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Leading Off
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Throughout the pandemic and certainly in its early days, leaders and their teams operated mostly in crisis mode. Now, as the business environment begins to normalize, it may be a good time to pull back and take the pulse of your team. Do your team members wish to take on new challenges? Is your current team structure still working, or should you try something different? As companies organize for the future, leaders are tasked with building flexible, dynamic teams that can tackle fast-moving disruptions. This week, let’s explore ways to ensure that your team is up to the task. Read on to learn the strategies of top executives—as well as those of renowned rock musicians.
Illustration of different colored boxes on different colored lines
Prepare your team for the information revolution
Many of us are familiar with the cautionary fairy tale of Rip Van Winkle, who falls asleep for 20 years and misses the American Revolution, waking up to a world he doesn’t recognize. Employees who are resistant to change risk being left behind as today’s workplace revolution advances. A top priority for leaders is to ensure that their teams are aware of and adapt to four macro trends that organizations can expect to encounter in the future. Practical ways to do this include helping your team switch from a static performance mindset to a learning mode, promoting connectivity and engagement at all levels, and creating an environment that supports curiosity and innovation.
That’s the number of important areas in which teams need to develop knowledge, skills, and behaviors. It is no longer enough to focus solely on building job-level skills; instead, educate your team on four key quadrants that drive good performance at most organizations—how the business makes money, how it is managed, the value that individuals add, and effective day-to-day behaviors. For example, one company asked its top 100 leaders to fill out a one-page form to describe the initiatives within their units, how they aligned with the organizational agenda, and the expectations for success. Leaders then used the one-pagers to communicate this information to their teams during team meetings.
“What good can come from employees spending valuable work time chatting about a major sporting event or blockbuster film?”
Plenty, says Ron Friedman, author of this Harvard Business Review article on the five things that high-performing teams do differently. Friedman points out that the best teams spend 25 percent more time discussing nonwork matters with their colleagues, forging deep relationships and connections—essential to succeeding as a team. Noting that the desire to feel connected to others “has always been the trickiest for organizations to cultivate,” he adds that even during the pandemic, the top teams found ways to keep social connections going. To develop and maintain a strong team, McKinsey’s Leta Applegate, who leads a high-performing legal team, recommends showing an interest in colleagues and connecting as a group and individually.
A photo of Whitney Johnson, CEO of the growth-focused human capital consultancy Disruption Advisors
A powerful tactic to nurture individual and team development is to apply the S-curve of learning, according to Whitney Johnson, CEO of the growth-focused human capital consultancy Disruption Advisors. In this McKinsey Author Talks interview, Johnson describes the S-curve as a path to personal and career growth. Leaders can plot team members along the curve—whether they are at the launch point, have reached the “sweet spot” of high performance, or have achieved mastery and want to move on to something else. “In general, you want to optimize your team with about 60 percent of your people in the sweet spot—this is the standard bell curve distribution—20 percent of your people at the launch point, and 20 percent of your people in mastery,” Johnson says.
A photo of a crowd in front of a rock concert stage
It’s not every day that business leaders get advice from rock bands, but who better to provide tips on teamwork and collaboration? In this McKinsey article, leading rock stars share their insights on figuring out band members’ strengths and weaknesses, setting manageable objectives, communicating honestly, and cultivating humility. “In a band, you’ve got different people with different attitudes and skills coming together to achieve a common goal,” says Oracle cofounder and guitarist Ed Oates. “When it works, the outcome is greater than the sum of the parts.”
Lead by developing your teams.
— Edited by Rama Ramaswami, a senior editor in McKinsey’s Stamford office
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