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Building a Sustainable Team System: Starts with the Leader

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I value sustainability at work and in life. For years I was chasing it only to realize I needed to embrace it. Sustainability to me - is being able to do what I do with ease, yet feel challenged, have space to get into creative spurts, and consistently pursue a path to excellence.

It is a high dream I have for our organization. I wish for all teams in our organization to work at a sustainable pace. What this means is setting the heroics aside and embracing consistent healthy practices to incrementally deliver value as a collective. It will not only feel good to have a sustainable system, but it will also lead us to better outcomes. But — It is a tough nut to crack!

In my recent reflections of what might be happening in the system of our organization & teams, I had an aha.

“To build a Sustainable Team, you have to first be a Sustainable Leader”.

If you have not built a sustainable system for yourself as a leader, you have most likely developed unrealistic expectations for yourself and your team. Let us assume, you have a motivated team that is excited and works hard to get to desired outcomes. Yet, when you see people around you not going at an “expected pace”, you are tempted to jump in, help and “do things” to keep the pace you want.

This vicious cycle is what enables an unsustainable way of working in teams and organizations. As a leader, you keep getting caught in the “doing” loop and have no time for “leading” your team.

Leaders lead. If you are not leading your team, who is?

If you can relate to this as a leader, you are not alone. It takes stepping back & getting a systemic view of your team, your team’s system, and your organization to develop a strategy to tackle this.

How might you build a team system to enable sustainability? How might this help you as a leader? How might this help the organization? You may be experiencing multiple forces at play, and I want to pull on them one at a time.

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Where do you Start?

To build a sustainable system for yourself and the team, you need to first understand what sustainability means to everyone.

What kind of work do we do as a team? What kind of a team do we want to be - proactive or reactive? What drives us — playing the long game or short game?

  1. Build a shared vision: Co-create a vision for your team so everyone understands what the team’s vision, mission and purpose is. Additionally, align on the team’s guiding principles to build cohesion. Without clear alignment on a shared vision, it will be hard to make the vision a reality.

  2. Define what sustainable means: Take the time to unpack what “sustainable” means to the team. Be clear to layout expectations of the roles you play on the team, how the team prioritizes work, handles surprises and sustains a pace to meet desired outcomes. Without a shared understanding of what a sustainable system looks like, it will be a challenge to work in harmony, honor each other’s needs on the continued path to excellence.

  3. Setup an Alliance: Next, talk about the team’s ways of working and build an alliance to make things explicit. An alliance is an agreement of how the team will work together to accomplish its goals. Think of it as a way of holding each other accountable when things go awry or offtrack, because you know they will! An alliance is a living artifact that evolves as the team changes, grows and needs to be continually revisited.

With a shared vision, a common understanding of what sustainability means and an alliance that holds the team together — you have a clear foundation for your team.

Then, What?

As a leader, you have started to build a team system that is sustainable. You are actively aware of your pace and your team’s pace. It is true that Leaders set the pace for the team.

As you and your team start to spin faster — Revisit the 1) The team’s shared vision 2) What sustainability means to the team and 3) your team alliance, to be reminded of your team’s needs. It will take some time to embrace a sustained pace that allows you to maintain a standard of excellence, so keep at it!

As sustainability becomes a habit for your team, the next challenge for you as a leader is start leading and step away from doing the work for your team.

This is what we will explore next — How might building a sustainable team help you as a Leader? How might this help your organization?

You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.

- James Clear (Book: Atomic Habits)



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