How the Best Leaders Build and Scale Successful Teams

Secret: It Starts with Being a Leader Yourself

I’m not going to lie; I’m assuming that you’re reading this because you want to be an effective leader. If you’re still doubting why building rapport (a.k.a. kissing an employee’s ass) is so important, then let me quickly break it down for you.

You may have spent countless hours studying and reading about what separates great leaders from the rest. I know I have. I’ve asked myself, “Why are certain teams so successful?”. Or my favorite question, “Am I doing anything that’s limiting my team’s growth?” As a manager, your primary responsibility is to build and scale a successful team; however, it’s not easy.

To lead others, you must first lead yourself. Before building and scaling a team, you must be clear about your leadership philosophy and how you want to apply it to your day to day. So, how do you lead yourself to be able to scale your team?

1. Lead With Empathy

“As a leader, you should have empathy for your team. Successful leaders need to be empathetic and genuinely understand where their team is coming from.” Jillian Mooney, Manager, Mid-Market Sales, RocketReach.

When you lead with empathy, you put yourself in other people’s shoes, understand their perspectives, and make decisions based on what’s best for them. It also builds trust and credibility, two essential ingredients to having a successful team.

Moreover, leading with empathy allows you to better understand and relate to your employees, helps create a more positive and productive work environment, and most importantly, demonstrates a commitment to your team’s success. 

So, if you want to build a motivated team, leading through empathy sends a strong message that you care about your team, have their backs, and are willing to do whatever it takes to help them succeed.

2.  Practice Emotional Intelligence

Most people are familiar with the concept of IQ, or intelligence quotient. IQ tests measure a person’s ability to reason, solve problems, and remember information. But what about emotional intelligence? EQ, is the ability to understand and manage emotions. And it turns out that EQ is even more important than IQ in many real life situations. 

In the world of business, a growing body of research has shown that EQ is a crucial predictor of job performance, decision-making, and leadership success. Individuals with high EQs can navigate difficult conversations, manage conflict effectively and build strong relationships. They’re also better able to motivate themselves and others, handle stress and overcome challenges and get better work-life balance. 

In other words, they have the emotional skills essential for success in today’s workplace. And as such, emotional intelligence should be a key consideration for recruiters and HR leaders when it comes to employees success, building and scaling successful teams.

7 Ways A Great Leader Can Build An Amazing Team

It is no secret that the best leaders are good at building and maintaining successful teams. They embrace traits to make great teams, including communication, motivation, commitment, and consistency. While there are still a lot of gray areas, leaders can continually improve their skill set when it comes to leading teams. Great leaders realize that there are different ways to motivate people and push them to perform at their best. There are also specific strategies, like providing team members with regular recognition to know how valuable they are to the business.

With only 78% of leaders today regularly and actively focusing on employee engagement, it’s clear that many organizations are still struggling with how to best motivate and inspire their people.

The key to building and scaling a successful team is creating an environment where employees feel valued, supported, and empowered to do their best work. Building a team involves:

  • Hiring a diverse group of talent
  • Creating a positive and motivating work environment
  • Fostering a sense of trust and respect among each employee that encourages a continuous feedback loop
  • Encouraging collaboration among the members that promote continued learning
  • Setting clear goals and expectations and providing the necessary resources needed for employee growth and success
  • Creating a culture of promotion

Building and scaling a team can seem daunting, but if you surround yourself with the right partners, attracting people to the business will feel more achievable, and even fun! Before you begin scaling the team, there are important pillars that need to already exist within the current org. The most important of those pillars…. the existing Founders or Leaders. Do you happen to have a CEO or Founders who care deeply about the people and health of the culture at the company? GREAT. Use that in every step of the process. However, if existing leaders of the organization are not fully invested in building a better wokr-life, people-first environment, you need to make sure that you’re able to get adequate resources to surround yourself with other leaders and partners who will. That can be tricky. 

At RocketReach, we believe every person has a massive impact on the direction of the business. We want each member of the team to be engaged and learning, interested in their role, and invested in the company’s success. Empowering each employee is critical to the success of the company. It takes a village, and that’s the cliche truth. The question then becomes, how do you build and manage motivated teams?

1. Hire a Diverse Team

Many companies say they’re trying to hire a more diverse group of talent, primarily because of the increased scrutiny on businesses that haven’t tried to diversify their teams. But optics won’t change the reality of your teams and culture. If your company falls into that performative bucket – it’s critical to do something about it. There is now an abundance of research that shows how diverse teams transform productivity, culture, and revenue. Hiring people coming from all different backgrounds brings varied thoughts and ideas, cultures, problem-solving skills, and abilities to navigate group dynamics. 

When I asked Mooney about her experience growing leaders she said, “One key point that I think of when building a successful team is having a diverse group. When you’re interviewing, it’s important to ask yourself, is this person a culture “fit” or a culture “add”? For me, I’d prefer to have a culture add because they bring a lot of different perspectives to the table.”

2. Set Your Teams’ Expectations Early For Each Employee Success

Your team is bound for success if they know what is expected of them from the start. From the job listing to the onboarding process, ensure you’re clear about your company’s goals and objectives, and let your team know how they should contribute to the organization’s success.

It also means being clear about what you expect from each employee, including their roles and responsibilities, and setting realistic personal and collective goals that everyone can work on.

You can do this by defining the team’s purpose and objectives and creating measurable goals on which everyone can track progress. You should also provide guidelines on how you expect them to work together, collaborate, and communicate with one another when working on projects.

Define Both Individual and Team Goals and KPIs

Any good business leader knows that to build and scale a successful team, they must define individual and team goals. Doing this ensures that everyone is working towards the same objectives and knows their role in achieving those goals.

When defining the goals, remember to be realistic and achievable. If your plans are too lofty, you and your team will likely become discouraged. Likewise, if your goals are too small, then you won’t be able to achieve the level of success you are aiming for.

As a leader, you should establish key performance indicators (KPIs) for the team and its members. Doing so will help you track group and individual progress and identify areas where you need to improve.

However, keep in mind that you should review goals and KPIs regularly (once a quarter is a good frequency) to ensure they are still relevant and achievable. KPIs should be consistently revisited each month as well. Weekly goals should always be a dotted line to Quarterly goals and KPIs. Things can change quickly in a tech startup, so it’s essential to be flexible and adaptable.

3. Encourage a Positive Leader Empowering Work Environment

A positive work environment is crucial for employee engagement, motivation and growth. It improves employee satisfaction while increasing productivity and fostering creativity. Research shows that a positive, healthy, and empowering workplace results in a 12% increase in employee productivity and creativity.

So, how can you create a positive work-life balance environment?

First, here at RocketReach we have a hard No-Asshole Policy. Set the example by promoting a respectful culture from the management down to the lower ranks. This kind of respect and treatment means no bullying, gossiping, and complaining about others behind their backs – if there’s a problem, address it directly. A domino effect in lowering the team’s morale is possible if everyone disrespects each other. 

Second, foster a healthy remote work culture and environment where employees would never shy away from openly sharing ideas and suggestions. Encourage creativity and risk-taking, and don’t punish failure – instead, let the employees learn from it. You need to introduce your team members to things they’ve never done before, and let them make mistakes. It’s hard to show people they can grow and take on something new if you don’t trust them to get there and learn.

You certainly can strategically have direct conversations with your employees, and hear from them about how they feel in their role, what’s working, and what’s not! However, technology has also paved the way for companies to track their employees’ health and satisfaction meter and automate how they evaluate everyone’s wellness. For example, Culture Amp helps companies build a culture of engagement and productivity by connecting their people with the right manager and empowering managers to be the leaders they want to be. Sprout, on the other hand, allows organizations to embrace wellbeing and improve health & wellness for every user using API and data. 

If you can create a positive work environment, you’ll not only improve employee satisfaction, but you’ll also see a boost in productivity, creativity, and professional growth of your team. Keeping happy employees doesn’t have to be that complicated; it starts with caring about the humans who work on your team and genuinely caring about their growth.

Build A Supportive Team That Understands Boundaries

Have you ever heard the phrase “The devil’s in the details?” Well, I hate to tell you this, but: he’s not in the details — he’s the details. Putting people and their work under a microscope dramatically affects how people feel about their work. People who feel they have freedom are more productive than those who think they are being micromanaged. As a successful leader, give your team members the freedom to work independently and make their own decisions. However, this doesn’t mean you should let them do whatever they want. It’s still necessary to set clear boundaries and encourage your team to respect them. 

Start by communicating your boundaries and expectations. Let them know what you need from them and when you need it. Then, simply give them the freedom to work however they want as long as they meet your deadlines. Mistakes will happen and both you and them will learn from those mistakes, and produce better work as a result.

Work-life balance; the Voldemort of topics. This phrase used to be the one thing you were never allowed to ask about in an interview. Oh, how the times have changed! The best way to actually model boundary-respecting behavior is to maintain a consistent work schedule and respect other people’s time and space. At RocketReach, we truly believe that the team should have the freedom to structure their day and time in a way that makes sense for them. We understand that people have lives outside of work. 

Respect the boundaries you set. It’s important to not intrude on employees’ free time or invade their personal space without permission. Your team will be more likely to be productive, maintain healthier relationships with their co-workers, and most importantly experience less burnout.

It’s important to remember that boundaries can change over time! You may need to adjust the limits as your team grows and develops. If you’ve already created a respectful foundation of work-life balance with your team, you’ll find they are incredibly receptive and adaptable to that change.

Foster a Sense of Trust and Respect

Trust and respect build a successful team. As a leader, you must create an environment where your team members feel comfortable trusting and respecting one another.

You can do this by:

  • First and foremost, not hiring kind humans
  • Encouraging team members to give each other feedback and constructive criticism in a way that will be best received for the other team member
  • Encouraging team members to communicate with one another openly and regularly 
  • Creating opportunities for employees to get to know one another on a professional and personal level
  • Model the behavior you want to see from your team members 
  • Organizing team-building activities that promote trust and respect

When you create a foundation of trust and respect,  your team will be more likely to take risks, which is essential for innovation and progress. They’ll also show up as their best selves and be more committed to driving the team forward.

Develop a Continuous Feedback Loop

Encouraging a ‘feedback culture’ means creating an environment where team members feel comfortable giving and receiving honest feedback on their work– this involves giving specific, constructive, objective, and actionable feedback.

You can do this by holding regular team meetings where everyone can give and receive feedback on their work. You can also set up a system where team members can give each other feedback electronically, such as through a shared document or online forum. Providing some location (Google sheets, Trello, etc.)  for team members to give feedback without speaking up in a meeting or interrupting someone’s work is important. 

My personal favorite is conducting formal feedback training to share why and how the company plans to support a culture of feedback. An exercise is done in small groups to hear how each person on the team prefers to give and receive feedback. Does this team member like to receive feedback live over zoom, or would they prefer it written over slack or in an email? These preferences are documented and saved in a team folder where anyone can locate it when it comes time to approach a  fellow team member with feedback or constructive criticism in the best possible way. 

“Another point that can help to scale a successful team is having the ability to give clear feedback. I heard once from a leader that “clear is kind”. Often, leaders are giving feedback that is sandwiched between two positives, which is not productive. In order for feedback to be implemented it needs to be clear.” said Mooney.

Whatever system you choose, being heard and valued is crucial for a team to feel safe and empowered to give consistent feedback.

RocketReach Blog Graphic Statistic

Establish Clear Channels of Communication

Any experienced leader knows that communication is essential for building successful, united teams. When employees can communicate openly and effectively, they can collaborate more efficiently and make better decisions.

However, establishing clear communication channels can be challenging, especially in fast-paced startup environments. As a talent and HR leader, you can do a great job of setting the tone for internal communication across the team . First, you should ensure that everyone understands the company’s communication norms and expectations. That includes Leadership respecting what’s appropriate in regards to where,  how, and when communication is delivered. For example, not constantly slacking or emailing teams or channels outside of work hours when people want their personal time respected.

Second, you should create opportunities for team members to share feedback and ideas openly. And finally, you should encourage team members to use multiple communication channels, including face-to-face interactions, video calls, and instant messaging.

Creating a diversified foundation for clear and effective communication within your teams across the company will make it easier to handle the challenges of today’s fast-paced, and remote business world.

4. Create a Culture of Accountability

We live in a culture where we applaud the quick fix and instant gratification. When you create a culture of accountability, your team will be more productive. They will deliver results at a much higher quality. And that employee happiness? They’ll have that too! As a hiring manager or an HR leader, you can build trust by cultivating a culture of accountability by holding the team, yourself, and other business leaders accountable.

When team members are held accountable for their actions, they’re likely to take ownership of their work and be transparent so everyone can have a higher level of trust and a more cohesive relationship. Furthermore, accountability fosters a sense of responsibility and commitment to the team’s success. Most of the time, when people feel they have a sense of responsibility and purpose, they’re more fulfilled.

Similarly, when you and other business leaders hold yourselves accountable for your actions, it sets the tone for the entire organization. So, if you’re wrong, admit it. If you make a mistake, own up to it. Your team will respect your honesty and integrity and more likely trust you.

5. Help Develop a Healthy Work-Life Balance for Your Team

The phrase “work-life balance” is quite popular these days. Some people even say it’s important to have this balance, others say it’s not possible to achieve such a thing because we’re all tied to work 24/7. There are many opinion pieces and surveys on the topic of work-life balance, but I wanted to share our team’s view on this subject.

Achieving a healthy work-life balance is essential for avoiding burnout. This reality is something we all know, but for some reason companies still don’t seem to get it right. When employees feel overworked and overwhelmed, they will likely experience job dissatisfaction, high levels of stress, and even depression. It also results in high employee turnover rates.

As an HR Leader, it’s crucial to encourage your team to take breaks, recharge, and establish an overall healthy work-life balance for their lives. There are many ways to do this, such as providing flexible work schedules, encouraging employees to take vacation days, and offering subsidized child care.

When people have a comfortable balance between work and life, it helps them stay motivated and engaged in their jobs. They typically have higher productivity and better overall job performance, which is not only good for the humans who work with you, but it’s obviously better for your business’s bottom line.

RocketReach Blog Work-Life Balance

6. Always Find Ways to Reward Good Work

Rewarding accomplishments will help motivate employees and encourage them to keep up the excellent work. It’s essential to find the right balance, though. Too much focus on tips can create a culture of unhealthy competition and entitlement, while too little can lead to feelings of devaluation and dissatisfaction.

Finding ways to reward good work that aligns with your organization’s values and goals is vital. For example, if you value collaboration and teamwork, you might consider rewarding employees who work well together on projects. And if you’re trying to encourage innovation, you could give bonuses to employees who devise creative solutions to problems.

Get creative about how you reward the team and increase a motivation environment by aligning rewards with organization’s core values.

In addition, rewards can help you attract new talent to your organization and improve employee retention rates. And with employee retention costs ranging from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, this is an essential consideration for any business.

There are many different ways to reward employees. Some ideas for rewards include financial bonuses, paid time off, gift cards, or event tickets. Whatever you decide, be creative and take some time to explore what your team would want most!

The Best Way To Create A Successful Team: You

The best leaders build and scale successful teams by innovating, responding to change, and fostering creativity. Listen to your team and take real action to implement processes, benefits, or career development that they are directly asking for. Whether you lead a small group or a massive enterprise, these three leadership tools will help you build and grow your business– but also support and develop the people who work for it.

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