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Building a Sustainable Team System: Become a Sustainable Leader

A header image of hands cultivating a young plant

In a recent blog— Building a Sustainable Team System (Starts with the Leader) I reflected on how important it is for a leader to be aware of their behaviors and the pace they are setting for team(s) they are leading.

As a leader, if you are missing the mindset to build a sustainable system for yourself, how can you build and nurture the right environment for your team to be sustainable? Once you have established the foundation of a sustainable system and your team is mindful of keeping it in balance, you now must shift to the work you are here to do as a leader.

In my experience, new leaders continue performing like individual contributors until there comes a point where it does not seem to be working anymore. As time goes by, they wonder why their team members are not growing or not energized about the team’s mission.

If you can relate to this, stop and ask yourself —

  1. How much time do you make for leading your team?

  2. What is your feedback loop with your team to help them continually improve?

  3. How are you enabling self-sufficiency within the team?

Let us unpack this one at a time.

Hands holding soil and a young plant

Make Time to Lead

You got promoted as a result of being an exceptional individual contributor. The concept of “leading” is still new to you. You start to realize it takes more than being good at what you do to lead a team to collective outcomes. Where do you begin ?

It comes down to making time for leading by focusing on 3 elements:

  1. Make time for your team: I cannot stress this enough. Make time for your team members with regular and meaningful 1:1s. As a new leader, you might struggle with this if you’re still caught in the “doing” loop and not yet making time for leading. If you don’t make time, who will? If you don’t meet with your team, who will? Schedule 1:1s with your team members at a mutually desired cadence so you can establish a rapport with them.

  2. Understand your team’s motivation: The next thing you need to do is care to understand what drives and motivates them. Every one of us is continually evolving. While stability may be important to one person, growth and learning may be important to another team member. What drives us today may not drive us tomorrow. When you take the time to understand what motivates each team member, you can be mindful of creating the right environment for your team individually and collectively.

  3. Focus on your team’s growth: With consistent time with your team and understanding what motivates them, you now must create and watch out for opportunities for your team to grow. Growth looks different for each person, so take time to understand what growth looks like for each member. It may be doing something novel, gaining mastery with a skill or getting exposure to more roles in the organization to see what is possible.

This takes work and is harder initially, but as with anything once you create a system for it, it will fall in place and start to feel more natural. Leading will become your primary way of supporting your team members so your teams can get to better outcomes. You can still help your team by “doing”, but you must prioritize leading.

Shift your focus from yourself to others and create a system to stay consistently connected with your team to support their journey. This is your priority as a leader since you alone are responsible for the success of your team.

Build a System for Consistent Feedback

You have started allocating time to get to know your team, you understand what motivates them and are partnering with them on their growth journey. Along with this comes the leadership responsibility of giving good feedback to help your team continually improve their performance.

Use these 3 elements as a guide to establish a system for feedback:

  1. Make it timely: When you see something, say something. If the feedback is timely (within a few days) your team member has a greater chance of taking it well. It also shows you care as a leader to help the team member grow by giving them every opportunity to shift their behavior as soon as possible.

  2. Be candid: In addition to timely feedback, it is important to be candid and direct with feedback, so it is fully understood by your team member. New leaders often get caught in the loop of “being nice” and as a result, water down their feedback so much that it loses effectiveness. If you have experienced this, it is a signal that you are not candid enough. Take the time to also ask for feedback about your leadership style and if you are sufficiently supporting the team.

  3. Deliver with care: Along with providing candid timely feedback, it is also important to deliver the feedback with care. Be aware of your intentions when giving feedback since it always come through in our language and the words we use. This will ensure your feedback is genuine and sincere.

With timely and candid feedback delivered with care, you can establish a system for continuous improvement and spark a culture of mutual accountability.

Enable Self Sufficiency

You have started to make time to lead and established a good rhythm for consistent feedback. Your team is continually improving their skills and behaviors. Now it is time to start paying attention to what you need to do to enable self-sufficiency within your team.

This is not easy, and it ebbs and flows along with your team’s journey. As team members join or leave, your level of involvement in the team’s day to day may shift. It will take time and effort to bring the system back in balance when team changes occur.

Start enabling self-sufficiency with paying attention to these 3 elements:

  1. Dance in the moment: Understand when to lean in and when to step back. If you recently hired a new team member, it’s time to lean in to help them on-board and integrate well into the team. It is a one-time cost that pays off tremendously in the long run. Once the new member(s) are integrated, then lean back to continue focusing on the entire team system, their health, and journey.

  2. Make everything visible: We can’t manage anything we can’t see. In addition to being aligned on a shared vision, strategy and collective outcomes, it is important for your team members to have visibility to each other’s work. This creates the transparency and peer accountability which is essential to building a culture of high performance.

  3. Create a self-managing system: Next, take the time to continually reflect on your team’s system and fine tune your team alliance to address any gaps. How are we staying aligned? How are we supporting each other? How are we holding each other accountable?

Create an effective system to enable self-sufficiency so you are playing the long game and creating opportunities for your team to step up, grow and own their journey.

Do the Right Thing

Leadership is a journey. To be effective at leading sustainable high performing teams, you need to show up in the right way — every single day. Inspiring leaders lead with clarity, positivity and care. This creates an empowering environment for teams to pursue a path to excellence.

Start with being a sustainable leader by focusing on — 1) Making time for your team, 2) Building a system for consistent feedback and, 3) Enabling self sufficiency.

Being a human centered leader takes paying attention to two dynamics — people and results equally. As leaders, we need to focus on the needs of the people we lead and on the organization’s need for results. Both dynamics are essential for you to build teams that can sustain. This takes setting the heroics aside by building a sustainable system for yourself, to enable this for your team.

Leadership is simple but not easy

- Jocko Willink

When you keep it simple and treat people how they want to be treated, everything falls in place. Take lessons from leaders that inspire you and start taking the time to build a culture of accountability and high performance within your team.

If you are not leading your team, who is? As you develop your leadership skills, how might this help your organization? This is what we will dive into next in this series.


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