How to Create a Team of Leaders

Team success comes from planning. But the leader can’t do all the planning.

A team working on a project of any size or complexity needs multiple people to contribute.

Each person brings specific knowledge and experience to the table. The team leader’s job is to use everyone’s input to get the best results.

That means developing plans, but also turning those plans into action. The team needs to build momentum, get to work, and be able to overcome obstacles along the way.

To do this, the team needs to be committed to success. That starts with each individual. And the team leader’s role in cultivating leadership across the team.

This starts with planning.

The trouble is that it can be difficult to get individuals to do the kind of detailed, thoughtful, and thorough planning that you would like them to do.

You might find it frustrating, because you can easily envision how you would do their job if you were in that role.

But that’s not your job anymore. Your job now is to help the members of your team develop the skills that made you a better leader.

That’s what this post is all about.

Use group dynamics to bring out the best in individuals

One of the keys to getting individuals to be stronger players on the team is to have them perform in front of others.

Presenting your individual contributions to the group creates a special kind of incentive to perform.

When someone presents to their peers, they want to do a good job. They want to appear competent. And they want to earn respect.

But this sentiment isn’t fully engaged if you don’t cultivate it.

To fully bring out the best in people, you can’t just ask them to present on the spot.

It works much better if you set a date and ask them to prepare to present their plans in detail to the team.

This makes the presentation higher stakes, which helps build a little momentum.

It also sends a clear signal to the entire team: we are taking this seriously and each of you will be expected to contribute in a similar way.

You are setting the bar for what is acceptable and what isn’t.

Now, you have to help each individual to be successful in meeting a higher challenge.

Use your experience to coach plan development

With the stage set for a presentation, you should next focus on helping develop that presentation.

Here’s where you can use your instincts on how you would approach the task to coach someone along.

You may not have the expertise that they do. You may not have the experience. And you certainly don’t have all the answers.

But you probably have a good sense of the process for developing a plan.

You know that the outcome needs to be a plan that everyone can understand. And that it will be important to explain why this is the right approach.

So you can coach the person to envision a final deliverable.

Should you create a diagram? Will some sort of matrix best explain the options you considered?

You can also coach them through the critical thinking steps.

How will you approach this? What is the first step? The next step? The one after that?

Can we break those steps down into further detail? How long will each step take? Who needs to do the work? What problems could we run into? What would we do to address those problems?

What are the assumptions built into this plan? What sort of resources are necessary? What parts to you feel really confident about? Which parts need further research?

How will we test things along the way? What kind of measurements will tell us if we are on the right track? How will we know if this is a success?

Perhaps it will be important for you to coach them on the steps needed to answer all of these questions.

Because sometimes people need more specific direction.

You might tell them the steps you would take to develop a good plan.

And you can do that in as much detail as necessary. For some people, directing them to do some research is sufficient. For others, it will be helpful if you also tell them how to conduct research.

I would go here and look for this sort of article. Then, I might talk to these people and ask them these sorts of questions. I would then probably speak to the vendor and ask them for this kind of documentation. The kinds of questions I would want answers to would be x, y, and z.

You will need to provide individualized coaching depending on the skills and inclinations of each individual so that they can develop the skills they need in this area.

That’s an investment worth making. Because the long-term goal is to build and strengthen this capability across your team.

Preview the presentation

After you set someone off to develop a plan, with the benefit of your coaching, setup a time to preview a draft.

A preview will help you to set this person up for success. It helps them to walk through the process of their individual work with someone. It helps them to gain valuable feedback and tips for adjustment. And it helps them to gain confidence in their work and in presenting it.

Here is where I find it useful to ask people to put things in writing. There might be diagrams, flow charts, or spreadsheets that best convey different parts of any plan.

Having someone develop those documents helps them to crystalize their thinking. It will also help communicate the plans to others. And finally, it helps to create important records that will be useful for reference for the life of the project.

Show off the hard work

When you gather as a team to review an individual’s plan, it’s important to have a supportive environment.

As we discussed earlier, your presenter will feel some pressure. They want to earn the respect of their peers and to feel good about the value of their contributions.

You worked with them to channel that energy into productive development of a detailed plan. By sharing what you know about planning and how you would approach things, you helped to guide them.

You also allowed them the time to put in some effort individually. And you gave them the benefit of a preview, where they got to experience a little pressure in a lower risk environment and also got the benefit of additional feedback.

This presentation to the big group is a continuation of that. This isn’t a make-or-break do-or-die high stakes event.

Rather, you want this to be a supportive environment where the person can comfortably share their hard work. It is meant to be well-developed at this point, but not completely perfect.

Because you still need the input and support from everyone else on the team. The point of all that planning and preparation was to make this larger group discussion as focused and productive as possible.

Chances are there will not be an big “gotchyas” at this point, but there will almost certainly be a good deal of refinement needed.

That refinement will probably spur further reserach, more critical thinking, and show the need for further collaboration.

That’s exactly what you want to happen.

Because this is the model for each person’s individual plans. And it’s the way forward for your team to develop cohesive plans together.

As you can see, the magic is all in the hard work done offline.

That’s what makes most team meetings productive. But the thing is that you can’t always just provide high level direction and expect everyone to deliver.

Many times, you need to provide very individualized coaching. Coaching of the process, coaching on your expectations, and also coaching of personal growth.

As you develop leadership skills in each individual and show that those efforts will be embraced by the team, you are building both a stronger individual contributor and a stronger team.

Getting better as a team

A leader’s first job is to create more leaders. Nowhere is that more apparent than running a team.

To deliver on an initiative of any size or complexity, you will need different people to play important roles.

Often, this requires significant contributions from each area. And many of those areas will be beyond your expertise.

That’s ok. Because the leader isn’t supposed to be the expert in everything.

But the leader does need to develop skills in one specific thing: growing other leaders.

To do this, you can work with individuals. You can hold them accountable for delivering plans and recommendations in their area of expertise.

You can coach them through the process to create thoughtful plans. And you can support them in the development of those plans by giving them opportunities to represent their ideas well to the larger team.

Of course, the team will need to collaborate in order to incorporate any individuals plans into the larger initiative. Which is a great model for everyone to see. Because you will need each of them to follow that same process.

In this way, you can build both the skills each individual needs and also the environment for improvement. Each person can be expected to deliver their very best work. And each person can learn to respect and support those efforts.

A team of leaders, working together and supporting each other, can accomplish amazing things.