4 ways great leaders can build courageous, passionate teams

Don’t be a superhero … good leaders know how to encourage ‘collaboration behaviours’.

Bernadette Wightman
Managing Director, Banking and Financial Services, BT Group
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

As leaders, we’re defined by the team we build around us. You want to create a complementary team that’s greater than the sum of its parts. One that’s fit for the future, working together to create new opportunities. Yet building and managing a team in a complex global environment isn’t easy. We’re expected to be superheroes, but we’re not.

From hiring for tomorrow, preventing isolation, and communicating and collaborating across a diverse team, our multi-faceted world has resulted in multi-conceptual issues for leaders. But there are some simple things that we can do to help overcome those issues and make a big difference to our teams.

1. Open as many doors as possible

Many of us bury our head in the sand when it comes to succession planning, either for ourselves or for key members of our teams. Hiring for tomorrow means making sure we’ve got the skills, talent and attitudes in the team for the long term. To do that, we have to look outside of our current networks and avoid unconscious bias to find the diverse talent who have the tenacity and passion to help our organisations to grow in the future.

Social media can extend your personal ecosystem to help develop early career talent that you might not have otherwise discovered. Using tools like LinkedIn, Twitter or even Instagram can engage others and help you promote jobs, build your brand, source candidates and create relationships. Development and opportunity is about opening doors; the more you can open, the better.

2. Facilitate multistakeholder dialogue

Managing multistakeholder dialogue is becoming an ever more important role for leaders, be it within your team, your organisation, with suppliers, customers, regulators or shareholders. In a global business environment, those stakeholders are increasingly disparate in their location and diverse in their background. Leaders today need to create and encourage collaboration behaviours to overcome this challenge. This starts with a transparent, trustful environment, where every voice can be heard.

For example, my own leadership team spans multiple continents, languages, backgrounds and cultures. It’s not financially responsible to bring them all to one place on a regular basis, therefore I communicate regularly using video solutions. This means a real-time, face to face, high-quality, secure collaborative sessions, not just audio. We talk plain English, not corporate speak. To help work/life balance, I run my team calls twice, or at least alternate the time of the calls for team members in the US and Asia. The ability to manage time zones is one of the things I consider as part of being a respectful team, as having a good night’s sleep or time with family means my team are refreshed and raring to go.

3. Embrace the positive side of collaboration tools

Collaboration tools can sometimes be a seen as a negative, driving our always-on culture. A recent straw poll of global CIOs saw them have between four and 10 collaboration tools on their smartphones, which can tip us into “collaboration overload”. But used in the right way, collaboration tools can be a force for good.

I’ve found them to be particularly useful when managing teams based at home or in remote locations, where they often lack the sense of community and support an office can provide. Video, instant messaging and more consumer-based functionality like emoticons can help bridge gaps and prevent isolation within the team.

Collaboration tools can also support parents or carers to juggle the demands of the school run and sports day without having to step off the career ladder, should they wish. In cultures with gender divides, collaboration tools can help people come together on an equal footing without disrespect.

4. Recognise the difference between cultures

I’ve been lucky enough in my career to have worked in locations as diverse as the UK, Russia, Canada and the Middle East, and managed teams based all over the world. This concept of managing virtual team has become integral to the way we work today, meaning our leadership styles have changed to a more inclusive, trust oriented, co-operative approach. Coaching and mentoring have become key to helping individuals and teams become high performing.

Percentage of Americans, 2014-17, who felt engaged with their workplace Image: Gallup

But not everybody responds well to this shift. Introverts prefer different collaboration tools to extroverts. Some cultures prefer a command and control model, others thrive on collective brainstorming. Leaders recognise differences in communication style, and yet always leave their audiences with a clear message and something to put into practice. In a time when only 32% of Americans and 13% of employees worldwide working for an organisation feel engaged, leaders who communicate effectively are four to five times more likely to report high levels of employee engagement.

A team greater than the sum of its parts

Leaders are no longer superheroes. Great leaders put people first. They enable people with the right capabilities they need to succeed. Great leaders look around corners, shaping their future, not reacting to it. And they are courageous enough to abandon a practice that has made them successful in the past, but will not make them successful in the future.

It’s never the wrong time to build the right team. As leaders, it’s our responsibility to build the very best team. It’s up to us to attract the very best people to create a team that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

I believe great leaders are the ones who are preparing themselves not for the comfortable predictability of yesterday, but for the realities of today and the fantastic possibilities of tomorrow. They build great teams around them that are diverse, innovative and courageous, to help them succeed every day.

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