CEOs of small startups often find themselves serving as the project leader for several teams at a time. In this environment, cross-departmental groups are frequently formed to address and offer solutions to a particular issue or problem. For instance, a cross-functional team brought together to select a new HR system might consist of both technical and nontechnical employees as well as those from different levels, from the administrative to senior management ranks.
Every project team is formed for the same purpose: to work collaboratively. While this goal may not seem too challenging on the surface, many groups fail to achieve it. Lack of direction, personality conflicts and poor work processes are just a few of the common reasons teams get off track.
As a startup CEO and project team leader, it is your responsibility to maximize the group’s efforts and ensure successful completion of the initiative. But effective teams don’t just happen. It is up to you to set the stage for success and guide work teams towards a positive outcome. Here are some tips for promoting collaboration and cooperation among your project team participants:
Clearly communicate the mission
High-performance teams are driven by a deeply rooted sense of mission — a shared objective that is seen as more important than individual agendas. It is this goal that binds a team together and keeps it cohesive even when obstacles or internal disagreements arise. The team leader is responsible for communicating what the group needs to accomplish and why. This is especially important when a group is formed to tackle a one-time project.
Get your team’s buy-in
Setting the team’s direction is often the easy part. Getting employees to buy into the concept of working collaboratively can be more difficult. Some people simply like to work independently. Others may not be convinced of the true benefits of working as a group. Therefore, when you present the idea of working on a team, emphasize the positive aspects of the experience.
Explain that each individual was specifically chosen for the contributions he or she can make in helping the team achieve its goals. This instills pride and a sense of purpose among those tapped to join the group. You should also discuss how team members should prioritize the group’s work in the context of their current responsibilities.
When individuals from different departments are brought together, there may be conflicting beliefs, attitudes and communication styles. Acknowledging that there are different perspectives and backgrounds is critical to overcoming them and moving forward.
Define roles and responsibilities
A common challenge with teams is that the responsibilities of individual members or subsets are not always well defined. This can lead to inertia as participants wait for additional guidance, or the more dominant team members simply take charge. Both scenarios defeat the purpose of having a team.
Guide your team in establishing processes and protocols that clarify how they’re going to work together. By making roles and responsibilities clear — and explaining how they interrelate — you’ll head off confusion and misunderstandings, make the team more efficient, and maximize everyone’s contributions. This leads to increased commitment among team members and a greater sense of ownership in the outcome.
As a team leader, your main responsibility is to facilitate the team process, and that means keeping the group motivated — especially when it encounters setbacks. When the going gets rough, team members will look to you for cues as to how they should handle the situation. Strive to remain positive, but don’t downplay problems. Participants will lose trust in you if you’re not straightforward about the challenges they face.
Acknowledge difficulties while reassuring team members that they have the ability to overcome them. Also, remind them how important their success is to your department or company.
Come together to celebrate
One of the best parts of belonging to a team is being able to celebrate what you’ve accomplished together. Look for opportunities to bring the team together for some lightheartedness — whether it’s the completion of a project milestone or something less work focused, such as someone’s birthday or a holiday. Hosting celebrations is one of the easiest ways to promote cohesiveness and boost morale.
Teams can give companies a competitive advantage because they focus everyone on a common goal, something not always possible when individuals work on their own. Teams also tend to bring out the best in people because each participant wants to be viewed by his or her peers as a valuable contributor.
In leading a team, keep in mind that the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. Effective teams demonstrate this principle time and again through their accomplishments. And CEOs of small startups who have a knack for unlocking the potential that teamwork offers are critical in helping their organizations achieve stellar results.
Burton M. Goldfield is president and CEO of TriNet. Since joining TriNet in 2008, he has provided the leadership to drive the addition of 22 new products and services. He more than doubled revenue, to almost $200M by the close of 2011, and has invested heavily in the company’s SaaS technology platform. In 2009, despite the difficult economic times, Burton raised $80M to acquire a larger, public competitor. Burton has 25 years of experience directing corporate strategy and operations for leading software companies Hyperion, IBM, Rational, and Ketera.