Once where a prophet in the palm shade basked:

A traveler chanced at noon to rest his miles.
"What sort of people may they be," he asked,
"In this proud city on the plains o'erspread?"
"Well, friend, what sort of people whence you came?"
"What sort?" the packman scowled; "why, knaves and fools."
"You'll find the people here the same," the wise man said.

Another stranger in the dusk drew near,
And pausing, cried, "What sort of people here
In your bright city where yon towers arise?"
"Well, friend, what sort of people whence you came?"
"What sort?" the pilgrim smiled, "Good, true and wise."
"You'll find the people here the same," The wise man said.
Edward Markham

We struggle with problems that seem unbeatable. Will we ever be able to improve employee engagement, cut costs, grow profit, and improve quality? These organizational problems are really team problems, and team problems are primarily people problems. Here’s a checklist for sustaining a productive team.   

A leader With a Vision

A leader who believes that bad teams can’t be fixed is absolutely right. The leader must lead. He or she must passionately believe that the team can work better together than alone. The team must see the leader striving (not always succeeding) to live the behaviors expected of the staff.  

Behavior proves whether a leader truly trusts their staff. Does he or she spend time with the people who work there? Patrick Lencioni has a good list of blind spots in The Seven Temptations of a CEO: 

  1. Does the leader choose personal status over business results?
  2. Popularity with the staff over accountability? 
  3. Focus on minutiae instead of urgency?
  4. Harmony over constructive disagreement?  
  5. The need to be always right over trust in the team?

A Captivating Goal with Context

The leader must provoke passion for the work in each individual team member. This passion must be clearly tied to business goals. Some people are motivated by challenge, some by money, some by social good and still others by popularity. A good leader knows how to listen to people, strategically leverage the differences and figure out how to get the right person in the right job at the right time. The most common leadership mistake is to assume that everyone is motivated the same way.  

Individual Personal Mastery

Each member of the team must learn to leverage their own strengths and ask help with the weaknesses. Self-awareness built through compliant assessments (we use TTi Success Insights) is invaluable.  Instead of differences creating conflict, teams leverage each other as partners. Each needs the others to fully see. 

Grow Common Simple Process

Be explicit. What you can’t see, you can’t manage. Create project management processes that clearly identify: One Task, One Drop Dead Date, and One Responsible Owner for all the work that needs to be done. Learn how to prioritize and "Say No to Say Yes." Work back from the strategy. Continually ask: “Why are we spending time on this instead of something else?” Push value not perfection.

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To begin your leadership initiative, consider starting with applied learning. On January 1, 2015 ATD offered the second release of my book Leadership Training. As part of the ATD Workshop Series, it contains a 2-hour, 1-day, and 2-day workshop, including all slides, notes, and handouts, as well as recommended online assessments for building self-awareness and teamwork. The 2-day workshop is a full simulation, creating a compelling practice field for leaders to see themselves and others struggle, learn and grow. Stop teaching competencies one at a time and teach them in an integrated way that replicates the real world. 

There is a Native American story about an elder who was struggling with a great hurt. He told his grandson that he had a snake and an eagle in his chest. The eagle was telling him to fly above the hurt, consider the good in people, and work toward reconciliation. The snake was telling him to attack and kill the perpetrator of the hurt. His grandson asked, “Who will win?” The grandfather replied “Whoever I feed.” Great teams at great organizations begin with leaders and staff following an intentional journey to greatness.