top of page
  • Writer's pictureEndring

How to Forge a Kick-Ass Team to Match Your Ambitious Mandate



In this week’s issue, we are diving deeper into one of the first and most critical steps that a leader can take as they step foot into a new ambitious mandate and/or role: Putting together the dream team.


The challenges we are facing in our organizations - and society in general - are increasingly more complex and uncertain. It takes more than one individual’s intelligence to figure it out.


In fact, the breadth of knowledge and collective intelligence of a team is needed more than ever: not only to solve problems, but to determine what the problem is in the first place.


So, when we step into that dream opportunity as a leader, and want to increase our chances for success, the first order of business should be to ask ourselves: “who do I need involved in this and what kind of team is going to make these great things happen?”


However, what generally happens is one or more of the following:

  • We are both rushed and met with organizational constraints

  • We assemble a team mostly based on preexisting roles and mandates

  • We try to attract the top talent that is always tapped on

  • We gather everyone in a room or on a call, hand them the problem to solve or solution to develop, and roll up your sleeves to start working

Sound familiar? You’ve probably lived through something similar. There are a lot of pitfalls that can be avoided at this very important stage of assembling and mobilizing the team. Doing it right will pay off in both the short and long term.


We’ve helped clients embark on defining new strategies, solve big problems, and take on many other ambitious mandates. Today we’re going to share our recommended approach to forging a team that can really make shift happen.


STEP 1: Tailor Your Team's Composition


As soon as we grab hold of the reins of this new initiative, there is a feeling that we need to just GO.


Breathe. Take a beat.


Taking the opportunity to assess the kind of team we need to assemble, and the skills and perspectives that we need from each member, will contribute to the collective genius of the team.


We know that we need a variety of technical skills and knowledge relevant to the problem at hand - like financial modelling, UX design skills, or maybe deep understanding of government legislation.


But here are some additional considerations that will help you to determine what else you may need from the team:

  • Passion: Do they care about what it is you are trying to achieve? Are they committed to ‘the cause’? Does it energize them?

  • “Soft Skills”: What are the attributes and mindsets of the people that you need on the team? Are they team players and sensitive to the views and feelings of others? Are they agile and flexible? Do they have a growth mindset and are open to learning and experimenting? Do they need to have an “insurgent’s” mindset to really do things differently?


  • Perspectives: What are the different perspectives from the organization or of the problem that you need to bring in? Do we need people at the front-lines that support the customer or end-user? And, do we need someone that can bring in a perspective that represents the infrastructure of the organization?

  • Diversity: We need to avoid ‘group-think’ and be mindful and intentional about having more diversity on the team. Do they work in different ways? Do they have different ways of approaching problems? Often, a variety of perspectives and ways of thinking and working is helped by ensuring gender, cultural, and educational diversity on the team.


PRO-TIP:

You need the team to ‘gel’, but you are also looking to bring a wide variety of people together with different perspectives, abilities, ways of thinking - which can make that harder. A simple tactic is to make the value of having diversity on the team explicit, and talk about how it benefits the problem you’re trying to solve or mandate you’re trying to fulfill.


STEP 2: Beg, Borrow, Steal (and Fight)


Now that we know what we need, it’s time to recruit the team members.


As we mentioned earlier, our default (and constraint) is to assemble a team with members that are available or existed in their roles. Some of those team members may be the perfect skills match, but we may need to extend our search beyond who may be available or in place.


It’s time to beg, borrow, steal and FIGHT.


Here is where we need to engage other stakeholders in our organization and enrol them in the cause. They can help identify those that have ambition for the mandate and match their skills and desires.


Our immediate instinct may be to get the top talent; however, top talent don’t always make for great team players. Ideally we are getting the strong talent that can curb their own needs and desires for the benefit of the team and the mandate. It’s about finding puzzle pieces, rather than superheroes.


Sometimes building a team with lots of really talented people actually hurts the team’s performance. Building Great Teams, Kellogg Insight

PRO-TIP:

There will be instances where despite your best efforts, you may not be able to find the right people internally. Now is the opportunity to think of fractional team members, team members that are only part of the team and inject value at critical junctures. You can also consider augmenting from the outside of the organization on a temporary basis.


STEP 3: Spend Time on the Lift-Off


Great! You now have assembled the kind of team that your ambitious mandate will need - all great people and they are waiting with bated breath on what to do next. Your most important job at this point is to achieve the RIGHT lift-off.


The right lift-off answers the following questions for team members:

  • What are we here to do?

  • Who are these other people on the team and why are they here?

  • How are we going to work together?


Credit: SpaceX; Unsplash


Your job as the leader is to set the right context about the mandate that you’ve been given and even an early hypothesis as to what the problem may be.


But a critical part of your ‘spiel’ needs to be that the team is a big part of shaping the mandate and defining the problem. Asking questions and demonstrating that learning is going to be part of the process takes a lot of pressure off and sets a tone for this being a safe place.


In our experience, in the name of getting fast traction, one of the first things taken off the agenda with the first-time team is establishing connection and setting some norms and principles about how to work together. It’s important to start laying down the foundations to a high-performing team, which we like to summarize into 3Cs: Connection, Co-Create, and Coalesce.


Connection and Co-Creating take place in in this step.

  • Connection: In the lift-off it’s important to create the space for deeper connection between new team members. Explore what everyone brings to the table. Get to know a bit about each other (and gradually go deeper over time). Find out what everyone needs to work best and how they prefer to receive feedback. It doesn’t always just start off with a “getting to know you” tool or exercise.

  • Co-creating: You need the team to establish principles on how they will work together. Many people are working hybrid, have different work/life situations, and favour different tools and technologies. Some of these principles shape how and where they'll meet, or resolve issues, or as simple as what are the working hours. Once this is out of the way, it becomes much easier to get to work and will avoid problems in the future.

When Lifting Off, it’s often about pay now or pay later. Either way you need to pay, but it will be much more expensive later.


Pro Tip:

A great exercise for getting to know each other more deeply is a simple “My Timeline” exercise. Check out our Butter expert profile to access the template and instructions.


STEP 4: Get Clear on the Problem and Purpose


In this step we must Coalesce as a team, and there is nothing that acts better as a “glue” for the team than working together to align on a very clearly articulated problem, the team’s purpose, and the shared accountability of the team members to make it happen.

  • The Problem: Although you have been given a mandate and you even have a sense of what the problem may be, it’s time for the team to take ownership of it. Part of the process is for the team to to truly understand what the problem is, the impact that it is having on the organization and its stakeholders, as well as what is creating it. We always like to advise our clients that the teams should be empowered to reflect on whether this is truly the right problem to solve. More importantly, they must have the space to solve for the problem.

  • Team Purpose and Role: Once the team deeply understands the dimensions of the problem and what it may take to solve it, the team must get aligned on their purpose. They must be able to answer: When do we know that we’ve fulfilled our mandate? What is our role? Are we pushing, creating or advocating?


Pro Tip: Spend time differentiating Shared vs Individual Accountability. It’s often really easy to establish a lofty set of shared accountabilities for the team. But as a team, you need to spend time on clarifying what each member is accountable for on their own - what the individual roles are outside of team meetings to move things forward. Getting clear on this prevents the sense that all activity happens when the team is together, and also avoids people ‘going rogue’ and doing work out of sync with the rest of the team.


STEP 5: Nurture for Growth


Forging your team can’t be a “set it and forget” exercise. The team, once formed, is a living and breathing entity. As a leader we must be ensuring that we are tending to its growing needs and guiding it through its maturation.


Here are some pointers on what to do throughout the team’s existence:

  • Maintain Diversity: In Step 1 we were intentional and mindful of architecting a diverse team, but as the team matures, diversity of thought naturally shrinks as the team aligns and thinks alike. On a regular basis we must inject new perspectives. That may mean adding new team members or guest members to engage with the team.

  • Have Fun: We need to be able to zoom out and ensure that we are paying attention to the human connection. Nothing deepens our relationships and creates more joy in our lives than having fun together. Book monthly team outings and activities, timed with when it would be great to have everyone in person. [Or for distributed teams, try some of these fun online team building activities.

  • Revisit Your Team Norms: It is impossible to anticipate in one shot all the norms and principles that a team needs to be the best they can be. These norms and principles also need to be re-evaluated, edited and deleted as the situation evolves and demands of the team changes. Ensure that you make space for team dialogue on what they need as a unit, but also what each member may need from the team.



Pro Tips:

1 - Let’s not forget that we need to do team check-ins and not just status updates. One is about the health of the team, and the other about the health of the project.


2 - Be mindful and intentional about developing deeper connection between team members and increasing team cohesion. Regularly schedule (at least once a quarter) in-person meetings with the team with the sole purpose of solidifying relationships, and curate the meeting experience to deliver on that.


Your Role


Your role as a leader is important, particularly as you have assembled a team and empowered them to help you fulfill your mandate.


We strongly believe that leaders are in service to their people and teams to do great things and fulfill their potential.


As such, the question for you to answer is: “How may I best serve this team given the mandate and problem to solve?”


Sometimes you are best to serve as a sponsor that removes all obstacles on the path. Sometimes you need to help the team get out of gridlock with some interventions. Other times you might need to step out of your leadership role and be a participant, providing unique perspectives and making decisions.

Be aware of the needs of your team. Make sure there is an open door for them to express those needs, too.


In Summary


One of the most important and key steps that a leader must take moving into a new role with an ambitious mandate is to assemble the right team that will help them succeed.


Being intentional about who is on the team, getting them aligned and committed, and continuing to evolve them is critical, and here are the steps do it:

  1. Tailor Your Team's Composition

  2. Beg, Borrow, Steal (and fight)

  3. Spend time on the Lift Off

  4. Get Clear on the Problem and Purpose

  5. Nurture for Growth


NOTE: This particular newsletter issue has also been inspired by a recent article released by the Kellogg School of Management, “Building Great Teams”, where they outlined a series of insights that nicely align with and deftly crystallized our experience and perspectives on the topic. Here’s the link for your reference: https://insight.kellogg.northwestern.edu/building-leading-great-teams-research

25 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page