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Fundamentals to Building a Team that Works

Heather Bailey

Introducing Heather Bailey, our Tuesday Report Guest Columnist: Heather Bailey is President of the Dream Come True Foundation, whose mission is to bring people from intergenerational poverty to prosperity.

Heather has wide experience managing professional teams across a variety of industries, as well as volunteers. Heather served as Executive Director of Energy Strategy and Electric Utility Development for the City of Boulder, Colorado. She has been a senior business consultant for Navigant Consultant, She was an executive manager for the Lower Colorado River Authority where she led the expansion of LCRA’s transmission system, growing its transmission assets from $250 million to nearly $1 billion in five years.

Successful Teams Don’t Just Happen—Here’s the Way to Make Them Happen

Successful teams are created and don’t just happen. Through years of being on unexpectedly great teams and really bad ones that should have been great, I believe the following are key ingredients to building a high performing team.

Here are key insights that I have learned, experienced, and taught over the years to build great teams that get successful outcomes:

  1. Have a clear purpose and focus so that everyone has a shared priority. Keep it simple, such as "decarbonization of the power supply." Do not complicate it with lists of things to do, these come as the plan is developed.
  2. Understand the strengths of each team member and leverage them. However, be clear as to each team member's role. There may be some ambiguity but try to minimize. Everyone does their best when they know how their work impacts the result.
  3. Create a learning environment that stretches everyone beyond their comfort zone. Smart people enjoy the challenge and the satisfaction of completing a hard project. Just make time for fun and watch for burn out.
  4. Communicate, communicate, communicate—you can't say it enough. When everyone has the same information, they are better equipped to do their best.
  5. Celebrate and recognize success, no matter how small and make time to just have fun together!
  6. This probably should have been the first, set up a collaborative work area where the team can have impromptu meetings and work sessions. Encourage and lead by example working together to solve problems.

Emphasize the gift each person brings and what part they play in the big picture and that it is important to rely on one another. Promote the concept that ultimately team members should be able to back each other up when needed. Do not have everyone in isolated offices, the success of the team depends on them working together and that only can happen if they are physically in the same space.

The people and personalities on any team will inherently create conflict; it is inevitable. How you structure your team and the mutual respect team members have for each other will determine whether that conflict makes the team stronger and achieves better results or fails.

Manage and build on disagreements by emphasizing the focus and goal which depends on the value each team member brings to the effort. Listen and discuss the questions and challenges with an open mind and heart. However, as a leader you need to be prepared to make a decision if consensus can't be reached and be willing to make adjustments to team membership when there is not a good fit. Overall, I love working in teams – the work of diverse minds with a single focus is tremendously rewarding compared to alternative work structures. Great things don't happen in isolation!

Austin, Texas

Santa Fe, New Mexico

(512) 498-9780

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