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5 Disciplines for Leading a Powerful Work Team

March 28, 2018

Team leadership

Leading teams has never been more complicated and difficult, say Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick, principals of The Culture Works, a consulting and training company. Workplaces are multicultural and multigenerational, and there are multiple reasons employees are motivated to stay with a company.

But leaders can develop the most productive and powerful teams in business today by using “soft skills” and applying certain disciplines, say Elton and Gostick, co-authors of The Best Team Wins: The New Science of High Performance (Simon & Schuster, 2018).

Women leaders and the value of soft skills

Elton and Gostick’s book is based on their research, which they discussed during a webcast, The Best Team Wins: The 5 Disciplines of High Performance Teams, presented by the AMA Women’s Leadership Center (WLC). For more than 10 years, they accumulated a database of over 800,000 engagement surveys and 50,000 motivation surveys to analyze the best ways to manage teams and what drives employees.

Part of what the pair took from their research was the belief that women are especially suited to lead great teams, particularly those with Millennials. Women tend to use more of the soft skills that motivate this generation, such as empathy, creativity, learning, and friendliness. The study showed that Millennial women chose family as their top motivator, while impact was top for Millennial men.

5 disciplines for team leadership

In reviewing their data, Elton and Gostick found these five disciplines vital to leading a successful team:

  • Understanding generations and what’s important to them. For instance, many Boomers and Gen X’ers value autonomy, while Millennials prefer collaboration.
  • “Managing to the one” by getting to know everyone on your team individually and what his or her motivators are.
  • Getting people up to speed faster.
  • Challenging everything and giving your team a safe space to speak up, voice opinions, or contribute ideas.
  • Keeping a sharp focus on the customer.

Figuring out motivators is one way to retain talent, Elton says. “How do we create an environment where we could recruit these incredibly sophisticated and bright Millennials but then keep them for just a little longer?” he asks.

If you learn what team members’ motivators are and position them for success, “you’re going to have a great team that wins and succeeds every time,” he says.

Q&A on The Best Team Wins webcast

Here are a few questions asked by attendees following WLC’s Best Team Wins webcast:

What does “learning,” one of Millennials’ top motivators, mean for them?

Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick: Millennials want a clear path forward for their careers: “How am I growing and developing? Am I getting the experiences I need to continue to grow and learn?”

How can I turn around a team perception—created by executive management—that it is not safe to speak up and challenge ideas?

CE & AG: In a situation like that, let your people see that it is safe with you. Have someone challenge an idea in a meeting and show that there are no repercussions. Do it several times and people will feel safe.

How do you build collaborative teams when members are stuck in their silos?

CE & AG: A great way to break down silos is to create events or opportunities for them to work together and get to know each other. Simple lunches, or projects where they can work together. Once people work on a project they can both be excited about, walls come down. Give it a try.

What are the top motivators for Gen X & Y?

CE & AG: Like Millennials, their top three are also impact, learning, and family.

Do you have any concrete ideas about how managers could help on the “family” motivator?

CE & AG: Get to know the person’s family…. When your team knows you care about them, that is great. When they know you care about their family, it is very powerful, especially when it is one of their top motivators.

Do you have any suggestions for engaging pre-Millennial team members when you are a Millennial leader?

CE & AG: Be open and transparent on the team goals and the mission. Be the great communicator and have engaging one-on-one conversations about clients, projects, and career paths. The more communication, the better.

Do you see a trend in the skill sets that Millennials bring to the workplace, compared with other generations?

CE & AG: Collaboration is very good with most Millennials. Crowdsourcing and leveraging expertise outside the organization are very strong and very helpful in this generation.

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About The Author

Jan Arzooman is a proofreader, copyeditor, and writer in AMA’s creative services/marketing department. She has worked in editorial for more than 20 years. Arzooman also is a visual artist who enjoys painting, digital art, and photography.

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