Add Value: 3 Ways to Build Strong Teams

As the year winds down and we give thought to retrospectives and reviews, many of us are thinking about how we can add value to our teams. How can we build strong teams without adding more to already full calendars?

It’s simple and only requires two skills: ask good questions, and then get out of the way and just listen.

Ask. Then, listen. Sounds simple enough, but all too often team leaders get the first part right and come up a bit short on the second part.

Good Conversations Build Strong Teams

Asking anything without making space for answers, is an exercise in futility for you and frustration for the unlucky person at the other end of the question.

So, avoid that by shaking up the way you engage in conversation. Consider teeing up a question well before your meeting so there’s plenty of time for thoughtful reflection. Or perhaps a walking meeting is just the trick to changing the flow of energy in your conversations.

Good Questions Encourage Meaningful Conversations

Regardless, of how you decide to shake it up, here’s an easy way to get the conversation started so you can utilize one of the three tips for strengthening your team.

“If you had a magic wand, what would you fix first?”

Why this question? Because it puts an entirely new frame around the idea of change. Instead of thinking about change in the context of current circumstances, this question emphasizes possibility, autonomy, and hope. With no hindrances or expectations, what one change would they make that would dramatically improve their work world.

Good Listening Supercharges Thoughtful Questions

Now that the conversation is flowing and ideas are percolating, it’s important to do something with them! Here are three ways to build strong teams based on the what stage team members are at in their magic wand answers.

1. The Seed: Even the most fantastical answer to the magic wand question has a nugget of realism. It’s up to you as a leader to distill some key ideas from each answer. For example, if the answer to the magic wand question is unlimited paid time off, the truth seed might be a level of scheduling flexibility that’s currently unavailable. Resist the urge to shut down the idea or immediately try to solve the whole problem. Just look for the seed. Then, ask for confirmation that the seed you identified is accurate. Be careful to avoid assuming your perception is reflective of their experience and listen openly to their confirmation or clarification. From there, identify a few actionable steps that move the conversation forward and result in meaningful change.

2. The Root: Too often, our first impulse to answers from the magic wand question is to solve it…immediately. Solve it by adding on more meetings, more trainings, more features, tools, or platforms. We forget that our perception of the root cause of an issue might not be the actual source of friction. Instead, revert back to the ask and listen model using The 5 Whys. For example, if a team member’s magic wand request is to spend more time on a specific area of her work, seek first to get to the root of what’s keeping her from achieving that. Ask and listen. The first-principles problem solving technique of The 5 Whys is designed to get to the core of an issue so you can create better solutions. It can quickly spotlight and magnify a step in a process that needs adjustment, a tool that causes more work than it saves, or a recurring meeting that is no longer needed. Taking action toward solving the root cause of an issue saves everyone time and frustration, while delivering sustainable results. Determine a few action steps and start moving forward.

3. The Bloom: Milestones are important. They play a vital role in maintaining the spark within your team that keeps morale healthy. Although it’s easy to lose sight of them while muddling through day-to-day tasks, it’s every bit as easy to step back for a moment, celebrate what’s happened and envision what comes next. I have a “volunteer” peony in my yard. It blooms for just a minute each spring and the beauty of it floats me for weeks, inspiring me to take on all the tasks that support other moments like that. When the answer to the magic wand question is a desire to arrive at a particular milestone on a project, ask and listen for ways you can help clear the path toward reaching it. What are the bloom moments for your team? They might be projects they want to move forward, partnerships they want to cultivate, or skills they want to develop. Consider ways you can support the accomplishments that will buoy your team so they can bloom to their full potential.

Building Strong Teams is A Hero’s Journey

It’s definitely not rocket science, but it is a way of doing productivity differently that is largely absent in our work culture. In a sea of back-to-back meetings and overstuffed schedules, taking the time to genuinely ask, listen, and act on feedback from your team can feel like a herculean task.

Rest assured, choosing to create an environment for thoughtful discussion that results in meaningful change is all upside. So, as the year comes to a close, how will you tend to your team?