Key points:

• Successful business outcomes rely on the principles of increased innovation.

• Autonomy is the key to innovative thinking

• If you build your culture around autonomy, you’re on the path to success.

How to build a good team.

By Paul Volpato

Chief Technology Officer, MyAdbox

The way we work has changed. Most of the companies around the world went remote when the pandemic hit, distributing their workforce to home locations. The impact on company operations has been significant, forcing leaders to re-evaluate their business models. We’ve had to innovate and the word ‘pivot’ has never been used so widely which has forced a rethink on the workplace and having an open mind on the emergence of an online business culture. You would have thought that on balance, this culture has suffered over the last 12 months. Not so. A study has found that organizational culture actually improved during COVID, which goes to show that the measure of how we work together isn’t necessarily related to being in a physical office.

But how do you build strong teams if you’re not face to face?
How do you build a good team?
Is this something that the pandemic has changed?


I think not. The fundamentals remain the same. Pandemic or not. The question of how you build a good team is timeless. All companies have faced it in their evolution. Those companies who attain the heights of success have resolved this question with rigour, honesty and perseverance (something we’ve been using a lot recently).

As all businesses find out, there is no straight forward answer to the question because before you can address it properly, you instantly hit another question: “What’s the definition of good?“ If you have a low skill work set – ‘good’ looks more black and white. It becomes little more than a numbers game where the culture you build will be one revolving around reliability and efficiency. People will be rewarded for delivering more widgets in less time with less injuries. Simple huh?

But what if your aim is well beyond making more widgets? What if you want to replace the widget making process altogether? And what if you don’t even know how to do that yet? You’re basically trying to reach a target that has never been attained before. In this context, the parameters of reliability and efficiency don’t make a great deal of sense. This is where the concept of autonomy comes to the fore. Specifically, individual autonomy - coupled with a common vision and goal – allowing people to take charge of their own destiny and apply their own ingenuity to a common problem. Only innovative thinking can change the widget making process completely. Of course, this is the first step of many. Autonomy will create a pace of innovation, but it is merely the beginning - the seed you need to plant.

Managers vs Leaders

Good leaders and good managers are not the same people. I think this is an important distinction that needs to be made when building team culture. To draw a car analogy, the Leader is the driver, while the Manager is the mechanic. I know this parallel is likely to upset some managers who believe their position is one of seniority or power. Many Managers definitely don’t think of themselves as covered in grease, crawling under cars. But that is precisely their role within a team. Good managers make sure their team functions as intended and will tinker with the engine to get even better performance where possible.

Good managers are vital.
But because they’re watching the detail so closely, they simply can’t be good Leaders.


Good leaders are respected individuals in the team who have a vision of where they want things to go. They understand the current capability of the business and where to go next to meet the over all vision. The Leadership team should not be a collection of individuals sitting within a core group at the top of an organisation. They need to be distributed vertically through the organisation for greatest impact. The reason for this is because the further a leader is away from the reality of the actual work, the less effective they are as they either become too detached from the work or operate on flawed assumptions of the processes back to when they were much closer to the work. In the current pandemic, this relationship has never been more important – remote teams require leadership more than ever before.

 
At the top level of your organisation the CEO should have a broad sketch of the mission of the organisation with the sub teams adding outlines and colour in their respective fields. This results in leadership and a common vision distributed strategically down through your organisation. And as you get closer to the actual work, the vision has greater clarity, providing a singularity of purpose.


You can see this structure described here challenges the hierarchical nature of typical organisations. Managers and leaders are just another set of skill within the team - and the team you build will depend on what you’re aiming to achieve. Right now, many businesses are ‘pivoting’ – but company aims are as relevant as ever - as is team building toward these ends. Remote or not.

 

The structure of the leadership and management roles within an organisation is just one of the building blocks that go into building a ‘good’ team. Others include:

• Developing programs that encourage collaboration and a spirit of co-operation within and between teams.

 • Fostering a culture of transparency and openness between the leadership/management groups and the workforce.

 • Developing regular social occasions that bring the team together. Ideally, external team building programs which use innovative challenges for teams comprising people from different parts of the business will bring people together quickly.

 • Engineering a work/life balance for people that matches their different circumstances (as long as it falls in line with the business needs). This is a huge challenge for businesses right now with the expectations of teams returning to office environments – but having an open mind to remote teams will reward businesses in the long term.

 • The physical space of the workplace (the colours, lighting, breakout spaces etc) -  Although formal workplaces are in question right now with remote work now much more prevalent as we get used to working with in the constraints of a global pandemic.

As a prime motive, businesses should work out how to build trust and autonomy into their organisations from first principles. Trust and autonomy go hand in hand – more autonomy is granted to employees when leaders and managers place more trust in their team. And the benefits are tangible. Studies have found that compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies experience 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% less sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives and 40% less burnout.

Cultural change isn’t something that happens overnight. It requires time and effort. But the rewards for everyone involved are worth it.

Learn more about MyAdbox platform.

Image credit Gustavo Campos