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  • Writer's pictureTaha Habib

Strong Teams: Steps for reinforcing the backbone of our organization

Updated: Aug 16, 2022

Taking care of our teams is essential to achieving goals, building a reputation, and carrying on a thriving workplace culture. How much attention are we giving to the humans who are putting in the work every day? As leaders, what are some of our responsibilities when it comes to nurturing strong teams?

There are a lot of ways we can create a workplace that promotes healthy boundaries and where employees can actually enjoy the work they do. This blog post will share some of the key elements that we as leaders can bring to our workplaces that play a big role in recruiting and keeping strong members in our teams.

#1 Involve them in the planning stages

How do we make sure that a project or program means something to everyone involved in executing it? We involved all the players in the ideation and planning of the project. It’s been proven time and again that bringing folks into the fold in the earlier planning stages fosters connectivity to the goals of the project and a sense of belonging to the team at large.

Bringing together the people involved in the different aspects of the project garners a more holistic understanding of all the moving parts that go into execution and delivery. Often time we get stuck in working in silos, only focusing in our part of the project, which can lead to a disconnect from the larger scope of the organization. In this case, task conflicts can arise where team members struggle to see the importance or relevance of some details from each other’s perspectives, because the work is only handed off to them once planning is completed at a higher level without their input whatsoever.

Of course, when our teams are larger, it’s difficult to get everyone to look at the budding phases - too many cooks in the kitchen, and all. However, delegates of different departments, not only management but a senior and junior member, can participate in the planning and scoping stages of the project life cycle to ensure the inclusion and consideration of different perspectives.

Here’s are 10 steps to including and managing team-based planning.

#2 Set them up with interest & growth-based Professional Development

Getting to know where our team members are going in their lives professionally is crucial to creating a journey that is fruitful and stimulating for them at work. Not only does this build trust between our team and us as leaders, it also sends the messages that we care about more than what they can bring to the company – we show that we deeply care about how this organization can meaningfully contribute to their lives and their learning as well.

Professional development, whether it is for a career within the company where the employees currently work or in a field of interest to them, can be expensive. If our organizations can take the time to map out what course or training would be the most beneficial for the employees’ growth as individuals and as professionals, and we invest money in acquiring that training for our teams, it serves a greater purpose of building team resilience and bonding than free pizzas on Friday afternoons.

#3 Reward empathy and compassion by holding each other accountable

This is a very holistic and gentle way of saying “Develop and Invest in truthful, impactful and actionable performance appraisal frameworks”. Telling our team how they are performing against previously communicated clear expectations is not a bad thing. In fact, improvement and learning is based on feedback, so as leaders we cannot shy away from our responsibilities to provide well-rounded performance evaluations.

When we identify Empathy and Compassion as our values, it doesn’t mean that everyone is nice and polite at all time to avoid confrontation or conflict. That kind of workspace leads to bottled-up frustration and lack of trust to ask the tough questions, and to challenge decisions that don’t sit well with our teams. Let’s not permit the narrow definitions of the values we chose to adhere to erase the need of accountability between leaders and their teams.

If we truly want to be compassionate, we need to leave the door open to receiving critique and feedback from our teams and we need to communicate how we will be implementing the feedback. Likewise, we need to develop clear, transparent frameworks of performance appraisals for our teams, letting them know what they are being evaluation on, what is the standard or the expected outcome, what will the evaluation lead to and how it affects them. This is also intimately tied to better supporting our teams by recommending training and professional development avenues that are relevant to their current performance in their jobs but also relevant to where they see themselves in the near future.

Find out how you can be leading with Empathy, Compassion and Accountability hand in hand.

#4 Eliminate the fear of failure

Psychological safety is crucial in a work space, especially if we want our teams to trust us and each other. The stage needs to be set to ensure everyone feels comfortable sharing concerns, asking naïve questions, challenging existing processes, and making mistakes. Our teammates need to know that being perfect, and agreeing with everything the leader says and does is not what we’re asking of them.

This step is also important to consider and actively apply when we ask our teammates to “bring their authentic selves” to the group. If you can’t properly handle conflicting ideas and perspectives, you really have no business asking people to share openly.

The folks over at Center for Creative Leadership share the following 5 ways a leader can promote psychological safety in the workplace :

  • Make psychological safety an explicit priority.

  • Facilitate everyone speaking up.

  • Establish norms for how failure is handled.

  • Create space for new ideas (even wild ones).

  • Embrace productive conflict.

Read more about their approach for these steps here.

When the fear of failure and ridicule is eliminated, true creative thought processes are unlocked. The joy of creating, exploring and daring will only benefit the group dynamic and result in some innovative and unexpected product ideas. As a leader, consistently working to create a space where failure is not the end of the road but a welcomed and understood part of the journey, we are showing our employees, our teammates, that their place and value are not solely contingent on perfection and success.

#5 Stop erasing their individual achievements

Yes, we are a team. As leaders, we are often meant to bring ideas and discussion summaries from our teams to our peers and report the activities as a product of team effort. However, it’s important to remember that someone came up with the idea, someone actually spent time thinking about this, writing this up, putting it into gear for us to be able to present it. Give people credit for what they do. Being part of a team does not mean our individual efforts and contributions should be erased because there is no I in Team, y’know.

Additionally, the erasure of individual achievements happens more often than you know and it happens to women and marginalized people disproportionately. Sometimes, female and BIPOC staff members are asked to minimize their contributions to a project, to abstain from referring to an achievement as their own because it isn’t professional for them to take credit; they need to be team players after all. The same standards are not always applied to their white, male counterparts. These instances make it so that a lot of metrics used in companies to evaluate promotability and bonuses are diluted and hard work is not adequately recognized. Although monetary compensation may not be necessarily what our teammates are looking for – but seriously, pay them what they are worth – recognizing their contribution, their efforts and their growth is important in making them stay at your organization and stay happy.

Here are some tips on when and how to recognize your teammates’ achievements.

#6 Share their talents with other departments

Sharing is caring, y’all. After some time in one position, an employee will have learned all they need to and have faced all the challenges the role can offer. Some members in our team may be looking for new challenges and opportunities to grow in different ways within the company because they feel like they belong. They may, however, not be ready to, or interested in taking on more responsibilities and be comfortable with the pay grade they are currently in. In this case, making a lateral change into another department of the organization may be exactly the refresh they need to breathe some excitement in their work life.

I know, it’s hard to invest in someone for a long time, have them learn so much in one department, develop some key skills that really help our team gel together, and then have them move away to another department. It can feel like a difficult void to fill when we have grown accustomed to a certain rhythm and flow within our teams. But at the end of the day, it’s not about us, it’s about making sure that we are responding to the needs of our teammates and our organization. Stimulating new challenges and a new environment to see through a fresh perspective will benefit every department, even our own when we get a new member with different skills and experiences.

#7 Reward their work with mobility in the company

If someone is excelling in their job, and they are bringing knowledge, prestige, tools and resources to our organizations, we need to be able to prioritize giving them the support they need to move up in their leadership path. It’s not a bad thing to want to rise the ranks within an organization and aspire to new responsibilities. We need to be able to recognize when a teammate is ready to move into the next step of their career paths and provide them with the tools they need to make their next move happen. This can come in the shape of revising the department structures and building positions of leadership, reworking the funding priorities by focusing on capacity-building and internal restructuring instead of going after solely project-based funding.

The nonprofit sector is notorious for not paying their employees competitive wages for the quality and quantity of work that is demanded, but it does not have to be. If we want to retain the amazing talents we cultivated in our organizations, we need to be working harder to ensure we can afford them.

Clear, reliable, inclusive and equitable performance appraisal frameworks are essential in establishing and communicating the processes of promotions and raises. Keeping the topics of upward mobility, raises, and just pay scales, a taboo in the organizations is not healthy for anyone, especially if we are promoting transparency and honesty as our core values.

In all the conversations we have had with clients, colleagues, and mentors, it’s very clear that company and organization culture is essential when speaking of teams and their impact in the work we put out. Our companies are made of people interacting, showing up, and creating change in their own way. The culture we should be striving to create should enable and empower employees, leaders, participants to hold each other accountable, ask questions and disagree from time to time, all in the spirit of building each other up and furthering inclusive dialogue. Our teams carry the organization forward. The least we can do as leaders is ensure they are taken care of.


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