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  • Writer's pictureCraig Risi

Building a successful team – Part 3 – Creating an environment for excellence

You have a team culture and have brought in people with the rights skills and team fit to make it all happen, however that doesn’t mean your team will be able to thrive long term. To achieve long-term success with any team, you need to focus on equipping them for success and empowering them for growth.

Now doing this doesn’t mean a manager or team lead needs to do all the hard work – the ownership for a person’s development should belong firmly in the hands of the person, but there are clear things that can be done that will make a person want to aspire for greater things beyond just ticking along and hitting the next deliverables or milestones.

Creating a Spirit of Excellence

It might sound obvious, but something which unfortunately happens far too seldom. I’m not referring to setting unrealistic goals or standards for a team, because that will only frustrate and overwhelm people, but if you want to be excellent, you need to compare yourselves with excellent.

This is not just in hiring the best candidates, but also in the way you as a team are constantly looking to learn from other big companies out there. Not every idea is going to work and you might come across many ideas where you do things better, but as a team if you are constantly looking to learn from the best and find ways of improving yourself, then you are in a good place.

It’s not just about learning though because you also have to be able to deliver and as a team you need to look at your ability to deliver at speed, look at the defects and overall quality of your work and constantly challenge yourselves to improve and fix where necessary.

Equipping and Empowering

Greatness is not micromanaged. You might be a leader who likes to keep the pulse on every detail of a team, but the truth is that if you want people to flourish, they need to be empowered to do so. However, that doesn’t mean that there is an open platform to unrestrained madness – governance is important, it just needs to be unobtrusive and promote productivity and not admin.

Similarly you get individuals that might feel resistant to be empowered as they would rather leave decisions to others or to process to reduce the risk and focus off themselves. This might seem good to do, but actually hampers long term team effectiveness. Teams need to be coached to take decisions and drive improvement through their own efforts and given the freedom to make mistakes, provided they aren’t catastrophic - which if you have a good governance process of quality control – won’t be.

Empowerment doesn’t just happen though, Teams need to be equipped to be empowered. Yes there is the obviousness of the tools and equipment at hand, but this is not about IT infrastructure or software availability, but rather about providing the foundation for teams to learn. This is best achieved within the team where constant time for learning and mentoring is not only provided, but followed up on. Deliverables for development cycles can not only include actual development objectives, but also areas of personal learning and development. Having individuals research and present their findings on improvement areas and ideas and teaching others will create and foster a culture of learning and growth, which is needed to drive this forward in teams.

Ownership and Accountability

While teams need to be empowered to succeed and make decisions. They also need to be held accountable to those decisions and take the initiative to fix them if needed. Nothing drives improvement and growth in people than knowing that they are responsible for the decisions they make. Yes, this might be counter-intuitive with the whole concept of being given the freedom to make mistakes, so what you want to create in your team environment is a healthy accountability where a person is not spoken to harshly when things go wrong, but encouraged and coach to proactively find solutions to them. This does vary depending on the level and cause of the mistakes and issues made, but rather err on the side of encouragement than warning if mistakes are not the result of blatant governance or ethical missteps.

Part of creating a health accountability in teams is an effective process of root cause analysis where teams are encouraged to identify not only what went wrong but what they intend t do to mitigate and fix things in the future. This can easily be done through healthy discussions and documented if needed, but should be light in style so that t again doesn’t make people feel pressured in their roles while still calling on them to constantly improve and get better.


And I guess, nothing makes people want to take ownership and be accountable to their decisions than celebration when they get things right and do a great job. While we should not be idle in our desire to constantly find areas for improvement, we should also never stop finding ways to reflect on what’s been done well and enforce that. Celebration looks different for different individuals, but whatever approach works, it should be taken. It doesn’t need to be over the top celebrations for everything, but just a simple well done and acknowledgement of a job well done does wonders and if teams are constantly recognizing these efforts across the team you will naturally find people wanting to do more of this.

Building great teams takes a lot of effort – from identifying the cultures you want to build, to meticulously finding the right people and creating the right environment, success doesn’t happen overnight. It shouldn’t be compromised though and even if it seems painful at first, waiting it out is most certainly worth the effort. After all, anyone can form a hot shot team that performs for a short period of time, but it takes real effort and vision to build teams that can deliver for many years.



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