I just returned from WebDevStudios’ (WDS) 2018 WDS Camp, a company-wide, weeklong retreat. The annual event provides face time for a team that is distributed across the entire geographical region that is the US. As I sat on the six-hour flight home, I reflected on the past week and noticed that nine concepts continued to come up in my reflection. I believe these concepts to be critical to leading high-performance teams and would like to share them with you here in hopes you will be able to implement them in your team and see the same success that I have seen utilizing them.
If you want to be a better leader, shut up
World-renowned leadership expert, John Maxwell, says:
Good leaders ask great questions.
He even wrote of a book by that title that I highly recommend. As a leader, you have a big vision but only one brain. You may be highly skilled but there will always be areas you have not considered. Sharing your vision with your team, and then asking them great questions amplifies the possibilities. By yourself, your vision is just another work item for your team. Engaging the team in your vision by asking questions taps into their creativity. The result will always enhance your vision. It may also identify additional opportunities along the way you would have never seen alone. When your team is actively engaged in your vision, they gain a sense of ownership and are motivated to get it done in the best ever way it can be done.
You can build better software by turning OFF your computer
What do you mean turn off your computer? How can a software company build better software without a computer? It seems counterintuitive to suggest this, but there are major benefits to turning off your computer. I will focus on just one.
Turning off your computer allows you to connect with your team members.
There are no distractions, no pings, no more doing “just one more thing.” Face-to-face, distraction-free communication establishes a deeper rapport with your team. It creates stronger connections. It allows them to get to know the real you and discover more about each other. This adds immeasurable value to each team member. The next time computers are turned back on, your team will be stronger together and WANT to help push your product to the next level. There is no external substitute for the power and motivation that comes from inside yourself.
A walk on the beach can make you a million dollars
Get away from the formalities. Create an open invitation for your team to join you doing something enjoyable, like taking a walk on the beach. Being away from the structure and processes of the company encourage your team members to dream about what would make the company the best ever for them. All it takes to start the ideas flowing is a simple question like, “What would this company look like if you had full control to change or improve it any way you like?” Then ask, “What would it take to get there?”
Encouraging your team to dream in a no holds barred way shows how much you value their ideas and you may very well come back from your walk with an idea that will make you a million dollars!
Let the ideas flow
Never shoot down an idea from your team! An idea may not make sense to you, but your team has boots on the ground. They are daily in the trenches. They see things you do not. The idea may not make sense at first but there is always a reason someone suggests a change. Instead of shooting it down, dig into it. Ask lots of questions. Seek understanding. Be curious. Really consider what they are saying and how it could fit into the overall picture. To help it fit into the bigger picture suggest small tweaks in the form of encouraging questions. Such as, “This sounds really interesting. I am wondering, what would it look like if we slightly altered the idea with… [insert tweak]?”
Allowing and encouraging your team to bring you ideas will create a sense of openness, trust, and respect. All of which are key building blocks of a strong team and leader.
Be an enabler.
Do not be the roadblock preventing your team from moving forward. Do whatever it takes to enable your team to move forward with ideas that will push the company forward.
Empower your people
Years ago, my friend and missions director at Churchome, Joanne Ramos, was speaking to a crowd on raising children when she said something that has stuck with me ever since. She said:
Kids need infinite freedom within definite boundaries.
This same idea can be applied to your team with powerful results. Provide the vision; provide the boundaries, then unleash your team. Give them the power to make decisions for the team/company/product/etc., within those boundaries. It may seem like this will make you obsolete as the leader but the reality is that 10 out of 10 times your capacity will increase. The skill and power of your team will increase. Your position as the leader will be strengthened, and you will be more valuable to your own leadership.
Play with your people
It is impossible to be in work mode all the time. Make sure you take time to relax. Play a game. Get a coffee. Go to lunch. Do something that is fun with your people. Let them see that you are still human and approachable. Learn what brings them joy and go do it with them. It is particularly easy to do this at a company retreat. Just make sure you do not overdo it! You never want your people to feel like it is a requirement or it will have a detrimental effect, the exact opposite of what you intended. Pay attention to your team. They will let you know when it is time to play and when they need space.
Be smooth as a baby’s bottom
Friction is a great thing. Friction indicates a definite point where you and your team have a learning and growing experience. Embrace it. Do not get upset. Most importantly do not lash out. Keep your calm. This is an excellent time for you to learn. Remain as smooth as a baby’s bottom.
How should you handle the friction? Activate your coaching mode. Ask your team questions to help identify the friction. Ask questions to determine where it came from and how it got there. Ask questions on how to eliminate the friction.
Do you see a common theme of asking questions? Asking questions is so important! Humans do not always respond well to being dictated to. In fact, even in a great relationship being told to do something may make you feel like a robot and not motivated. Asking questions of your team creates ownership and internal motivation. They will solve their own problems. It will get your people moving in a way simply telling them will never accomplish.
Practice leadership yoga
Standard operating procedure (SOP) is necessary across an organization to keep everyone working together smoothly, especially when teams may not have direct interactions. But remember, your SOP is made up. It should never be set in stone. Use your vision as a leader to see where it could be improved. Engage the team to ferret out weak points. As the people in the trenches, allow the team to help mold SOP. It will only create more value for the company and everyone on the team.
Always know why you are there
Your people are THE ONLY asset to the company that is invaluable. Without them, there would be no you. Filter everything through the lens of adding value to them. If you consistently value and add value to your team members they will move heaven and earth for you and will be a source of great joy for you.