I like to say leaders aren’t born they are made. That is because I am convinced that leadership is a skill (or more appropriately a set of skills) that are learned. Not as sexy as the idea of a “born leader” who can motivate and drive thousands of people forward to great things, but I feel strongly that image is mostly one of books and movies.
So I think teams are similar. It sounds great to imagine a group of people coming together, supporting each other, going through trials and tribulations together, and of course coming our victorious when the unsung player makes the big play and becomes a hero.
But teams are really made from lots of hard work, leveraging specific skills to build teams and empowering the team members with tools to understand themselves and their teammates better.
Sometimes you pick your team and sometimes you don’t. Most times it’s a blend. I am a big fan of not getting to pick your entire team, and picking up existing folks. That is because we are generally not great at hiring and we tend to hire people too much like ourselves. So coming into an existing team means you have more knowledge about how they have been doing and you will likely get some diversity of thought.
It is also usually better for team dynamics in the long run. A team might start out with good chemistry when they are generally like you, and excited because you just hired them, etc. But I have found the best teams are messy, they struggle through the relationship building process which makes them stronger in the long run. They also tend to be able to make a unique identity – think “misfit toys” or “motley crew” as fitting identities that help the team feel stronger together. It creates an “us versus them” or “underdog” mentality in a team, which can be very powerful.
Tools for team building are plentiful in the world. I’ve found good success with leadership development as a foundation, because it makes us start with ourselves and improve our own “junk” – similar to how people find more success in relationships outside of work if they first focus on themselves. You don’t have to be a senior person to benefit from leadership training/development/lessons/reading/etc. I find it truly inspires lower level team members to feel included in efforts based around self-improvement.
Most importantly, teams should be patient with each other. It takes time, effort and focus. Establish and stick to non-negotiables, like team meetings don’t get cancelled because “we are all busy this week.” Or it is never acceptable to not hear someone out in a meeting or to not support each other when the team or a =n individual gets called out by someone outside our team. This type of social contract is very powerful as a foundation to building a true team, a team built on trust and support and goals of mutual success.