According to leadership expert, John C. Maxwell, one is too small a number to achieve greatness. The import of this is that there is a limit to what an individual operating all by himself can accomplish, irrespective of his vigour, passion or talent. Anyone working alone can only realize a fraction of his potential. Nothing of significance has ever been achieved by lone rangers. It takes the collaborative efforts of a group for the best in individuals to be realised. Hence, the aptness of the Chinese proverb, “Behind an able man there are always other able men.”
To maximize their potential and make it easy for them to achieve their set objectives, great leaders raise great teams. They bring on board persons who they believe can contribute significantly to the realization of their goals. By so doing, they multiply their capacity and efforts and get a result that would ordinarily have been beyond them.
One good thing about a team is that the collaboration benefits everyone involved in the process because synergy is built and the output outstrips individuals’ inputs. That is the basis for the definition of a team as ‘together everyone achieves more.’ It also informed the statement credited to former President Lyndon Johnson of the United States of America that “there are no problems we cannot solve together and very few that we can solve by ourselves.”
Building successful teams
But having a team is not a guarantee for success. Teams have the same capacity for failure as they have for success. What puts a team on the path of success is the rigour that goes into its composition. Unless properly selected and carefully managed, a team can foist failure on a leader rather than propel him to success.
So, to build a winning team, a leader must bear the following in mind.
Great teams are built around a vision, not a person
The secret to building a successful team is to build it around a vision, not a person. Teams fail in their mission when they are built around individuals because that would be veering off the purpose of the group. An individual does not constitute a team just as a tree does not make a forest. In the same vein, though a vision may proceed from the bosom of a person, that individual is not the vision; the group must be distinguished from its leader. So, it is important to understand that every team exists to achieve a purpose, not to pander to the leader. Building a team around a person is a recipe for failure because eventually the team will crumble like a pack of cards. Therefore, it is critical that the leader gets on board people who have the right skill sets, those who can move the group towards the realization of its goals rather than people who the leader feels comfortable with. While, amity is important among team members, the focus of the leader should not be populating his team with people he has affinity for but people with the requisite capacity to help the team deliver on its mandate.
Football clubs are very good at this; they go for whoever they think will give them the result they want. It does not matter to them whether the person does not speak the language of the community or share their cultural or religious belief; what matters to them is what the fellow can bring to the table. The driving force is the vision. Everything they do is about the vision to raise a tournament-winning team. Lionel Messi is an Argentine, Luis Suarez is a Uruguayan and Antoine Griezmann a Frenchman. The three play for FC Barcelona, a Spanish club. The club could have made do with Spaniards and resigned itself to whatever it is able to accomplish with players from the country of its location. But because the club is committed to raising a world-beating team, it resolved not to build its team around Spanish nationals but around a vision and has gone beyond its shores to get the best legs that are delivering its desires to it.
Look out for the attitude
It has been said that attitude is everything. It is hard to fault the statement because attitude forms the worldview which determines what an individual believes, how he comports himself and conducts his affairs. While possession of skills is good, combining this with the right attitude is better. With the right attitude, working in a team becomes easy and contributing to the success of the group is a given. However, when the attitude is wrong, the skills would be of little value because collaborating with other members of the team to achieve a common goal becomes difficult. It is for this reason that it is important to have a peep at the attitude of a prospective team member before bringing such on board.
The effect of a wrong attitude is not limited to the individual because it spreads fast in a team like a gaseous poison. Once the spread starts, it is quite difficult to stop it. Hence, smart leaders guard against enlisting on their teams people whose attitudes are not in tandem with the corporate vision.
Communicate the vision
After assembling a team, it is important that the leader communicates the vision to the members with a view to helping everyone understand what is ahead, how it would be done and their role in the whole enterprise. Without the communication of the vision, there cannot be a buy-in by members of the team. Until members buy into the vision, they cannot release the whole of their ability to its actualization.
A great leader seizes every opportunity to intimate team members with the vision of the group. This is very important because aside providing the needed information about where the organization is headed; it also motivates the team members concerning the task at hand. Nearly everyone will want to be part of a great move. Being told about what the organization aspires to accomplish and the individual’s role in this is a fillip for commitment to the task.
Match skills to tasks
It is not enough to get the best available hands to be on a team, it is equally important that the individual be properly positioned to perform the task for which he has been engaged. Can you imagine Lionel Messi being put in the left full back position in a football match? While he may display some brilliance in that position, the team will be denied the full benefits of his ability. Messi is a striker. To get the best from him, he has to be given a striking role.
The same goes for other engagements. Individuals have their areas of strength; unless they are allowed to operate in their areas of strength, they can’t give their best.
This puts the task of getting to know every member of the team fairly well on the leader. Apart from what others say about a team member, the leader must make his own findings on the strengths and weaknesses of each team member and how to get the best value from engaging the individual. It is important to find out where the individual had been, what he had done and other similar information that can help the leader to assign the right tasks to him.
It would be a terrible waste to get the world’s best right wing player and put him in a left wing position.
Avoid those with hidden agenda
People aspire to join a team for various reasons; some noble, some ignoble. A team is like a chain and a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If a team member has other reasons for joining the group besides achieving the corporate goal, he becomes a weak link because he would be working at cross-purposes with the rest of the team. So, it is important that the leader carries out an independent investigation about the motivation of an individual for wanting to be part of the team. Getting to know the rationale behind every team member’s desire for wanting in on the team is critical to the sanctity of the team. A good leader does not joke with this.
Be the model
A leader must be a model. He must set examples for other members of the team. He must live the vision he wants to accomplish. He must walk the talk. Getting a team to work for a goal is easy if the leader is transparently committed to its actualization. Every member takes a cue from the leader. If the leader does what is right, most of the team members will fall in line. If the leader compromises the process, he has shown others what to do. A leader is a mirror that reflects the aspiration of his organization; whatever he does is what others will practise. That is why Mahatma Gandhi says leaders should be the change they want to see.
Nothing works like a team whose goal is the actualization of a shared vision.