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How Great Leaders Can Illuminate the Hidden Secrets to Team Success


Thu May 18 2023

How Great Leaders Can Illuminate the Hidden Secrets to Team Success

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Close your eyes and think about the big, climactic scene at the end of your favorite heist movie.

The thieves, clad in impeccable formal wear, have conned their way into a fancy event, outsmarted (or incapacitated) every security person they’ve encountered, and finally found themselves inside the doorway of the coveted vault.


And there it is, in a glass case atop a pedestal: the ginormous diamond (or briefcase of cash or glittering crown) that they’ve been after since the beginning.

It looks like they can just walk up and grab it, and one of the thieves makes a move to do just that.

“Not so fast,” says his partner in crime, pulling her eager partner back with one hand while clicking on a tiny flashlight with the other.

Suddenly, the massive vault no longer resembles an empty room with a pedestal in the middle. Instead, it’s filled with crisscrossing red laser tripwires.

If you have ever led a team, you’ve likely encountered these hidden laser wires too.


Spotting Everyday Invisible Triggers

In the heist scenario, the wise thief knew hidden obstacles would be waiting to derail their whole plan. They knew that accomplishing the mission depended on their ability to navigate the unexpected.

Thankfully, for most of us, our work does not involve dangerous and elaborate heists. However, we do regularly encounter invisible trigger wires that can, if not derail, seriously complicate our paths to reaching team goals.

These triggers take the form of differing personality traits, communication skills, and work styles that are easily overlooked or misinterpreted, with disastrous consequences.

In a team, small misunderstandings can turn into major tensions and cause real harm to team culture and work outcomes. Here are a few examples of common trigger wires and the havoc they can set into motion:

  • In every team, at least one person is extremely punctual and another is chronically late. Most days, the tardiness is nothing more than a small annoyance, because the team spends a few moments chit-chatting before the meeting starts. But on the day of a major deadline, when stress levels are running high, the early bird may perceive the lateness as a sign of indifference or disrespect, which becomes the source of a team-dividing conflict.

  • Project managers are responsible for ensuring a project is completed on time and on budget. If that’s done, the project is a success. Others working on the project, though, might define success as ensuring the results “wow” the client. Neither of these definitions of success are wrong nor mutually exclusive. But if members of a project team don’t realize they have competing priorities, they might spend a lot of time fighting and grow to resent their colleagues.

Cultivating Empathy and Appreciation

Luckily, a special laser flashlight isn’t needed to spot these potentially fraught interpersonal dynamics. An insightful leader can skillfully lead team-building exercises to bring everyone’s styles and perspectives into the light.


Great leaders understand that these differences give teams the resilience and innovation needed to thrive. Not only that, great leaders ensure everyone on the team understands this, and they make time for deliberate team-building activities.

Team building isn’t just about having fun, although fun is certainly an important component. Great team building is about getting to know each other in different situations and giving everyone’s unique strengths and styles a chance to shine. It’s about allowing teams to work through potentially conflicting styles in a low-stakes environment and creating transparency that leads to greater empathy and appreciation for each other.

The more chances a team has to discover each other’s superpowers (and blind spots) in action, the better prepared they will be for whatever lies ahead. With successful team building, you can safely navigate the trigger wires of team dynamics and enable true collaboration.

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