How To: Create an Effective Team

by Bobbi Palmer,
Ladies Who Launch member, Orange County, CA
illustration by Kim Gledhill

 FA -How to Create a team

“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Al Gore

As women, we know this. We want to build high-functioning, powerful teams that move forward harmoniously. Effective teams are composed of empowered and motivated individuals working toward the same goal. The following leadership principles show you how to start with the right individuals, then lead them toward a shared vision.

Define Your Team

As women, we have strong intuitive ability—and there is no doubt it often serves us well—but not when it comes to making hiring decisions. Studies bear this out.

Hiring people because we “like” them or they “feel right” carries potential for pain: 1) it has little bearing on whether they are the right person for the job or they will fit into our existing team, and 2) by the time we figure this out, the personal bond renders coaching or firing them unpleasant and difficult.

Nothing is as important as a well-planned map of your expected contribution from each team member:

1. Make an exhaustive list of the knowledge and skills (k&s) needed for your company to run and thrive. This should include everything from PR to sweeping the floors.
2. Begin by listing every job category/title. Then, list every k&s required for each. (If you expect your accountant to clean the bathroom when needed, list it!)
3. Determine which k&s, upon hiring, are “must-have” versus “nice-to-have.” Be realistic.
4. Decide what you are willing to teach, and what you are not. (See the case for talent selection below.)
5. For must-have k&s that you are not willing to teach, devise a way for candidates to demonstrate mastery of it during interviews. If they can’t, please don’t hire them—no matter how much you like them!

Hire for Talent and Values

Your best candidate is not necessarily the person whose resume shows she or he performed the same job elsewhere. Think past “have they done it before?” to “do they have a natural talent?” Do they have the aptitude to achieve in this particular area? If they do, put them in a position to utilize and develop their talent, and you will have a high-performing employee.

A case in point: A large national support center was losing employees at an alarming rate. Exit interviews showed the job was “too hard” and “dull.” Working with consultants, they found that successful analysts required an enormous amount of knowledge about the company and its thousands of products. This proved too difficult, or uninteresting, to many. Using this information, employee selection standards were changed. Within months, retention began stabilizing. What did they do? They stopped hiring people based on their prior help-desk experience, and started hiring people who loved to learn!

Align your hiring to your company values. If your company values superb customer service, your employees must sincerely like people and value pleasing them. You can teach how to answer a phone or assemble widgets. You can’t teach personal qualities and values. (Now … go back to your skills and knowledge list and revisit what you are willing to teach.)

Share Your Vision and Expectations

Studies consistently show one of the top three needs expressed by employees is feeling that they are contributing. Nothing does this better than clearly and consistently communicating the big picture, how each employee is expected to contribute, and the value of each contribution.

I once had an exasperated client tell me, “I just want someone who can keep my buckets clean! Why can’t I find that?” My answer: because no one wants to clean buckets. But a lot of people want to contribute to a successful company!

My client just hired 10 people for her exploding company. Her employee orientation went like this:

• Company goals and values (using pictures of their gorgeous events and testimonials from happy customers)
• Job responsibilities and expectations of each employee (emphasizing that each depends on the other)
• How they will be rewarded individually and as a team (rewards do not necessarily need to be monetary)

Her team knows exactly where they are going, and that they must do it together. They also know that once they get there, there is personal satisfaction and external recognition. Go team, go!

Define Outcomes and Facilitate the Work

As a leader, your job is to set the outcomes and provide the team with the tools to get there. Is each team member properly trained? Do they have the materials, references, and environment to support them in achieving the expected results? Do they know how to get help from other team members before coming to you? Do they understand where they fit into the overall process?

Now, here’s the hard part: Let your employees use their own style to deliver the result or outcome you want. Marcus Buckingham, author of the must-read book First, Break All the Rules, tells us to standardize the end, but not the means. Learn to empower your team with freedom and responsibility. (Remember, you hired people with skills and talent who share your company’s values!)

Establish pre-defined checkpoints for validating individual and team progress, reiterating goals, and communicating needed adjustments.

Reward Success

Employees … no, people … want recognition and praise. Don’t you? Figure out what you can offer other than salary when goals are met. Consider career development, flexible work hours, appreciation certificates, opportunities to attend industry events, small gift cards, team lunches, letting everyone go home early. Create a process for employees to recognize one another and encourage them to do so. Post pictures of end results, share letters from satisfied customers, take employees to job sites.

These are all ways to show how much you value achievement. Do it privately and publicly, and be sure to recognize both individual and team accomplishments.

Bobbi Palmer is a member of the Orange County, CA, Incubator and the owner and principal of Bobbi Palmer and Associates.