The 7 Things A Leader Must Do To Build The Perfect Team

5 Secrets To Awesome Team BuildingOn paper, and in your head, you have the best team in the world – and yet, things are not clicking.  You feel like you have the “right people on the bus“, but right now, it’s just a bus going to nowhere.  What to do?

First off, you are not alone  – this is a classic dilemma that has spawned a ton of books, studies, white papers, seminars, webinars and head scratching that have attempted to discern the core issues and solutions.

The issue has even intrigued and challenged one of the biggest companies (and influencers 0f thought and knowledge collection) on the planet – Google. There was a recent piece in the New York Times by Charles Duhigg that talked about one of their research projects, called Project Aristotle, that studied “hundreds of Google’s teams (to) figure out why some stumbled while others soared”.  The project has been ongoing for several years, and the results were not as earth shattering as what they might have expected:

Google’s intense data collection and number crunching have led it to the same conclusions that good managers have always known. In the best teams, members listen to one another and show sensitivity to feelings and needs (my emphasis added).

Indeed, those of us on the more human side of leadership have been preaching this for years – but how does this work from a practical perspective? What are the core “must dos” to foster all that listening and sensitivity?

THAT’s the real answer to the dilemma – stopping the head scratching, committing to these 7 “must-dos”, and then, doing it.

They must Think – You don’t put teammates around you to follow your every instruction, or meekly accept every decision you make.  You need to let them express opinions, as honestly and as openly as possible (even during team meetings). And, you need to challenge them to come up with their own ideas, without your involvement.  You WANT to know what’s on their minds, always.

They must See – All too often a team can be left in the dark on higher level strategic matters that concern their boss, or not be privy to certain reports or financial information. The theory here is “they have enough to worry about with their particular responsibilities“.  This just shouldn’t happen – there should be as much transparency as possible between what you know and they know. If there is, a team will get a great sense of “having a seat at the table”, which is a very enabling feeling.

They must Act – This is really about giving up control. A good leader must allow the team to take actions on their own, individually and collectively. With their responsibility should also come authority. They don’t need to come running to you every time they want to get something done, or changed, or modified. Your job is to simply hold them accountable based on the success or failure of those actions.

They must Interact – Leaders HAVE to encourage their team to talk to one another, even more than they talk to you. There needs to be an open “flow” of dialogue below you, that can address and solve problems before they get to you. And, you need to demand that it’s without rancor, and not about turf protection or empire building. It’s about tearing down the silos before they can be built, and fostering a tight-knit group that works well even without you in the room.

They must Talk –  Team meetings are always critical, and the less YOU say at them, the better. Every member of your team should have a chance to speak, report, ask questions, pose problems, and offer solutions. As their manager, your door should always be open to them, and you should be like a “plumber” by giving them a chance to vent when needed (I wrote a post about this that explains this further)

They must Fail – Mistakes are great teachers, so teach them by letting them make their own mistakes.  This can be very hard to do, and there will certainly be times when you will have to step in before any damage is done, but they need to fail, and learn. And they can’t be afraid to fail, so as a leader you must take that fear away by your words and actions, both before and after bad things happen.

They must Lead – This can be the hardest one of all for the leader – letting others do the leading for them. This is like giving up the keys to your car and letting someone else drive.  The fact is,  your objective in building a team ought to be getting to the point where they really don’t need you anymore – yes, leading your way out of a job.  But that frees you up in a lot of great ways, ways that will allow you to think more strategically, and with greater foresight and vision.  The day-to-day stuff will just get handled.  Let them lead.

If you can work through all these “must-dos” with your team, you will create what was referred to in the Google New York Times piece as “psychological safety”.  Here’s the crux of it all, from the teammates’ perspective:

What Project Aristotle has taught people within Google is that no one wants to put on a ‘‘work face’’ when they get to the office. No one wants to leave part of their personality and inner life at home. But to be fully present at work, to feel ‘‘psychologically safe,’’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations. We must be able to talk about what is messy or sad, to have hard conversations with colleagues who are driving us crazy. We can’t be focused just on efficiency. Rather, when we start the morning by collaborating with a team of engineers and then send emails to our marketing colleagues and then jump on a conference call, we want to know that those people really hear us. We want to know that work is more than just labor.

Work is more than just labor. Take that to your heart as well as your head, do those 7 things, and build the perfect team.

Lead well!

(Photo via Bigstock)


  1. Catherine says

    Thank you so much for such a truthful and real article on the struggle among team members and managers, or micro managers. You just depicted a day in my life… And yet it could be so different if only… But fear and insecurities are deeply rooted I think and make it hard for some people to let go. Others on the team are so used to the behavior, it becomes like the Stockholm Syndrome… Hard to unlearn. I’ve seen it more often than not. Silos. Paralysis. Sad .

  2. says

    Thanks Catherine for your comment and kind words. You’re right, the fears and insecurities are so hard to shake. But they must at least be tamped down for a team to truly thrive.

    Thanks again,

  3. Christy says

    Thank you for reinforcing the concept of how important it is to be a “team.” In education as we are trying to focus strongly on positively impacting student learning, we often find ourselves having challenging conversations. Those conversations become less challenging the more we reinforce a culture representative of “we’re all in this together” as well as trial and error is better than not adjusting to meet the needs of our students. I think all leaders should be willing to roll up their sleeves and get right in the middle of the work – that will help build great credibility by a staff in a leader.

  4. says

    Hi Christy, thanks for your comment – I too believe in the idea of leaders “rolling up the sleeves”- it’s THE best credibility builder.

    All the best,

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