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The Best Team I ever managed & what made them great

Last week I was in conversation with a manager who was relatively new to their role. They had recently been promoted into a role that required them to essentially build a new team and grow her department. This would involve making sure current staff were deployed in the right roles as well as having to hire new staff into some open positions as this company ramped up. She reached out to me for some assistance as she began the hiring process. The interesting part about our conversation was that she asked me a question that I hadn’t been asked in a long time. She asked, “When you think of teams you have managed over the years, and when you think of the ‘best’ team you ever managed, what do you think made that team so? (i.e. the ‘best’) (Note to self – this is a great interview question).

The_bestWhat my colleague was getting at, was that she was trying to get beyond whatever necessary knowledge, skills and experience she would have to hire for, but focus more on what would make up the DNA of her team. She wanted to make sure she had the right people in these roles – ones that would take to their new roles, align with the vision and help her grow her department and ultimately the company. She was really applying a forward thinking approach moving her thinking beyond the ‘hire for characteristics and train for skill’ mantra.

After having given her question a lot of thought, I came to the conclusion that while there was a whole bunch of ‘stuff’ that made up the best team I ever managed, there were really only a few key (but critical) elements that made the team the “best.” You could remove a lot of elements that made up the individuals but you had to really focus on the collective and what made them a great team. Here is what I came up with when I think of the best team (group of managers) I ever had the privilege of managing:

1) Trust – Bottom line, we all trusted each other. We trusted that conversations we had as a team would stay confidential. No one ever had to say, “This never leaves this room.” We knew as a team that when we got together to discuss our department(s), our people, our plans and our challenges, these were all confidential conversations. We trusted that when someone made a commitment to the team that they would follow through with that commitment and we trusted that when the chips were down or we had tough times to get through (i.e. layoffs) we had each other’s backs and worked through the challenges together.

2) Respect and Candor – intrinsically linked to trust, was the level of respect we had for each other and the degree of candor we applied in our communications with each other. My managers were not afraid to speak their minds (with respect) when they disagreed with a colleague or me. If someone said something that they felt had no merit or fact, they would call each other out on it. It was this form of constructive debate that allowed the team to make informed decisions based on facts not emotions. Overall, our discussions, planning sessions and projects were all managed with respect. Everyone felt that they had a voice and that their opinion was valid. At the end of the day, the group moved forward with what was best for the team, but everyone left the room feeling respected and validated. It was this united front that was always presented to our employees and customers that made us highly successful as a team.

3) Accountability – at the end of the day, we held each other accountable. We were accountable for our actions, our words and our deliverables. Each member of the team had goals to meet and employees to develop. Everyone was accountable for the success of the team and because of this accountability, no one wanted to let anyone else down.  This is often a forgotten element (or even an assumed one) in successful teams.  I think of it as an essential pillar and if the team members aren’t accountable to each other, the whole thing falls apart.

4) Diversity of thought – this one is similar to candor, but takes it a bit further. The diversity of thought was as a result of the manager’s backgrounds, education and social upbringing. They each brought unique perspectives to the team and we always made sure to leverage their unique background when problem solving and meeting our customer needs. It was these diverse backgrounds that allowed us to effectively recruit, provide effective employee relations, payroll and benefits services to our clients. At the end of the day, it was not only refreshing, but highly effective to have employees with such broad and varied backgrounds as it only made the team that much stronger.

There are other elements that made our team great, but those four (or 4.5) are what I think made it the best team I was ever a part of and was fortunate enough to manage. I advised my colleague that if you kept those characteristics in mind as an ideal end state for your team (or at least hiring criteria), than you would probably be able to bring together a pretty darn good team!

What about you? What have you experienced or seen when it comes to characteristics and traits of the best teams you have ever been a part of (or managed)? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons

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