How to build a strong team without micromanaging

July 29, 2015, 5:00 PM UTC
Dean Sally Blount
Photograph by Callie LIpkin

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How do you build a strong team? is written by Sally Blount, Dean of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

What does it take to build a high-performing team? The right mix of talent and personality, resilient relationships and nuanced coaching.

Talent and personality
You’ll never have a winning team without the right talent. Building a strong team means balancing different types of EQ with IQ and the experience needed to meet functional requirements. Good employees take time to find, develop and enculturate with the values of an organization. At Kellogg, we look for a strong mission focus and outstanding relational skills, but we’ve also found that we need a sprinkling of folks who are good at provoking constructive debate, otherwise our relational bias can lead to too much agreement. High-performance collaborations require healthy levels of disagreement to surface contradicting viewpoints and new understandings.

Resilient relationships
Giving a senior team time and space to find its own identity and build relationships within its members is critical. It’s especially important that relationships are built between members that aren’t mediated through the leader. For a team to truly excel, people need to feel safe operating outside their comfort zones. That type of growth requires trust; as different members take substantive risks, they need to know that their colleagues are going to back them up. It also requires an ability to balance healthy process and performance accountability among colleagues.

For example, senior team members need to be able to tussle over resources, resolve conflicts, pursue innovative ideas and leverage collaborative opportunities without the leader intervening. Leaders need to strike a careful balance between how much time they spend with and without their team.

Nuanced coaching
Great teams don’t just magically appear when talented people come together. That’s only the first step. Great teams are developed with grit and effort over an extended period of time. This means the leader needs to invest and encourage each employee in a unique way that is consistent with their personality.

But the piece that took me a little longer to understand was the importance of also coaching each individual on team performance. I needed to spend time working with each direct report behind the scenes — outside the conference room — on identifying what I needed them to do to assure our senior team thrives. As Kellogg alumnus and Harley Davidson CEO, Matt Levatich said on campus last year, “Cross-functional teams excel when members know the difference between their work and the work of the team.”

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: How do you build a strong team?

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