One of the biggest challenges that entrepreneurs face is – “How do I grow a team that will grow my business?” Here are some simple steps that I learnt and have continued to help me as I advise CEOs to build great teams.
Twelve years ago, I moved from my Financial Controller position to being the Project manager of a business transformation project in Kazakhstan. This project was to be followed by a similar project in Russia. The Kazakhstan implementation was a disaster leading to delayed delivery of the project, project cost overrun and a dissatisfied client. Luckily, I had a leader as a manager who asked, “so what can we learn from this?”. We implemented the lessons learnt from the Kazakhstan project in the Russia project to astounding success.
Below are the five top lessons in team effectiveness that I learnt :
- Recruit well – Key to having a great team is hiring the right people. Now the question is, what is the right team? My experience was to hire a team with not just great skills but also with the right values. In the Kazakhstan project, I didn’t have much choice in the selection of the team. We were handed down a team that I had to work with. While everyone said the right things, not much got done. When we moved to the Russia project, I had the mandate to hire the team. So we not only hired for skill but also for the right values – in our case, a can do attitude, willingness to go the extra mile and put up with tough conditions. And yes, once I had hired my first team member, then both of us together hired the next and so on. So everyone had a stake in who was hired into the team and was responsible for his or her success.
- Early buy in to team objectives and values – In the first project, since the team was handed down to us, we believed that they all knew and had bought into the team goals. Soon, it was clear that while most team members said all the right things when it came to committing to deadlines and processes, their heart was not in the transformation as they believed that it would result in many of them losing their jobs once the project was complete. By the time we realised that, much time had already passed. In the Russia project, we not only hired for skills and attitude, we also took the time to inspire them into the vision of the program, explain the objectives, possible outcomes and expectations of the project to the team. This had a huge impact in creating the right environment for the project to be executed.
- Constantly build trust – As a team leader, if there is one thing that I learnt was the need to constantly work on trust – not just within the team, but with stakeholders – internal and external. Given the nature of the project, there was always a sense of mis-trust with regard to how employees would be treated upon completion of the project. In Kazakhstan, this was compounded by the differences in language between the team members and with the stakeholders. For the Russia project, we had one of the team members translate all communication, verbally and in writing so that nothing was lost in translation. Also, we realised that communication, and sometimes excessive communication, was necessary to ensure that all team members were equally participative, and there were no gaps in understanding. This sometimes meant that I had to communicate with all team members in group and separately, multiple times of the day.
- Play together, achieve together – One big differentiating factor in the Russia project was that we mandated that the entire team was going to have fun together, multiple times during the course of the project. This meant that some of the team members took it upon themselves to create practical jokes on team members – all in good taste and humour. Others ensured that we took adequate time off from work to celebrate small victories on the way. This helped in breaking down barriers. One such example was attending a Russian wedding and dancing to the seemingly endless toasts that are a highlight of their culture.
- Learn to Let go of position – Probably the biggest learning that I had as the Team leader was that each team member had the capacity to lead the team when required. I learnt to let go of the title and become the follower when required with the full confidence that the team knew that the buck stopped at my desk. It wasn’t easy initially, but as I learnt to trust the team, as we learnt to trust each other, as barriers broke down, letting go became easy and ensured that the team was never without a leader, regardless of my physical presence.
Shridhar Sampath is the founder and General Manager of Motivaluate Consulting & Training FZ LLC, a company that offers a unique combination of business and financial consultancy services. He is an expert on Leadership, Strategy and Finance and speaks at various conferences and forums on related topics. He recently published his first book – “Done is better than perfect” – a collection of sixteen life lessons that have shaped his life.
Shridhar has a CPA from the USA and a CA from India. He is a Certified Master in Training & facilitator of the Leadership Challenge & Student Leadership Challenge and a Certified facilitator of the Capsim Business Simulation. He is also a facilitator for Duke Corporate Education as a member of their Global Learning Resource Network.
When not motivating and empowering people at keynotes, seminars and trainings, Shridhar spends his time learning to play Indian classical music on the guitar, in yoga and meditation and reading non-fiction. He lives in Dubai with his musician wife Rajani and dancer daughter Swarashri.
Shridhar can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org