Since leaders lead others, usually in groups or teams, any conversation about effective leadership can’t go too far before beginning to discuss how leaders help their teams.

People have spent their lives studying the dynamics of team interactions, how teams form and develop, and the skills needed for team members to be successful. When thought about from this perspective, it is hard to fathom how leaders can ever master these complexities.

On the other hand, people have been working in groups for a very long time, and so while complex, there are things people to do work together better, and so there are things that we as leaders can do to support those efforts.

Since this is such a critical piece of the leader’s list of activities, I’ve taken a dual path approach to these suggestions. In fact, rather than six ways a leader can support team success, it is actually a dozen.  For each area, I’ll suggest what the leader can do personally and in relationship to those they lead. While you can make some progress by doing the second action in each pair, they will be far more effective done in tandem, as your personal actions and modeling will be at least as powerful as the second half.

So call it six ways, or call it twelve ways . . . either way, let’s get on with it!

Expect and encourage teamwork. It is difficult to expect people to come together as effective teams if there isn’t a clear and definitive expectation of the importance of that. It may seem obvious to you, but you probably know what assuming can do… if you want great teams, start by making your expectations clear. Then make sure you are encouraging teamwork through your conversations, feedback, recognition and rewards systems and more. Expectations are great, but your daily actions will show how important teamwork is to you and your organization.

Be committed to team success and help grow the commitment of others. The best teams are committed to their success and to each other. Are you committed to both of those things? As the leader of a team you are also part of the team, too.  Yes your role is different, but are you all in for the team? If you aren’t, how can you expect them to be? While being committed yourself is important, you must recognize the importance of this commitment and engagement and encourage it in others as well. This may require conversations, coaching and even conflict resolution, but doing the things that help teams become more committed to the work and each other will pay huge dividends in results.

Create a team vision and help people personalize it. A team can be committed and “get along” and do great work, but if they aren’t moving in a direction that is the desired direction for overall organizational success, they are less effective than they could be. Whether you set the goals or involve them in setting them, no team can succeed without them. Goals alone aren’t enough however. We must help people connect their personal work to the goals of the team and the vision of the organization. Our role as leaders is to help make that happen.

Focus on relationships and encourage others to do the same. Often leaders make the mistake that if people get to know each other, they will get along better and most, if not all, team problems will melt like the Wicked Witch of the West. While many consultants make a living based on this basic premise, it is short sighted and incomplete. That said, relationships among team members matter and will aid in team development and success. If you want highly successful teams, be a relationship builder and allow time and space for team members to build relationships while they accomplish tasks.

Be available to help and let your team grow independent of you. Your team will need you, you are committed and are excited and believe in the goals of the team.  You must have time and invest time in your team. And . . . you must leave them alone. Don’t micromanage them. People grow and learn with help, but you can’t do things for them. Give them space, opportunity and be patient. Finding this balance may be a challenge, but remember that as they learn and grow you are leveraging that learning for the lifetime of the team.

Be supportive and encourage team members to support each other. Be supportive both of the team as a whole, which we have already talked about in several ways, but also of the individuals on the team. Remember that a team is made up of individuals, and when you support them you are building their confidence and creating positive attitudes. Since you know that confidence and a positive attitude and energy will improve individual (and team) results, it is important that you not only do this, but help people do the same for each other. Creating this upward spiral or support and encouragement will grow your team’s results as fast as almost any other thing, and it starts with you.

Pick something on this list and get started, and I recommend you start with the thing you feel least comfortable with, then make a plan to integrate all of these actions into your ongoing team leadership approach. You will create tremendous team results and learn a lot for yourself too.

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  1. This is a very helpful list, Kevin. A timely reminder for me. Making time to foster relationships and the communication that goes with that, is probably something I should set aside more time to do.

  2. Having a solid team vision, while still being flexible enough to let team members personalize that vision is huge. Its one of those paradoxes in life that challenges people to strike a balance. As leaders we must have a clear vision that other people buy into, while still letting others develop their own vision of how they can best contribute to the groups goal.

  3. Great tips Kevin. I really like the idea of leaders helping their teams perform independently. I’ve found that leaders encourage positive results from their teams when they allow team members to use their talents and abilities without always feeling they have to guide them. The leader trusts his team to do great work and gets out of the way unless they ask for help.

  4. Very good and truthful tips indeed Kevin.
    One that I particularly find most significant is the fact that you need to give room for your team members to evolve and develop themselves. Sure we are supposed to guide them and support them but mostly encourage them to grow independently. Being available to the team should not mean do the tasks for them.

  5. Celebrate success. Often we manage failure and expect success. Healthcare is the worse offender for this. A pat on the back about something specific is essential. Know your people, know their story.

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