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The role of team leader in improving team effectiveness
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The role of team leader in improving team effectiveness

Discover the role of team leader in improving team effectiveness and how you can boost performance with concrete examples.

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Just as Michael Jordan's prowess on the basketball court propelled his team to unparalleled heights, a team leader's influence within a group can be the driving force behind its success. 

And, much like Jordan's ability to not only score but also inspire and uplift his teammates, a skilled team leader plays a vital role in fostering collaboration and achieving collective goals.

That's why, according to Jordan, it's important to "earn your leadership every day." 

Whether it's orchestrating a game-winning shot or navigating the complexities of a collaborative project, the role of team leader in improving team effectiveness takes conscious effort. 

Effective teams don’t just happen, it takes work. And your team members look to you to show them the way. Leaders of highly collaborative teams can look to sports captains to  understand their role in creating effective teams and what they can do to improve team effectiveness. 

In this article, you'll learn about the characteristics of an effective team and what you can do as a leader to build a strong team—and help your people show up as their best selves. 

Want to build an effective team? 
Switchboard is the single source of truth for your projects, people, and tools. 
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What are the characteristics of an effective team?

An effective team, akin to the synergy displayed by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, requires the careful cultivation of various characteristics. Let's dive into these traits, drawing inspiration from the basketball legend himself:

  • Shared vision and goals—"One goal, one team."Just as Jordan and the Bulls shared a common goal of winning championships, an effective team needs to align around a clear vision and set of objectives. Each member should understand their role in achieving the collective goal, ensuring a sense of purpose and direction.
  • Collaborative mindset—"Passing the ball.” Jordan's willingness to pass the ball exemplified the importance of teamwork. In an effective team, members recognize that collaboration and communication are essential. They willingly share ideas, delegate tasks, and leverage each other's strengths to drive progress.
  • Mutual trust and support—"Trust the process." The chemistry between Jordan and his teammates was built on trust. Effective teams foster an environment of trust and psychological safety, where members can express opinions, make mistakes, and learn from them without fear of criticism.
  • Strong leadership—"Leading by example." Jordan's leadership style was a model of dedication and hard work. Effective teams have a leader who embodies the values they seek to instill in the team, inspiring others through their actions and setting the standard for commitment.
  • Open communication—"Huddle talks." Basketball team huddles are spaces for strategic discussions and the odd motivational speech. Effective teams prioritize open communication, encouraging everyone to contribute insights, ask questions, and address concerns to ensure everyone is on the same page.
  • Role clarity—"Playing to strengths." Just as each basketball player has a specific role, effective teams assign roles based on skills and strengths. This minimizes confusion, optimizes contributions, and ensures that every member's skills are utilized effectively.
  • Celebrating success—"Championship moments." The Bulls celebrated their victories together. Effective teams recognize and celebrate achievements, reinforcing a sense of accomplishment and motivation to continue performing at a high level.
  • Positive team culture—"Unity and respect." The Bulls were all about respecting and supporting each other. Effective teams prioritize a positive environment, where members feel valued, appreciated, and empowered to voice their ideas.

What should you do as a leader to create an effective team? 

Now that you have an idea of what Michael Jordan did to effectively lead his team to multiple victories, it's time to dive deeper into what you can do as a leader to foster a team that works well together. 

According to Slack's Future Forum report, 66% of executives are designing their workforce policies with little to no input from their employees. The result is that many companies are rolling out one-size-fits-all approaches and policies that don't actually benefit their teams. 

Since managers account for 70% of the variance in team engagement rates, effective teams need leaders that put their people first. Here's how to motivate a team as a leader

1. Give them the tools to do their job 

As a leader, you need to enable your team with the right tools to do their job. Instead of relying on a tech stack that historically gets the job done, try to re-evaluate your tools every so often to let you work smarter, not harder. 

Just like Michael Jordan's performance on the basketball court was enhanced by his iconic Air Jordan sneakers, having the right tools is crucial for enabling individual and team success.

For instance, relying on Google Meet might have been beneficial to your team in the past, but now you need a tool that helps reduce context switching and busy work to improve team dynamics. In fact, most teams lose hours to busy work: multitasking, notifications, and toggling between different apps, (aka the “toggle tax”). 

According to The Harvard Business Review, up to four hours per week are lost to the toggle tax. So, it might appear that everyone on your team is busy, but they're not actually getting work done. To help your people work smarter, you need tools that free them up to work without distractions, all from one place.

Example: On Xavier's product marketing team, they reduce busy work by using an online workspace like Switchboard to keep everything they need in one place, organized by project. This lets everyone on the team communicate in context, without having to jump between tools or tabs.
Persistent meeting room in Switchboard with multiple docs, files, and apps.
Switchboard's persistent rooms let you share and save key documents, files, browsers, and web-based apps for effective teamwork. Source: Switchboard

2. Open, transparent communication

Effective communication is all about sharing information and ideas that matter. Though oversharing information can be a great strategy for overcoming silos, the way you communicate should inspire more informed decision-making and actions—and not overwhelm channels. 

This involves defining clear, shared goals your entire team can aspire to and creating spaces where spontaneous and planned communication can happen. And there's research to prove it: Employees who work in an environment where communication is open, timely and accurate are more engaged and demonstrate a greater desire to stay with the company.

Example: In a marketing meeting, tech startup leader Fiona uses transparent communication by addressing her team openly about their upcoming product launch. She acknowledges challenges, invites team input, and discusses potential obstacles. Encouraging team members to voice concerns and ideas, Fiona actively listens and validates their input. She shares her plan to tackle issues, including streamlining processes and engaging other departments. Her approach fosters trust, unity, and problem-solving, helping smooth over any doubts or questions. 

3. Build trust and empathy 

When there's trust and empathy among team members, it can help foster a culture of teamwork and a sense of safety. This makes it easier for your people to open up to each other, take collective risks, and be vulnerable. 

Your team relies on you to be a leader they can trust and build a positive and supportive environment. Since average employee stress levels are at a record high, building trust and empathy into the core of your operation can help reduce burnout and keep people motivated and effectively working toward the same goal.

Example: Khalil’s a product designer. On his team, they build trust and empathy through team-building games and events. By creating a dedicated room in their shared Switchboard workspace, they can meet once a week to play games like icebreaker questions, virtual escape rooms, and virtual scavenger hunts. This informal environment allows for the exchange of ideas and experiences, building a sense of empathy and mutual understanding that translates into effective communication during work discussions. 
Icebreaker question generator feature in Switchboard
Switchboard lets you bring team-building games and activities directly to your meetings and improve trust and communication. Source: Switchboard

4. Establish accountability and responsibility

Part of effectively communicating your team's goals and objectives is emphasizing the significance of each member's role in achieving these outcomes. When everyone understands the bigger picture, they're more likely to take ownership of their responsibilities.

Your people are also more likely to take accountability when they have input in goal-setting and decision-making processes. This makes sure everyone feels invested in the outcome and ready to lend a helping hand. 

By getting your team to understand the importance of their contributions and fulfilling their obligations, you can become more resilient, efficient, and successful in achieving your goals.

Example: On Maya's sales team at a retail company, they tie individual goals into company OKRs so everyone can see the direct link between individual efforts and the company's overall success. During regular team meetings, they review how individual performance aligns with OKRs. This practice enables open discussions about challenges, successes, and the adjustments required to stay on track. Team members are encouraged to share insights and strategies that have worked well for them, creating a collaborative environment that promotes continuous improvement.

5. Promote adaptability and flexibility

Adaptable teams and leaders can overcome challenges more quickly by leveraging their versatile skill sets, embracing change as an opportunity for growth, and evolving strategies to better fit their exciting circumstances. 

According to McKinsey, adaptable managers are also more likely to showcase compassionate leadership, which helps them turn difficult situations into relationship-building opportunities. This can make or break your team's dynamic and your ability to use emotional intelligence to boost team morale in light of a difficult scenario. 

So, it's crucial to solicit feedback from your team on processes and procedures. Use their insights to make informed decisions and adapt practices to be more efficient and effective. For instance, if you get feedback that team members would prefer more flexible work arrangements, you can implement it without negatively impacting important KPIs like productivity or engagement. 

Example: On Alex's product management team at a fast-paced technology company, they identify skills that are relevant to the team's goals and encourage team members to expand their skill sets. They support their team in attending skills training, workshops, and online courses to enhance their capabilities and be more adaptable. 

6. Play to strengths 

Great leaders play to their team's strengths while working on their weaknesses to help people be the best version of themselves. In other words, if someone's good in defense, don't put them as a shooting guard. 

Gallup has found that when managers and their employees actually apply their strengths to their work and lives every day, they are six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs. They're also three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life. 

You can play to your team's strengths by taking the time to understand each team member's strengths, skills, and areas of expertise. This can be done through one-on-one discussions, assessments, or even informal conversations.

Example: In Gabriel's SaaS startup, he asks team members to reflect on their own strengths and how they can apply them to their roles. By encouraging his team to set goals for leveraging their strengths effectively, they're more likely to show up energized to do their best work. 

7. Avoid blame 

"I wouldn't blame the team," says career coach, Tarah Keech. When it comes to ineffective or unproductive leadership practices, blaming your team is high on the list. This is especially true since blame goes against creating a psychologically safe environment where people feel supported and mistakes are looked at as learning opportunities. 

Instead of focusing on a lack of progress, it's important to focus on the positive and each individual step toward your goals. “This helps to channel your sense of focus and identify what you want the team to do next," says Tarah.

High-performing teams take setbacks in stride, prioritize each other's well-being, and uplift each other in their working relationships. 

Example: On Mina's marketing team at a creative agency, she leads by example whenever a project faces setbacks and takes responsibility for the team's performance as a whole. Instead of blaming team members or external factors, Mina acknowledges that the entire team shares in both successes and difficulties. 

8. Recognize and celebrate achievements

Successful team leadership involves recognizing and celebrating successes, including achievements related to teamwork. When your people feel appreciated and recognized for their contributions, they can feel more connected to their work, their team, and your company as a whole. 

Moreover, recognition can lead to a positive company culture that people want to be part of. In fact, people who feel celebrated at work are 2.2x more innovative and more likely to bring new ideas forward—which keeps team interactions engaging and dynamic. 

This means it's important to have a dedicated space where your people can shout each other out, celebrate accomplishments, and recognize excellent teamwork.

Example: In Jared's team of product designers at a scaling B2B SaaS company, they use a dedicated Slack channel titled "wins" to recognize and celebrate achievements. They use it to post company-wide shoutouts, specific team successes, and showcase moments of strong collaboration. By recognizing his team's contributions, Jared can boost morale and keep his people motivated to do their best.
Screenshot of a "wins" channel on Slack
Creating dedicated channels on Slack or your online workspace to celebrate team achievements can bring your people closer together. 

Good team leaders: A slam dunk for improving team effectiveness

In a landmark NBA Finals game against the Utah Jazz, Michael Jordan awed the crowd with his ability to rally his team and drive victory, even when battling a bad case of the flu. In the closing moments of the game, Jordan made a steal that led to a game-winning shot by teammate Steve Kerr. His leadership extended beyond his personal performance to influencing the team's overall approach.

Whether you're leading your team to victory in the NBA Finals or an all-hands meeting, it takes work to build an effective team. Regardless, your team members look to you to show them the way. 

That's why leaders of highly collaborative teams can look to sports team captains like Michael Jordan to understand their role in creating effective teams. And what they can do to improve team effectiveness. 

For example, giving your people the tools to do their job, building trust and empathy, and playing to team strengths. And when you use a collaborative workspace like Switchboard to connect your team, projects, and tools in one place, you can focus on making teamwork the best part of work. 

Want to build an effective team? 
Switchboard is the single source of truth for your projects, people, and tools. 
Learn more

Frequently asked questions about the role of team leader in improving team effectiveness

What are some ways to improve team effectiveness?

Improving team effectiveness usually starts with great leaders who have the leadership skills to: 

  • Give their people the tools to do their job
  • Engage in open, transparent communication 
  • Build trust and empathy
  • Establish accountability and responsibility
  • Promote adaptability and flexibility 
  • Play to strengths
  • Avoid blame
  • Recognize and celebrate achievements 

What is the first thing that a leader should do to make sure that the team is effective?

The first thing a leader should do to make sure that the team is effective is to audit the work environment, including the digital environment, and determine if current tools and processes are actually benefiting the team. For example, if your goal is to improve communication skills, you might look into your current tools and determine if they enable spontaneous, team-building communication.

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