(From Harvard Business Review) -- We consider the ability to manage a team so important that, in a recent book, we made it one of the "3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader": Manage Your Team — the first imperative — is about creating a real team and managing through it. For the record, the other two imperatives are Manage Yourself — which is about building relationships based on trust, not authority — and Manage Your Network, which is about connecting and collaborating with those you don't control.
"Manage your team" might seem clear and straightforward. Yet when we talk about it, we often find it's not an intuitive concept for many managers and for some it even cuts against the grain of what they think they should do as bosses.
Perhaps the easiest way to explain the problem, as we've come to understand it, is through the phrase we used above — manage "through the team." By that we mean you should use the social dynamics of the team to manage individual members, rather than managing members primarily one-by-one. This is a critical distinction that many managers miss. Though they extol the benefits of teamwork, they insist on managing their teams individual-by-individual. Thus, they virtually ensure that their groups will never become true teams.
Every group is not a team. Most are not, in fact, and so it's good to start with a definition.
A team is a group of people who do collective work and are mutually committed to a common team purpose and challenging goals related to that purpose.
Teams are more productive and innovative than mere work groups. They produce results that exceed what groups of individuals can do through simple cooperation and coordination. Such results reflect a "team effect:" members perform better when they feel they're part of a team. The root of this benefit is members' strong mutual commitment to their joint work. This commitment creates compelling social and emotional bonds among members, who come to believe that "we" will all succeed or fail together and that no one can succeed if the team fails. In every team, "we" trumps "I." Unless you've been part of a team yourself, it's hard to understand the exhilaration produced by this sense of what "we" can accomplish together.
This mutual commitment, this "we," the potent interpersonal bonds among team members, spring from two related sources:
1. A mutual sense of purpose. Every high-performing team believes it exists for a compelling reason and that the world will be better for what it does. Its purpose is not the task or work it does but the benefit it delivers. It's the difference between "We scrub hospital floors" and "We prevent the spread of deadly infections." This is what pulls people together and makes them feel part of something bigger than themselves.
2. Tangible goals based on that purpose. Purpose must be made concrete or it will quickly wither. To sustain its sense of purpose, every team needs to strive toward specific, real achievements that will fulfill that purpose.