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Leading Highly Effective and Functioning Teams

ICC January 7, 2020 0 Comments

By: Jennifer McKune

Being a leader in today’s workplace is no easy feat but being a leader of a highly effective and functioning team is even more of an achievement.  Teams can be complicated.  Bringing together a diversity of personalities and perspectives during a time of constant change and across several locations can be daunting at the least.  Nonetheless, having the ability to lead a highly effective and functioning team is eminent as a leader, especially when it comes to increasing morale and ROI.  So, what does a highly effective and functioning team even look like? Great question.  You may get different answers depending on what article or blog you read or the person you ask, but what it all boils down to is a team that is communicating, making decisions, lifting each other up, and constantly growing and learning. 

It seems simple or complicated enough?

Here are some ways you as a leader can create an environment for your team to become highly effective and functioning:

Set Expectations

Set expectations, clarify expectations, reevaluate expectations, reset expectations! It’s incredibly hard to be effective when you don’t know what to be effective at.  As a leader be sure to set expectations for EVERYTHING. 

  • What is expected from your team daily, weekly, monthly?
  • What is expected from your team if they have a problem?
  • What is expected from your team when it comes to interacting with others on the team?
  • What is expected from your team for project XYZ?
  • What is expected your team after the meeting is over?
  • What stealth expectations are out there? You know those expectations that are more like assumptions and only one person really knows about them. Do some work to uncover those that you might have, and others might have. 
  • What is expected from your team when they are unclear of the expectations?

You get the point.  But often this fundamental piece is what is missing from making a team highly effective and functioning.  Be intentional and make sure it’s a priority; for example, start every team meeting with expectations for the purpose of the meeting, and end every meeting with expectations for the action items.  Whenever possible get the team involved with setting the expectations, empower them to own it.  What do they want team expectations to be?  When your team knows what is expected of them, they can become empowered and take the reins efficiently. 

The cherry on top for expectations is once they are set other things will fall into place making the team more effective, such as:

  • Communication channels – communication channels will improve because everyone will understand how and when communication is expected
  • Decision making – understanding what’s important and what’s urgent can provide clarity around making a decision
  • Goal completion – when the team understands what they are moving towards it can help eliminate redundancies and unnecessary work

Learn, honor, and maximize strengths

Another way to create a highly effective and functioning team is to utilize the strengths of individuals within your team.  Through keeping your people within their strengths, it can alleviate unnecessary stress and obstacles.  There are a few things that are needed prior to being able to utilize the strengths of the individuals on your team, first:

  • Learn – Take the time and effort to learn each of the strengths and skills of the individuals on your team. This can be done in many ways: one on one conversations and questions, use of an assessment, observations, etc.  As a leader, you can determine how best to learn about the strengths of your team.
  • Honor – Once you have learned about the strengths, as a leader you need to honor them, not only by recognizing them and appreciating them but also by creating an environment where it’s ok not to be good at everything. Respect the strengths of those on your team, allow team members to spend most of their time within their strengths (I recognize that they can’t spend all their time there). 


  • Maximize – Once you have learned and created an environment of honoring strengths you can start to maximize them by pairing them together. For example, if you have a project where you need to be able to generate ideas, pay attention to the details, and execute on time, you may be forming a project team of three different people.  Honor people’s strengths and set the expectation for roles: Obie will be in charge of brainstorming sessions and getting different innovative ideas on how the project can look, Lee will be in charge of quality and accuracy of the project with her attention to details, and Nicole will be in charge of meetings and holding people accountable to deadlines. 

When the individuals of your team are working within their strengths they will be functioning at the most efficient levels. 

The cherry on top for learning, honoring, and maximizing strengths, is the impact it has on other aspects of the team, such as:

  • Decision making – when operating within their strengths team members will be more confident in their decision-making abilities
  • Morale – people are generally more satisfied with their job when they are getting to use their strengths daily
  • Lifting each other up – when team members are honored and appreciated for their strengths by their leader, they are more likely to honor and appreciate the work around them and lift their fellow team members up in recognition

Make vulnerability a norm

In order for a team to become highly effective and functioning, the team needs to be able to give and receive feedback to each other and to you their leader, they need to be able to experiment and fail without fear of losing their job or being humility in front of the team, they need to be able to trust each other when the stakes are high, and that comes from feeling safe to be vulnerable.  As a leader, you can create a safe space for your team to be vulnerable and make it a standard.  What does that look like? Start with you.  Demonstrate how it can look and then create the habit.  For example, if you make a mistake at work, share the experience with your team, what happened? What did you learn? You can then practice this and make it a habit by asking other team members to share about a failure they had during the week, what did they learn? Could the team benefit from this lesson? Another example, as a leader you can ask your team for feedback on how you are doing after a project or months’ time? What did they like? What would they change?  Demonstrate being vulnerable and welcoming feedback, set it as a standard, and give the space for your team to do the same. 

The tricky thing to building trust and respect is it starts with one person being vulnerable first, oftentimes becoming a stalemate, as the leader of the team, you should be the first to be vulnerable, demonstrate for the team that this is a safe place for them.  Once vulnerability becomes a norm, your team will become more effective, because they are able to ask for help if they need it, be accountable to their actions, provide timely and necessary feedback to ensure growth, and become more innovative and efficient because they aren’t afraid to experiment.  All these things help with better communication and decision making, lifting other team members up, and generating a desire for continued growth.    

Remember as a leader you don’t just get a highly effective and functioning team, you must create the right environment for them to excel in and help them along the way.  Stay persistent and consistent.

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