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Creating Successful Leaders

Category Archives: Teamwork

The business world can be cutthroat at times. For years, I worked with sales teams at 3M, leading people whose pay and reputation relied on their sales performance. With competitions and high expectations driving them, the sales professionals felt quite a bit of pressure to outshine others.

Fortunately, I worked with congenial groups of people who did not throw others under the bus, but usually functioned as a cohesive unit. Other teams, I know, are not so fortunate. Some will do whatever it takes to gain a promotion, win a competition, or make themselves look better than their colleagues. And this isn’t just limited to sales teams—this level of competitiveness can be found in all industries, at all levels of the company. Whenever there is something to be gained by trampling others, people will, unfortunately, do it.

This type of ruthless competitiveness can create an atmosphere of tension and distrust. People are constantly watching their backs, and are hesitant to open up to co-workers or leaders. Additionally, when competitiveness reigns, there is little room for non-performance-based initiatives (improving interpersonal communication, trying out new ideas, beta-testing a new product). Competitiveness means stomping on the accelerator and not stopping to consider alternative paths or potential innovations.

Instead of competing with co-workers, I’m a proponent of collaboration and encouragement. When you remove the competitive component, you start to function as a cohesive team (and, as we all know, many heads are better than one). There is a reason workplaces are comprised of many different people with myriad responsibilities and perspectives—we’re meant to work together, brainstorm, collaborate, and make improvements.

Additionally, when workplaces move from an atmosphere of competitiveness to one of affirmation and support, people just might enjoy going to work—imagine that! An article by Harvard Business Review says that, “Employees who report having friends at work have higher levels of productivity, retention, and job satisfaction than those who don’t.”

Instead of fostering a highly competitive environment, it’s time companies shift their focus to interpersonal relationships and dynamics. As a leader, you can help build community in your workplace team in many different ways. Try throwing brief “get to know you” activities into your team meetings (your favorite food, dream vacation, any upcoming trips or events). Or enroll your people in a coaching program, such as Insights® Discovery, which is team-oriented and known to create lasting changes. Or, occasionally plan an activity, outing, or retreat for the team. You could present a few ideas and let people vote on their favorite one (so they have a voice in the planning process and are invested in the idea).

No matter how you decide to build community and amiability among team members, it’s important that it happens. While some amount of competitiveness isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it should not come at the expense of team unity and satisfaction. As a leader, you have the power to influence team cohesiveness, facilitate friendships, and encourage collaboration instead of competition.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 

HER NEW EBOOK IS CALLED A QUICK GUIDE TO COURAGE

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In my experience, there is no better way to support and nurture your work team than through mentoring. And mentoring is not just for new hires or people switching roles within the organization; it’s helpful for anyone who is looking to learn a new skill, change roles, or climb the ladder.

There really is no substitution for working with a mentor.

Mentors can offer:

  • Personalized guidance
  • A roadmap for obtaining a new position
  • Lived experience and real-life lessons
  • A bridge to other resources
  • A chance to expand a person’s network

I’ve written about mentoring benefits in a few past blog posts, but today I want to talk about something slightly different: starting a mentoring cohort.

What is a mentoring cohort?

Companies can approach mentoring cohorts differently, but in essence, they are groups of people who are moving through a mentoring program together. That might sound formal, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. Typically, each mentee will be assigned a mentor, who will work with them for a certain period of time (3 months, perhaps, or 6 months).

The mentees might occasionally meet up and offer each other support, as well. This often makes sense if the mentees are new in the organization and could use the same type of support or resources. Typically, the mentors have been with the organization for at least a few years and are well-respected and knowledgeable.

How do you start a mentoring cohort?

First, it’s helpful to identify the mentees’ needs. Are they interested in learning more about the organization, in general? Do they have their sights set on leadership? Are they seeking guidance in a particular area? You might send out a survey to discover what type of help people need most.

After you’ve pinpointed needs (and have drummed up some excitement about the program!), start compiling a list of potential mentors. Do your best to match the mentees’ requirements with the mentors’ experience. Then, send a personal message to each mentor, inviting them to participate in the program.

In your email, don’t forget to mention the reason you’ve chosen this person—their expertise in X, their reputation as a top salesperson, their enthusiasm in collaborating with others. Then, be sure to specify the time commitment. Since many people are busy with their day-to-day responsibilities, it’s best to keep this at a minimum (say, 45 minutes every month or half an hour every two weeks).

Once you’ve paired your people, give some mentoring guidelines (suggested questions to ask, suggested meeting times). Then, take a step back and let the mentoring commence! You may want to check in every once in a while (at the midpoint, perhaps), but this should mostly be hands-off for you.

When the program concludes, take a survey to see how it went AND ask your mentors if they would be willing to stay active in the cohort program. Then, start the whole process over again with your next batch of people.

A mentoring cohort is a great way to connect batches of people with appropriate mentors. If you think several people in your organization could benefit from mentoring, I encourage you to initiate an in-house mentoring cohort. And the bonus? You will also gain recognition as a leader, a doer, and someone who is actively trying to improve company culture. A win all around.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 

HER NEW EBOOK IS CALLED A QUICK GUIDE TO COURAGE

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It’s no secret that employee retention is a problem right now. With the Great Resignation (or Great Reshuffle, as some call it), individuals have more leverage than ever before and they are less nervous about quitting when they’re unhappy with their current work situation. That puts pressure on companies—and by extension, company leaders—to recruit and retain top talent.

But there’s no need to panic! There is still a clear correlation between job satisfaction and employee retention. Satisfied workers aren’t going anywhere, despite a tidal wave of resignations. And, fortunately, leaders have the power to influence retention. A recent report by Gallup finds that the number one reason employees leave a job is “due to a bad boss or immediate supervisor.”

So…how can leaders improve? How can they demonstrate respect for and recognition of team members? And, ultimately, how can they retain a talented and motivated team? Increasing pay and benefits may help in the short term, but those incentives only go so far. It’s better to focus on what makes people satisfied in their work.

In my experience, two critical factors pave the way to worker satisfaction: 1) giving people the right work and 2) providing stretch goals. Let’s talk about both.

The first factor involves assigning the “right” work.

I like to think about this factor as “getting the right butts in the right seats.” In other words, different people have different skill sets, talents, and interests. An attentive leader understands where each team member thrives, and attempts to align their people with the appropriate work. If someone loves to dig into the data and run analytics, give that person data-centric tasks. If another person thrives on teamwork and creativity, orient that person to work that involves creative collaboration.

Building an understanding of your team members’ strengths/weaknesses and interests/dislikes takes time. I encourage you to regularly meet with people in one-on-one settings and ask the following questions:

  • Which parts of your job are you liking right now? What’s working?
  • Which parts are not working?
  • What would you like to be doing more often?
  • What would you like to be doing less often or not at all?
  • What does your ideal day look like?
  • What are your personal goals in the company? And what can do to support those goals?

The second factor has to do with stretch goals.

When people are bored, they tend to quit. AND when people are overwhelmed, they also tend to quit. Stretch goals sit in the middle of boredom and overwhelm.

A stretch goal is a challenge you might set in front of an individual or team that stretches their abilities, but is still attainable. It’s a healthy challenge—an opportunity to grow and, perhaps, learn new skills (or tap into underutilized skills). When it comes to stretch goals, keep a few best practices in mind:

  • Use SMART goal setting (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound)
  • Make sure the team/individual is supported with information and resources
  • Define what “success” means (if only part of the goal is achieved, is that still considered a success?)
  • Make sure objectives are clear (and make yourself available to answer questions in case they’re not)
  • Check in regularly about the stretch goal
  • Celebrate your milestones and wins!

By 1) making sure your people are doing work that aligns with their skills and interests and 2) providing regular stretch goals for your team, you will foster a supportive, motivating workplace environment. No one likes to feel like their talents are wasted. Get your team members in the right set of tracks and provide the fuel to inspire them to move forward. As a leader, you have that power.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 

HER NEW EBOOK IS CALLED A QUICK GUIDE TO COURAGE.

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