Maximizing  your team’s effectiveness as a new leader.

Today is your first day on the job. Over the last four months, you’ve spent hours researching and writing your case study, rehearsed answers to interview questions, sported your finest suit, survived the panel interviews and presented your best strategic ideas. You did it; you have the board’s endorsement and have landed in the top seat!

But today is your first day… and you need to quickly leverage the credit union management team to start tackling critical strategic initiatives.  In the vast majority of cases, the CEOs we place are inheriting, rather than hiring, a management team who will be charged with executing the strategic vision. So, how do you ensure teamwork from a group of professionals you’ve only recently met?

J. Richard Hackman, the late Professor of Social and Organizational Psychology from Harvard, studied organizational behavior for more than 40 years and asserts that teams need certain “enabling conditions” in order to thrive. Here are the fundamentals of creating an environment that helps teams attain high performance:

A compelling direction: Teams need to know what they are working toward and need to have explicit goals which are challenging but not so difficult that the team becomes discouraged. Teams need to care about the goals; intrinsic and/or extrinsic rewards offer impetus for teams to achieve the goals.

Strong structure: Creative teams are diverse in knowledge, views and perspectives; including a mix of skill sets can further help avoid groupthink. Clear norms must be established to define a few things that must always be done (i.e. arrive on time and follow an agenda) and a few things that must never be done (i.e. interrupt or use dismissive language).

Tools to support the work: Teams need a reward system that reinforces good performance (remember these can be low or no cost such as recognition or career development), access to necessary information (or data) to perform the work, training and, in some cases, financial resources. The trick is that teams need these from the start, not after the project is launched.

 Shared mindset: New organizational behavior studies show that leaders need to encourage a common identity and common understanding for optimal team effectiveness. In person meetings help to foster collaboration, but extra efforts need to be made to include remote team members. Blocking off the first 10 minutes of meetings for unstructured social time can help colleagues know team members better and begin to subscribe to an “us” identity.

Leaders should conduct ongoing simple and quick temperate reads to evaluate team health and performance. Deeper checks should be performed when problems arise. In cases of an underperforming team, review and rate the team on the above criteria. Research indicates weakness in these fundamentals plays out in poor team performance.

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