10 ways to be a better team leader

By Tzipora Nissan
The Brief
The best ideas come out of collaborative work, and team leaders are largely responsible for establishing the kind of environment that encourages collaboration. Team members aren’t off the hook either. 

Great ideas don’t spring from vacuums. They’re honed on the feedback of colleagues and friends. Read any business management book and you’ll find a chapter dedicated to collaboration. Which is why it’s surprising that so many teams are not very collaborative. Even those that appear to be can be rife with dysfunction.

Luckily, there are steps you can take as a leader to establish and foster a collaborative environment in your team—that is, if you’re willing to make changes. Easy? Not by a long shot. Effective? Absolutely.

10 ways to be a better team leader

  1. Establish a shared vision. Define long- and short-term team goals early. It will help to clear up priority issues while nurturing team relationships.
  2. Communicate. Be clear about expectations for individuals and the team as a whole. Collaboration does not mean every team member can and will do everything; leadership can help assign roles that play to individual strengths and redistribute weaknesses.
  3. Set the rules. When leadership fails to codify rules for communication, decision-making and accountability, it results in miscommunications, unbalanced workloads and resentment—all collaboration killers.
  4. Provide time and space. Collaboration rarely happens if employees can’t meet. Allow teams the flexibility to make their potentially conflicting schedules mesh, and provide adequate facilities to allow for knowledge sharing and the free flow of information. 
  5. Walk the walk. Teams are built on trust, and your employees will look to you first to see if authenticity is recognized and rewarded. Follow through on promises, delegate decision-making power, share information and make it clear that mistakes are understood—and even expected—along the way.
  6. Don’t play favorites. It’s fine to recognize individual effort within a group, but successes should always be shared achievements. That’s not only good management, it also reflects a central truth: Outsiders (e.g., leaders) often cannot know who is really responsible for a group’s success. 
  7. Resist the urge to centralize. Focus on interaction rather than authority. Observe team meetings, ask questions and offer guidance when needed, but allow your team the leeway to expand their goals and lead themselves into new idea territory.
  8. Don’t get personal. Putting people together is always a great way to resurrect old resentments and frustrations. Your job is to maintain personal distance from conflicts so you can help resolve them and move forward. Maintain self-awareness, and don’t be afraid to delegate mediation to a more removed team member.  
  9. Pay the piper. So your team is up and running, with ideas and solutions being produced regularly and excellently. How can you keep it going? Reward all team members for their effort, commending not only their ability to get things done but also to overcome the inevitable conflicts. 
  10. Listen. Regularly ask team leaders and members for feedback on process. This can be a group exercise but also allow for private responses. Being respected means being heard.

Not always the leader? 3 ways to be a better team member

  1. Commit. Show up to meetings, communicate with your team members and be honest about what you can and can not produce.
  2. Be honest, but don’t complain. Team dynamics got you down? Meet with your supervisor to present your frustrations and brainstorm for quick fixes, but don’t air out your dirty laundry with team members. It will only bring down morale.
  3. Learn to share. Collaboration can be tricky if you’re used to a hierarchal or competitive company culture. Learning how to share information, cooperate on projects and giving and receiving constructive criticism will take time, and that’s completely fine! 

Tzipora Nissan is a New York-based writer. This is her second post for the blog.
RelSci helps create competitive advantage for organizations through a crucial yet vastly underutilized asset: relationship capital with influential decision makers.

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