After one of my first posts an ex colleague of mine, Cam Hardaway, sent a thoughtful question in response. He asked: “In your experience as an IC and people manager, can you elaborate on what tends to energize and create happiness for the people around you?”
I replied with the first 5 bullets I thought of. For this post I thought it wold be fun to elaborate on why each of them are important to me. Below are 5 things I’ve seen that tend to fortify and energize teams.
*Side note before the good stuff: My favorite team of all time is probably the 2010 Giants! I did a search for them found the dope image inline here and it led me to this link of my favorite sports blog McCovey Chronicles where my brother Rory Paap was acknowledged in a blog he wrote way back then about Lincecum…crazy thing this internet machine is 🙂
1) A common set of unifying goals and dragons to slay
As a front line employee at SuccessFactors I learned a ton about goal setting, goal alignment and the value in marching your entire company towards a set of unified, transparent and understandable goals. The key is to take the larger company goals, say 2-3 guiding forces, and distill them directly down to smaller goals for each department and then mini goals through a cascading process down to each individual contributor. There is a wonderful and unifying glue that can be fostered when every single person knows why they are doing what they do every day and they can see exactly how their work impacts the larger picture. When I think of a “Dragon” to slay, I’m talking specifically about a massive market (becoming the defacto leader in X Market) or you are taking on a large and dominant competitor (Uber upending Taxis, Box going after Microsoft, Salesforce taking on Siebel). Obviously each of these companies were small to begin with and were off the radar but that HUGE goal helps you to see exactly where you want to go and the long journey to get there makes that much more sense!
2) Constantly having honest and productive communication
The absolute best managers I’ve worked with are the ones that have had open and candid conversations with their me constantly. They were constantly giving feedback on what I was doing well and what I what I needed to work on. They reinforced the company vision and goals both now and the long term . I strive to do the same for my teammates. The best thing you can give your co-workers is honesty. It builds trust, makes everyone better and again unifies everyone in the common goals vs sitting in silos and wondering: “Is what I’m doing right? Does it even matter?”
3) Autonomy and trust in team members to make decisions
Its impossible to scale rapidly and build great teams if all of the daily decisions have to go through unnecessary approval chains and bottlenecks. If you hire great people, trust that they will make great decisions. Teach them in general what needs to be done and the boundaries of what is acceptable and let them run with it. You’ll be surprised at how creative and trustworthy your folks can be when given a longer leash and autonomy. The other byproduct of letting folks run on their own more is they grow in skills more rapidly, develop more confidence and it has the tendency to multiply productivity. This helps you see the boundaries of what your teams are capable of and also lets you see who could be ready for leadership roles.
4) Acceptance that mistakes are part of life
If your team is afraid to make mistakes you won’t find new solutions or find new problems to solve. Fail fast is one of my favorite mantras. The point is, its ok to fail if you are doing the right things, trying to push the business forward and solving customers problems. Many of the best ideas come after several things were attempted and failed. I strive to not let the failure outcome be a center point of any conversation. Its more about what are the variables and min-outcomes that occurred in and around the scenario that led to the final outcome. Take it apart, find the several steps withing the process, identify where there could have bene changes and try it again with tweaks.
5) A sense of general equality and lack of unnecessary hierarchy
In my experience the best teams are those that function as if all members feel like they are generally on an equal playing field. They may each have particular roles to play, some manage, some are individual contributors, but all are going HARD for the same exact goals, they hold each team member up as their equal in giving one another constructive feedback and share in failure and success. When teams begin to have a sense of “hierarchy” you tend to lose the “We are in this together!” mentality and you start to see folks withhold valuable information, they stop sharing ideas freely and aren’t as bought in when others succeed. My challenge to you is to work diligently at keeping lines of communication open and ending unnecessary hierarchy wherever you can!