addition to understanding the overarching plan, each team member must know the job (or the project), its objectives and their own role in its success. Put it in writing. Strive to leverage each individual’s strengths, and also allow some room for growth. When it comes to growth, take time to learn from your team what may be a stretch opportunity.

For example, I have a colleague who recently convened a meeting with a cross-functional team. That team identified over 20 projects for the upcoming year that will accelerate sales growth across the organization; each team member identified at least one project that would be considered a stretch and signed up to take a leadership role. The positive by-products of this meeting – increased engagement, colleagues who now have an opportunity to work together on exciting new projects, and accomplished in a completely matrixed environment. This “team” will go far!

3. Create and regularly use a professional development plan.

Professional development plans, when designed well and used consistently, make a big difference in creating a culture of teamwork and ensuring that everyone has a role in reaching the organization’s key goals. For example, I assigned development planning as a project to a team member. She was responsible for all aspects of research, design, communication, and execution. The result was a bottom-up engagement from the entire team that I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to achieve. This is something you can adapt to your own development, in addition to formal plans within your organization.

4. Encourage team members to take the initiative in collaborating with one another.

Team members need to invest in learning about one another personally, as well as their professional roles. Encourage them to connect outside formal projects and interactions. While this may seem obvious, it’s not easy to make happen in our distributed and virtual environments. That might involve lunches, volunteer projects or even an office sports team. A strong personal connection between members helps forge an even stronger team.

5. Recognize and reinforce performance behaviors you want to see, and compassionately confront those you don’t. 

When someone on the team does something particularly well and it yields a result you want repeated, be sure to communicate those specifics to the individual and the team. On the flip side, don’t shy away from compassionately confronting what’s not working. 

As uncomfortable as it might be, if we have set expectations correctly, our teams should anticipate conversations on what’s effective and what has room for improvement.

6. Reward individual AND team performance. 

When it comes to rewarding people, often the focus is on individual achievement. But have you considered the value of recognizing and rewarding a teamwork mindset? For example, think about a project that requires contributions from multiple people to create success – no one person can do it alone. When the project is completed, recognize individual contributions and the greater team effort that combined to accomplish the goals.

Although we live in a fast world that often emphasizes individual achievements, going far with the help of our teams will deliver winning results. No matter your current role, it’s important to be a model team member, while continually fostering the team’s growth and success.


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Amy Franko is Founder & CEO of Impact Instruction Group, which helps organizations develop their top talent and future leaders through customized leadership and onboarding programs. Her experience within global organizations shaped her skills as a strategic thinker and leader, often providing new perspectives to clients. Amy established and moderates forums for learning executives and is a recognized speaker on leadership development. She is on the board of the Girl Scouts of Ohio’s Heartland. Connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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