Why Great Leaders Know Teamwork is a Key to Their Success

Conceptual for brainstorming and teamwork

Golf is one of the last sports you would expect to glean leadership lessons. It’s primarily an individual sport, with the exception of one week every other year during the Ryder Cup. If you aren’t familiar, the tournament is filled with spirited competition and drama as 24 of the world’s greatest players from the USA and Europe compete in a team competition.

Whether you are a golf fan or not, a unique leadership challenge that both teams’ captains face has similarities to what many organizational leaders encounter.  

They work to get individuals to act and behave like a team to produce the best outcome for the group.

The ability for leaders to do this successfully isn’t easy and is a skill that very few do consistently well. However, teamwork is the remedy, and it’s achieved when each individual buys into the group’s greater good over their self-interest. 

Take Amy, a sales manager in a technology company, as an example. I started working with her as a coach when she was hired to take over a group of 15 sales reps. At the time, only 20% of the team was hitting their quota, collectively they hadn’t hit their sales target in five years, and the engagement was an abysmal 57%. 

As excited as she was about her first ample leadership opportunity, the uphill challenge didn’t scare her because management jobs rarely open up when things are going well. She jumped right in, got to know her team members personally, made some tough decisions about letting a few reps go, and brought in some fresh faces, then got to work in developing teamwork.

She invested time, energy, and money to bring the reps together in person once a quarter and created weekly meetings where each person was an active participant. During those crucial interactions, she manufactured human connection, gained buy-in, and built the belief that the team could collectively achieve a big goal.  

Little by little, the results started to come together, and by the end of her second year on the job, 80% of the reps hit their quota, the group exceeded their sales target by 40%, and the engagement rate jumped 84%.  

Amy understood the key to her leadership success was getting each individual to buy into the group’s greater good over their own self-interest.

“Great teams are made up of individuals that buy into the group’s greater good over their self-interest.”

Focus on Teamwork

When team members are authentic, collaborate, and challenge each other, the results are almost always superior to working alone. Teamwork is when people bring their authentic selves and skills together to produce excellent outcomes for the group. 

Teamwork is when people bring their authentic selves and skills together to produce excellent outcomes for the group. 

Looking back at the most significant achievements in sports or business, you will always find great teamwork was behind it. There is a plethora of research that supports the essential nature of teamwork. 

If you want to improve teamwork, here are a few ideas to get individuals to work as a team.  

1. Get Obsessive Buy-In Towards a Shared Goal

A team, by definition, means to come together as a team to achieve a common goal. Success won’t follow if leaders don’t define a common goal that team members care about achieving.  

If leaders don’t define a shared goal that team members care about achieving, success won’t follow.  

The keyword here is “shared.” While it will be tempting to stand at the top of the mountain and scream a big, hairy, audacious goal to your team, if they aren’t bought into, help define what’s possible, and determine what it would take to achieve it, they won’t give their best effort. 

In the example of the Ryder Cup, the ultimate shared goal is simple, take home the Ryder Cup Trophy at the end of the tournament. However, every team competing since 1927 has had that goal. The key as a Ryder Cup captain or as a team leader at work, is getting obsessive buy-in from each individual about achieving the goal.  

2. Manufacture Human Connection

Teamwork can’t be achieved without people getting to know each other and working well together. Too often, leaders assume and take for granted the quality of relationships between members of their team. Here is the hard truth. Just because members of the same team are in meetings together, doesn’t mean they know or care about each other.  

Just because team members are in meetings together, doesn’t mean they know or care about each other.  

Conflict and diverse thinking are essential elements of teamwork. Because of this, developing relationships built on the foundation of trust and respect is a requirement. While it might be uncomfortable at first, part of a leader’s job is to manufacture human connection and create a sense of belonging between team members. There are all kinds of strategies for this, but my favorite from our leadership workshops is the hero, highlight, hardship exercise. 

3. Inspire Personal Growth That Benefits the Team

When people are growing, they are much more likely to buy into the leader that is helping them do it. So often, we think about growth in terms of a company, but rarely do we think about it in terms of people.

Personal growth is the foundation of motivation. It’s hard to motivate team members who aren’t growing. Personal growth is the foundation of any successful professional. 

It’s hard to motivate team members who aren’t growing. Personal growth is the foundation of any successful professional.  

Leaders have a unique advantage of creating healthy competition between team members to fuel personal growth and development. In the case of the Ryder Cup, successful captains have created pods of smaller team members in the build-up of the competition to fuel personal growth and performance. 

Closing

There is nothing easy about leadership and getting individuals to work as a team. As many stories there are about sales managers like Amy, there are more stories of managers who have the opposite outcomes.  

Since you are thinking, reading, and looking for specific ideas to apply in your leadership approach should provide you confidence that you are on the right track. 

What did I leave out? Tell me in the comments.

Free Downloadable Coaching Cheatsheet There is nothing easy about coaching. So we put together a list of eight of the best coaching questions to help you. Download it for free here.

Take the Free Leadership Style Quiz? Join over 55k leaders and discover your current leadership style for free.

About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

Successful Teams Have Leaders Who Do These 4 Things

Team work

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out some groups of people perform better than others. Not only do high-performing teams produce better business outcomes, but their team members are engaged, feel like they belong, and contribute towards the team’s success. 

There have been many great studies about what makes a team successful. Including Google’s two-year study that found there were five characteristics of enhanced teams, with the most important being psychological safety. While psychological safety is essential, there is another common thread of all high-performing teams, a shared goal.

A team, by definition, is a group of individuals working together to achieve a goal. While the explanation is simple, almost everyone has been a part of a group that wasn’t working to achieve a shared goal. This is precisely where many managers fail. They assume that because of their position, they lead a team, and this couldn’t be further from the truth.  

Just because you manage a group of people doesn’t mean you lead a team. 

What Leaders Do To Build a Successful Team

Leaders think and act differently than managers. They realize a group of people can work well together without a shared goal, but the likelihood of sustaining success or staying together when adversity hits are very low. 

I have found coaching so many effective leaders that they are not only obsessive about gaining buy-in towards a shared goal, but they do a few other things to build a successful team. If you want to emulate them, here are a few things to remember. 

They Aren’t the Only Leader.

Conventional wisdom says the person at the top of the hierarchical org chart is the only leader, but that would be wrong. For any team to reach heights they never thought possible; it needs leaders at every level.

For any team to reach heights they never thought possible, it needs leaders at every level.

While this can be difficult to institutionalize, it starts with changing your mindset that you are the only leader. Once your heart and mind are in the right place, you have to teach others what it means to be a leader and why it’s so important they lead right where they are. 

In Building the Best, I defined leadership this way: “Someone whose actions inspire, empower, and serve in order to elevate others.”

There are two keywords here; elevate others. Every single member of your team, regardless of their role or title, can elevate others. It often just takes a leader like you, who invests in the leadership development of others to help make this a reality.

Their Team Meetings Are Essential 

A recent estimate suggests that employees endure a staggering 55 million meetings a day in the United States. This tremendous time investment typically yields only modest returns. Add to the fact that the new remote and hybrid world of work is our new reality; the time leaders dedicate to coming together virtually or in-person must be time well spent. If done well, team meetings can be the backbone to build trust, develop teamwork, and mold culture. 

The time leaders dedicate to their team coming together virtually, or in-person must be time well spent.  

You can have quality and productive meetings by narrowing your focus on the purpose of each meeting and making sure each person is an active participant. While this can be difficult, there might be nothing more important in your business than having meetings that matter.

They Embrace the Journey

Leading a team today is more complicated than ever because of the constant pressure to create positive results immediately. While the best leaders care about the results, they lean into the journey instead of the immediate outcomes. 

No team’s journey is the same, but every team will experience adversity and failure. The leaders who keep their view on the long term instead of the short term will set their team up for success.  

You can do this by getting your team to buy into the journey and embracing the process. As I wrote in a previous column, “focus on the gain, instead of the gap.”

They Create a Culture of Accountability.

In many ways, the most challenging element of leadership is being a leader of consequence and holding people accountable. Accountability is a word that has been used so much that its meaning has been lost. The actual definition is, “The obligation of an individual or organization to account for its activities, accept responsibility for them, and to disclose the results in a transparent manner.”

As I teach in our Leveraging Accountability workshops, the best leaders don’t look at accountability as optional; they embrace the obligation because they know it’s a key to a team’s success. You can make accountability an obligation by praising people when standards are exceeded, acknowledging people when standards are met, and giving direct feedback if your people fall short of those standards. 

As that culture of accountability spreads, members of your team will hold each other accountable, and that’s precisely when you know your team has arrived. 

Closing:

There is nothing easy about bringing together people from different places, with different strengths, and with different experiences to work together to achieve a common goal. However, I believe you are in your position for a reason and are just the person to make it happen. 

The only question is, “are you willing to do the hard work necessary to make it a reality?”

What are other strategies you use or have observed other leaders leverage to create effective teams? Tell me in the comments.

Free Downloadable Coaching Cheatsheet There is nothing easy about coaching. So we put together a list of eight of the best coaching questions to help you. Download it for free here.

About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades