6 Essential Leadership Responsibilities that Build Effective Teams

By Jeff Wolf

Everybody in business, at one time or another, and probably more than once, has witnessed the results of poor leadership: listless and confused employees leading to stagnating sales, excess costs, and crumbling profits.

It happens at every level of the organization, from frontline supervisors right through the top echelons.

Teamwork is key, but it doesn’t happen automatically.

To create a fully functional team, the leader needs to exhibit six (6) leadership traits:

1. Build trust

Trust is a three-way street:

  • A. You must be able to trust each member of your team.
  • B. They, in turn, must be able to trust you.
  • C. Team members need to trust one another.

Trust is earned, so set the stage for success by creating regular and ongoing team-building opportunities. You can start with small projects involving two- and three-person teams. In due course, you‘ll want to expand team size and the scope of assigned projects.

Never compromise your team‘s trust in you by assigning a task that is well beyond their skills level. This managerial mistake sets them up for failure, and it can irreparably damage your relationship.

In their book Leadership Styles: A Powerful Model, professors Pierre Casse (Moscow School of Management), and Paul Claudel (IAE University) advise leaders to ask these questions before assigning a team project:

  • Are my team members prepared to complete the task?
  • Am I sure they have the required skills and experience?
  • Do they understand the stated goal, as well as how it fits into our departmental or company mission?
  • Are they reliable and committed?

Will they perform ethically? “The leader will have to make sure that team members want to be empowered and take the corresponding risks,” write Casse and Claudel. “According to how much competence the team member demonstrates and how much the leader can trust him, different degrees of empowerment will be devolved.”

2. Communicate

Watch any police drama on television, from TNT‘s gritty Southland to NBC‘s wildly successful Law & Order franchise, and you will notice how law-enforcement officers remain in constant communication during tactical operations. Their lives depend on it.

You can’t expect your team to understand and execute a task without clearly communicating your goals and objectives. In some cases, you will be a hands-on leader, participating in the task and offering close supervision. In other instances, you may assign a team leader, who will be charged with keeping you up to date on the task’s progress.

This may sound easy, but communication remains one of the greatest challenges in leadership as Dan Carrison wrote in his book, From Bureau to the Boardroom. Communication must flow in several directions: How you articulate your message. How others hear your words. How well you listen to and hear what team members say.

Any glitch in these communication channels can lead to a major disconnect, even project failure. And if you rush through communication efforts, rattling off details without ensuring clear messaging or ending a meeting with “Got it? OK, let’s do it,” you discourage team members from asking crucial questions that may make or break their endeavor.

As Carrison explains: When an FBI supervisor parts company with one of his or her street agents after discussing an upcoming operation, the supervisor does not walk away wondering if “Jones gets it,” nor does Agent Jones ask himself, “What was I supposed to do?” Both the supervisor and the agent are of one mind.

This is included in both the formal communication that is generated by the cast communications department of the Disney University as well as the informal communication delivered by line management. A weekly newsletter called Eyes & Ears is produced in-house to keep the 36,000 cast members informed of business updates. There are also divisional newsletters specific to the different work units to keep cast members informed about their location.

Communication goes beyond formal needs. Line managers keep the front-line cast members informed of new happenings, changes to schedules, and key events by holding informal talks before the shift starts at each location. Front-line managers take the log from the previous shift, check the staffing schedules, then get out in the area and manage by walking around. In fact, up to 75 percent of their day is spent out in the areas. This allows immediate attention to concerns around the parks and resorts and accessibility of cast members to management representatives.

3. Offer sufficient resources and autonomy

Teams fail when members lack the time and resources required to complete their assignment. Perform a reality check.

Ask yourself how much time and how many tangible resources you would need to fulfill the project‘s demands. Next, determine whether your team, based on members’ experience levels, requires more, less or the same amount of time. Seek input from team members, asking them to honestly assess how long specific components of the task will take. Your goal is to develop an accurate, realistic timeline.

If you have chosen a team captain to lead a task, allow this person to delegate responsibilities as he or she sees fit. Make sure the captain knows the difference between delegation and abdication. The team captain’s job is to set the vision, delineate strategies (often with the help of other team members), and provide the conditions and support needed for success.

As for autonomy, don‘t micromanage your team (or team captain). Give members an attainable goal and enough autonomy to complete it. Monitor progress, but avoid being overly intrusive. You’re a manager—not a babysitter. Let team members feel empowered enough to embrace responsibilities and enjoy a sense of ownership. Remind the team that you are available if anyone needs a consultation.

Recognition programs exist at all different locations at the Walt Disney World Resort. They are there to recognize those cast members who go above and beyond what is expected to help the company exceed guests’ expectations. Guest comments and letters sent in often are used in recognizing this exemplary service.

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Cast members recognized for their exemplary service can receive anything from lunch with their boss to a stay in a Walt Disney World Resort hotel with their family. While these awards are appreciated, often favorite rewards include a reserved parking space close to the cast member’s work location for a month, or an “Applause-O-Gram” posted on an area bulletin board describing exemplary performance.

Disney rewards long-term cast members with promotions from within. They typically look internally to fill promotional opportunities before going outside to hire. Beginning with their 10-year anniversary, cast members are recognized every five years at a lavish service awards activity. In addition to a social event which includes bringing a guest, cast members also receive a plaque, a gold ring, or other distinctively Disney recognition awards for their longevity.

Disney has found that if they cast correctly for the role in the show, provide initial orientation and on-the-job training, communicate effectively, and take care of their cast members, it helps maintain the corporate culture that continues to lead to pride in the organization. This is why so many cast members smile and say, “I am proud to work for Walt Disney World Co.” This is what leads their guests to say excitedly, “I am going to The Walt Disney World Resort!”

4. Build self-efficacy

Team members must know that you have confidence in their abilities to complete a task. They, in turn, must feel secure in meeting your goal.

If an employee feels uneasy about his role on the team, consider pairing him with a high-performing peer. This strategy can help boost the self-assurance of an employee who has not yet achieved self-efficacy — an individual’s judgment of his or her ability to successfully complete a chosen task. Team members’ self-efficacy will affect the choices they make when working on a task, as well as their doggedness when setbacks occur.

It‘s your job as leader to uncover employees‘ fears and barriers to success and alleviate their concerns, including shyness, self-consciousness, poor communication skills, fear of conflict, impatience with, or dislike of, other members of the team, and bias (gender, racial, ethnic).

5. Hold team members accountable

Every team member should be held to the same standard of excellence, regardless of training or years of experience on the job.

While each person‘s precise task will vary, all team members’ commitment to completing the job should be unwavering.

6. Conduct routine debriefings

FBI agents always debrief after a mission, Carrison notes, but the corporate world often reserves critiques for negative outcomes (fault-finding sessions). Small mistakes in an otherwise successful project may go overlooked, which tacitly implies they can be repeated in the future. Wildly successful efforts may be greeted with a mere “Nice job. Here‘s your next task…” a true motivation killer.

Debriefings should focus on high and low points during the project‘s run. When you review your team’s completed work, note individual performance and provide meaningful praise. Team members should be rewarded when they cooperate, coordinate, and share knowledge with co-workers.

And when a team member fails to cooperate or complete his task, speak with him in your office. The meeting should be private, but team members should know that it is taking place — and that there are consequences for failing to pull one’s weight or working well with others.

Before ending a debriefing, ask each team member to share thoughts on improving performance in the future: What would they change? Which steps could have been streamlined? Were any of the steps unnecessary? Were any steps overlooked? Are any procedures archaic … performed simply because they’ve always done it that way? Is a technology update in order? Was there any overlap or redundancy among team members’ jobs?

You may be surprised at the constructive feedback you receive. Employees also appreciate that you value their opinions and suggestions, and that you’re willing to make changes that solidify future team efforts.

Adapted from Seven Disciplines of a Leader by Jeff Wolf (Wiley, 2014). Wolf is founder and president of Wolf Management Consultants, LLC, a premier global consulting firm that specializes in helping people, teams and organizations achieve maximum effectiveness. 

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