Team Building for Success

Culture and management style are critical in any growing or emerging company and they start at the top. My leadership style is one of empowering team members and encouraging them to be as great as they can be. I have never felt threatened by a high performing team member as I see it as a calling to grow and perform better myself. Obviously it is important to have some constraints and guidelines in place particularly around costs and expenditures but they should be as least invasive on performance as possible. A great example of how this open minded culture can create great innovation is Google/Alphabet. They have created a really strong empowering culture as an example their engineers were empowered to work one day per week on any personal concepts that they might have. They also led the way by providing free lunches for all their staff as they realized that it created a powerful sense of community and an opportunity for engineers from different development teams to share ideas. This type of cross functional team interaction can be an enormous driver of innovation. However, even with their exemplary track record Google/Alphabet ran into criticism about pay equality. This serves as a valuable lesson that when it comes to building cohesive dynamic teams there is always room for improvement.

In product development teams I encourage team members to build their ability to multi-task and not allow themselves to be pigeon-holed by only being capable of one function. Using First Principals discipiline can take the concept of multi-functional teams to a whole new level. This helps drive innovation and also the speed at which teams can operate.

As leaders I believe we need to be constantly vigilant and protective of our organizations culture. Business organizations tend to be very hierarchal and historical protocol implies that leaders follow a very specific chain-of-command. I believe that organizations function better and more efficiently when they are more open and inclusive. I believe that to maintain a healthy culture business leaders should spend time with all team members not just the people that report directly to us. It is important that we speak to as many people as is reasonably possible as frequently as possible and do so with caring, sincerity and humility.  There should be zero tolerance for discrimination of any form and that people within our organizations feel safe to speak out if they see or experience discrimination or wrongdoing. It can be challenging as leaders to discern between true negative feedback and a bad actor that is trying to create turmoil or bad will. So when a case of complaint does not feel right, when our instincts flash warning lights to us we have to err on the side of caution and justice. I have found in the past that toxic employees can create havoc. I have made the mistake of embracing and trying to turn around toxic employees in the belief that it would be safer and better long term for the organization. My experience is that it is better to cut loose a toxic employee early and protect the greater good of the team culture and harmony. 

We have a duty to ensure that our work forces are built on diversity, integrity and inclusiveness. Equality in gender, sexual orientation, color, nationality etc should be something that is absorbed into the fabric of an organization and not because it sounds good it is because it is morally the right thing to do. We need to ensure that we create a safe and fair work environment with zero tolerance for intimidation or discrimination of any sort. True integrity is when one does the right thing when no one is watching.

I have found that emphasizing and embracing empathy is a very important tool to instill in building harmonious dynamic teams for both team leaders and team members. A Study by the University of Michigan found college students today are showing less empathy than in previous decades, an alarming 40% decline. The study found that the main reason for the significant decline is due to the proliferation of social media whereby people are not interacting face to face anymore. We are Facebooking, texting or chatting online, but in order to be empathetic one must learn to read other’s faces, particularly the eyes.  Empathy is not the same as sympathy. Sympathy is the acknowledgement of another’s hardship and providing them comfort and assurance. 

Empathy is understanding how another person feels or putting yourself in their shoes. There are 2 parts to empathy; cognitive and emotional. 

Cognitive is the recognition or understanding part that drives us to identify another person’s thoughts and feelings. Emotional is the reaction to someone’s thoughts and feelings that drive us to respond appropriately. Both components must be present in order for one to be capable of empathy.  In flexible dynamic teams a clear understanding and implementation of empathy can create a more harmonious, caring and efficient team. Empathy has the power to resolve conflict. In fact it may be one of the most successful strategies and it costs nothing.


Alan D Shortall