What Makes Exceptional Team Leaders Different?

What Makes Exceptional Team Leaders Different?

About this blog

This is the first of four posts which are excerpts taken from my recently published book, The ONE Habit: The Ultimate Guide to Increasing Engagement and Building Highly-Effective Teams. My doctoral research on human motivation, engagement, and team performance was the basis for the book. Following the first four foundation posts, “Notes From The Field” describes team leadership experiences from my career, as well as from many other team leaders around the world, and how they compare to the practices of exceptional team leaders. I will also periodically highlight and cite recent research on teams that is being done by top behavioral scientists around the world. You can find these posts under the category “Team Research”.

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Foundations and Findings

Often, it is at the intersection of knowledge domains that the most interesting insights emerge. My doctoral research focused on human motivation, engagement, and team performance. Each of those areas have their own language, theories, and applications. As I looked hard at the edges and overlaps of each concept, I uncovered the common elements of an architecture used by team leaders to build highly-effective teams. And at the core of that architecture, was a habit that those team leaders adopted which consistently delivered exceptional results.

The Architecture of Highly-Effective Teams

The Architecture of Highly-Effective Teams and Team Leaders

Exceptional team leaders put in place a framework (architecture) that lays a solid foundation for both team work (how people work together) and task work (what they get done). When putting in place their team architecture, the best team leaders are exacting in the choice of the individual pieces of the architecture (such as the purpose of the team), and they’re diligent in the execution of each of those elements (for example, choosing the people who make up the team). In addition, those team leaders are disciplined to regularly reflect upon what works well and what does not, especially across individual and interpersonal organizational dynamics. In layman’s terms – they place individual motivation and healthy key relationships at the heart of their team architecture.

Team Fundamentals

Team fundamental are akin to the foundation of a house. The more solid the foundation, the safer it is to build on it. Conversely, a foundation that is weak risks fracturing and crumbling as the stresses on it increase. The Architecture of Highly-Effective Teams starts with fundamentals that include clarity of team purpose; putting the right people in place to realize that purpose and deliver the team’s goals; and ensuring the optimal level of support in terms of resources, information, and training.

Motivation at Work

Human motivation is a complex, multifaceted subject. Fortunately, motivation at work has the advantage of a specific context (fewer variables) which reduces the complexity. The next layer of the Architecture focuses on individual motivation at work and its effect on people’s energy and engagement. Ensuring that each team member understands the purpose of his or her role; has the capacity and competencies to perform it; and the freedom to make a difference is a key distinguishing attribute of exceptional team leaders.

Key Relationships

Last, and most important, exceptional team leaders have come to realize that key relationships, and the motivations and emotions that drive them, are at the heart of a highly-effective team architecture. They recognize that the interpersonal dynamics of a team, including both social support and conflict management, have a significant impact on team performance. Those exceptional team leaders have learned to maximize team performance through their mastery of the one habit of consistently closing experience-expectation gaps across key team relationships.

The Architecture of Highly-Effective Teams is a framework that team leaders can apply to any team. When executed well, it can help move good teams to great, and great teams to exceptional. In the coming weeks, I will explore each of the elements of the Architecture in more detail, starting next week with Team Fundamentals.

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