Build a Better Team Without Changing Your Personnel

What do you do when your team is in shambles? How do you build a strong team when nothing is going well in your work environment? You couldn’t just fire everyone and start over, could you? And even if you could, should you?

Leadership is a people business, but let it be known now that being a leader is always more about serving people than it is governing them.

In this blog, I want to explore how you can build an effective team without changing your personnel.

When things aren’t going well, when you get the feeling that you are just being battered each day by the storms that roll through the office, and no one is doing what you need them to do, what can you do?

Building a strong team takes a strong leader, and that isn’t always easy to come by. So, it’s a good thing you’re here. Let’s try to figure this out together.

The “Problem Children”

Marty is not getting going on his projects. He’s frequently behind, and things just aren’t getting done. Brittany is even farther behind than Marty. She has a hard time focusing, her self-esteem is dashed, and she’s having problems with another employee that are bleeding over into her work and time at the office.

Kathryn has been out regularly because he dear mother is sick, but other people are depending on her work to move forward with their own. You can’t really fault her for not being around, but her absence can be felt by many, and it’s impacting others negatively.

And then there is Brad. Brad used to be a top earner, a real go-getter, but now he’s only a few years away from retiring, and he’s punching in and out, only to collect his weekly paycheck. There is not an ounce of enthusiasm in him. He’s just biding his time.

These are just the employees who are causing you the most grief. Several people also recently quit; It’s safe to say that team performance is down.

Members are not leaning into their established roles and responsibilities. No one appears to be accessing their full potential.

It’s a shame that this happened on your watch. Life’s circumstances are completely out of your hands, but don’t let that fact fool you into thinking everything is out of your hands.

You’re a real leader. So, what can you do?

You Are the Common Denominator

When thinking about problem-solving through team development, the most important thing to consider is that change starts between your ears. Changing your mindset is one of the most critical pieces of this equation. And more than just being important, it’s where you have to start FIRST.

If you stand in the corner, looking out at your office of employees, and all you see are the headaches and the problems, then all you will ever have are headaches and problems.

You can sit, soak, and get sour, or…you can use that same energy to focus on solutions. You are the leader. You are the common denominator. It’s up to you to build solutions for your team.

If the general feeling around the office is discord and dismay, then you have a real opportunity to get to work doing what you do best: leading through service and leading by example.

The Power of Respect

Remember when you were in school, and you had to sit next to someone who annoyed the ever-living daylights out of you? No matter how you begged and pleaded for that kid to be removed from your life, all the adults said, “Someday, you’re going to meet people you don’t necessarily like, but you will have to find a way to get along with that person.”

Unfortunately, that time is now. The quality of office relationships largely depends on each individual; however, if people aren’t getting along and the work product and team are being affected by this rift, then it is your job to sit down and figure out a way to help those two people come together.

You might have to sit them down and talk to them together. Sure, it might feel a little like elementary school all over again, but if they can’t find a way to communicate effectively, their leader needs to help them bridge that gap.

When you ensure that everyone feels respected, when people can voice their opinions and feel heard, valued, and appreciated, you have established a healthy environment for growth.

Remember: Teamwork makes the dream work, and it’s up to a leader to build a team and create a culture where everyone can succeed.

I tend to liken many things to gardening. If you think of the relationships that your employees or team members have as being like soil, you know that you need healthy, clean soil that has all the nutrients present for something great to grow.

When you ensure everyone feels respected and heard, great things start to bud.

The Importance of Teamwork

Remember Kathryn above? Her poor mother has been so sick. Kathryn has been absent regularly to make sure that her mother is getting the care that she needs.

Now, while I am a big fan of making sure things are buttoned up at the office, I’m an even bigger believer that family should be a priority. You only get one mother. Trust me, I know.

But how do you handle all the work not getting done when these parts of life start to take place? How do you handle the backlog now affecting everyone else’s workflow?

Things have to get done, don’t they? Absolutely. So, instead of getting frustrated about the work sitting by the wayside, let’s look at what you can do to ensure projects keep moving, even if you don’t have your originally anticipated hands on deck.

One of the most important things to remember about running a team is that you are running a team comprised of individuals. Most people understand the critical importance of coming together to solve problems and the depth of human experience. So, when a team member is out, not surviving life’s trials, it’s your job to help fill that gap (and get others on board to help you do so).

This could look like staying late and developing skills to do that job, or this could look like recruiting help from others. You may even have to ask two people to join forces, to share what they know with one another, and to coach each other to success while they handle someone else’s role in the interim.

Bonus Read: I wrote a blog post that explains The Art of Delegation and how to trust your team to take on new responsibilities. You can click here to delve deeper into that subject.

It’s going to require extra work, but that’s what it’s about. It would be nice if someone on the team would pipe up and say, “I have the bandwidth and capability to take on all Kathryn’s stuff!” That’s not likely. As the leader, it may just be up to you to get creative.

The truth is, no matter the circumstances causing all the issues in the office, it’s up to you to hold firm and find the solutions that work for your team. You have to come in early and stay late, remaining committed and dedicated to the team’s success.

I don’t want you to finish reading and think, “Is John saying it’s all on me?! I have to fix everything?” No. Not so.

But you are the one with the ideas. You can see the finish line, and you have to be creative about how you help your team cross it.

Assessing and Attending to Needs

It is a critical leadership skill to assess and attend to the needs of others, especially during trying times.

Servant leaders must empathize and understand others’ needs, even when they might not understand them. Open dialogue helps gather feedback, but creative problem-solving is vital when traditional methods fall short.

Take Marty above, who is behind on his work. To serve him as a leader, you may need to chat with him about some organizational innovations that could help him stay on track. Or, there might be something going on in his life of which you were unaware. Helping Marty feel seen and valued enough to know that people are willing to help him goes a long way.

You might even take one of your most organized folks who is always on time and pair them with Marty for a conversation or peer support. It doesn’t always have to be you at the center of team-building activities, but it certainly helps to see the alignment of skills, strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities to set people up for success.

Key Takeaway: I always try to refrain from telling people what they need to do. This often doesn’t go well. The goal is to guide them to a practical solution by asking the right questions or by offering support they can use. That’s real leadership.

Service-minded Leadership

I know I often paint that picture of a leader standing at the front of the room giving a keynote, or on the stage at a TED talk, or maybe even with a microphone in hand at the Georgia Dome. The reality is, for most leaders, it doesn’t start there…in fact, humble beginnings tend to forge the most apt and talented leaders.

What I know to be true is that you can’t get to the top without pulling a lot of other people up with you.

How do you pull people up? You help them. You explore their needs and their talents. You make darn sure that they are in the proper position around your team’s table.

Are their skills being fully utilized? Are they happy doing what they are doing? If not, why not?

Happy people will work much harder for you, and a little appreciation goes a long way. Servant-minded leadership is the key to a happier, healthier, high-performance team.

Leading by Example

If your name is on the door to your office, if you have been there 25 years, and you have put in all your time with late nights, early mornings, and coffee runs for the big wigs, shouldn’t other people be doing your bidding by now?

The answer is to the contrary: the higher up you go, the more people depend on you to influence and inspire them, to give them the tools they need to succeed and to help them find their way.

One of the things I frequently hear from other people in business is they can’t get so and so to do x, y, or z. If they could make that happen, everything would be alright. They just can’t find a way to make that person be how they need them to be.

The truth is that the more you lead by example, the more people will follow. If they respect and value your leadership, they will begin to emulate you.

Most folks are actually like mules at their core. You can try to push them this way or pull them that way. All they are going to do is dig in and let you fight.

People can just wear you out when they go about their business being exactly who they are. Frustrating, isn’t it?

The answer to this quandary has nothing to do with them; this opportunity for development is all about you.

You can put all the policies in place that you want to. You can talk about behavioral change in meetings until you are blue in the face, but people are going to continue being who they are unless they are inspired to change by a greater ideal. This is where your change mindset comes in. After all, you are the common denominator.

When you represent the qualities you want to see in your team: generosity, patience, helpfulness, willingness, etc., they will realize you have something they want. You will see them start to change to be more like you. And you, you never even had to break a sweat. You just kept on being who you already were.

Encourage Your Team Members

Servant leadership is both basic and complex, straightforward and convoluted, difficult and easy. I am not going to lie to you; it’s a paradox.

It sounds easy, and it should be easy, but it can be a real challenge, which is why we focus on real leadership. One of the hardest things for people is encouraging others in a way they are comfortable with and not embarrassed by. It can be a fine line to walk.

Throwing a party to celebrate Susan’s outstanding sales numbers for the quarter might negatively impact Brittany, who is falling behind. She may be intimidated and think, “I’ll never get a party like that.” Does that mean you shouldn’t celebrate Susan’s hard work? Not at all.

Encouraging others and what that looks like will vary from person to person, company to company, and team to team. There is no one-size-fits-all here. You must know your team, read them, and understand what motivates them.

When you understand what motivates them, you can find creative ways to encourage them without putting off other team members who might be struggling.

This is where your ability to reach people comes in. What will work for your team? How can you make each team member feel valued and appreciated for their work? It’s up to you to decide this one.

Value Your Team’s Diversity

There was a company I used to work on the fringes of, some good friends of mine. They had the most incredible culture in which they would regularly mention each other’s strengths and abilities.

No one was singled out for too long or put in too embarrassing of a spotlight, but almost every day, someone would get highlighted for their contribution to a project, the team, or the client they served. It was pretty remarkable.

Each team member, although they did not always work together, got to see and understand the unique brilliance and talent of their teammates just by hearing the regular comments and commendations by leadership.

No one person was singled out more than another. Even team members who struggled were applauded for the things they were doing well, which helped them feel like they were still valued for what they contributed.

When you run a team, every ounce of intention and work that each person puts into their efforts makes for the success of the entire team. As much as a team is one unit, celebrating the diversity and different talents and abilities within that team is paramount to the team’s success.

Your Next Step

I am not going to sit here and tell you it’s easy to revamp, reinspire, and renew a team. It’s not easy. In fact, it’s downright hard. But, if you can understand the tenets of real leadership and how they apply to people—and your team in general—you can certainly get some tactics in place and make them part of your daily routine.

Once you find a rhythm and put these ideas into practice, you will see that you spend a lot less time putting out fires and a lot more time building others up. The great news is that when you focus on building others, you can’t help but be built up yourself—a little more each day.

If you know you possess the leadership skills to support an entire team, but you aren’t sure how to bring them to life, you can find material to guide you at Mission Leadership.

Mission Leadership is a free program built to inspire individuals just like you and your team to action. If you are feeling the hurt of a team that operates like an old Chevy truck with a flat tire and no power steering, this program will help you get back onto the road so you can enjoy smooth sailing down the leadership highway.

Join the Mission today!

If you have a team that needs a boost or a good old-fashioned talkin’ to, not the kind that will make them quiver in their boots, but the kind that will build them up, consider hiring a keynote speaker to get the team feeling more inspired, cohesive, and like they can take on anything. Read more about how the right keynote speaker can help turn things around for your company’s morale.


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