Updated: Feb 17
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The SHAPE Team Building Model
What’s the secret to forming a successful team? After years of gathering first-hand experience working for wise leaders and inept managers, I’ve summarized five essential factors in forming a team. Here are the guidelines to SHAPE your team:
Skills Assessment. You must understand what skills are necessary to achieve the team’s mission and objectives. Do you need specific technical knowledge, creative innovators, organized project planners, social customer service managers? Do you need knowledge or connections with other company organizations, outside companies, or industries? Once you have identified all these necessary skills, list them down a column of a spreadsheet. Then list each of your team members, including yourself, in a row across the top. Check off which team members have the skills your team will need to succeed. No one, including the manager, will have all skills. Once you have populated the spreadsheet, identify existing gaps.
HR Planning. Use the same spreadsheet to note when you expect each of your staff members to move on. Naturally, some staff will be looking to contribute, gain experience, and move on to another challenge in short order. Others may be anxious to stay for several years to establish their expertise while others may be lifers, quite happy to stay for the rest of their career. When you overlay their desired longevity, it will help you to identify future skill gaps as well.
Aligning Culture. It is crucial for you and your team to be fully aligned on its mission, vision, and values. Everyone should be focused and aligned on their purpose and key deliverables.
Perspectives. This is much deeper than merely diversity of gender, age, or race, although those should all be part of your consideration. Your target is to gather a variety of experiences and backgrounds. Also, consider diversity of thought. Introverts will bring balanced analysis, creativity, empathy, and curiosity while Extroverts will often contribute relationships, challenge, and quick-thinking. These perspectives will foster new approaches, new ways of thinking, new ideas, all of which can elevate teams from good to great. Diversity is not something to be forced upon you by corporate quotas. Broad perspective is something you should constantly be seeking in order to reap the value it provides.
Energy. Each person is an element in building cohesive team chemistry. Everyone on the team needs to do more than just “get along.” Exceptional teams support each other. They care for each other. They chip in where they can. They offer suggestions and tactful critique, and they accept the same without concern. Some team members will naturally be more confident than others, more ambitious in their career plans than others, and even more competitive than others. However, the sign of a great team is one in which each member, including the leader, puts aside their ego for the betterment of the team. A strongly connected team is focused, cares a lot, and laughs often. This energy is the essence of an awesome team.
Team building starts with you, and it takes time to develop so leadership, patience and consistency are critical. It takes a lot of diligence and persistence. It takes listening skills, caring, and resilience during the long road. However, those teams that follow these steps are a pleasure to work in. Successful teams consistently perform better, attract the best employees, have high retention rates, and noticeably strong employee satisfaction.
Implementing the SHAPE Model
The SHAPE Model sounds simple, but the key is implementing it. SHAPE your team methodically. I strongly suggest you not make wholesale changes without careful planning. This can be an understandable tendency. You may have a vision for the team and a particular style that is likely quite different from your predecessor. You want to brand your team and you believe this requires reorganization and some restaffing. You may be correct, yet it is worthwhile to take caution. Many introverts are rather impatient, and your determination can quickly become immovable. Be aware of this blind spot, consult others, and plan for a successful transition.
Learning Through Disaster
I want to share one of the most disheartening experiences of my career. Though it turned into a valuable lesson that improved my leadership approach, I hope you can avoid such a misstep.
When I moved from the US to London to lead a global trading team, my new manager authorized me to make changes that would elevate the team’s productivity and profitability. From office scuttlebutt and my initial discussions with my predecessor, I surmised that I had inherited an experienced yet stale team that was not prepared to meet the challenges of today let alone the future. I quickly assessed that we needed to make a variety of changes including a reorganization and a change of numerous staff and their supervisors. I thought we needed to shift some staff to the growing Far Eastern markets where we were quite unprepared for the upcoming growth opportunities. Within a few weeks, I began to implement the plan by posting new positions around the globe.
I will humbly say it was a disaster. Bolstered by the authorities granted to me, I rushed to change without recognizing the sensitivities at play. Though the existing business model may have been stale, my predecessor was beloved by many in the group and throughout the industry. In my rush to implement change, I missed the opportunity to listen and learn, and critically to build some rapport and trust within the team.
I was blinded by my own introversion. I was able to avoid the stress of engaging with others who, in my quick assessment were expendable parts of my new vision. In my haste, what I did not realize was that I was not only losing the support of outgoing staff but more critically the high-performing staff I sought to retain. If I had slowed down and dedicated time to listen for the first few months, I may have come to a different strategy. I certainly would have implemented those changes differently, garnering some goodwill along the way. Instead, we made the changes quickly. Results eventually did improve, but I never accomplished the team dynamics I was after and thus the exceptional success I sought eluded us throughout my three-year tenure.
When you first arrive upon the scene, approach this as a project. With a timeline in front of you, plot out how you will implement the SHAPE Model. Aim to remain open-minded throughout the process. Over a rather short period of time, you will be able to assess if your vision can be achieved by retraining some staff, better communication and coordination as a team, clearer objectives through a team goals exercise, or if some further organizational changes are necessary. If you determine that staff changes are warranted, sit down and explain them with the team. Team members will appreciate your professionalism and candor. Any changes, slight or dramatic, can be difficult to implement, but if they are done with care and a long-term vision of the team you wish to lead, the door will be open for you to re-SHAPE your team.
Optimizing the Team
Many companies focus on how to fill personal gaps. They send staff to training classes and place goals on their annual performance plan to bridge those gaps. While there may be a minimum threshold on certain skills, we should focus on escalating each person’s strengths and passions. Training may nudge a gap forward, but learning how to expand skills which the employee already has a passion for will provide exponential returns.
Fight the inclination to assign tasks. Offer a bold course to have these discussions as a team. This will promote the team approach and help get everyone on the same page, learning about each other and figuring out how they can support each other. Facilitate discussions through team personality surveys such as Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) or team strength assessments like Gallup’s CliftonStrength. Once you do this, you and the team will find that there are natural task-people matches. Work together to solve this puzzle. Leverage everyone’s strengths. The results can be transformational.
As an introvert, I do struggle with some stakeholder engagements. My ambition and determination will ensure I meet and transact with those critical to the business, but often the interface lacks warmth and bonding. I learned to follow Dr. Ty Belknap’s wise advice – “delegating your weaknesses shows your leadership ability.” Once I acknowledged this personal challenge, I leaned on some extroverts on the team to join me in building closer bonds with key stakeholders. I learned from them and the team became stronger.
As a generalist, I was thrilled to move around the company. I gained broad experiences and identified best practices that could be transferred around the organization in pursuit of excellence. However, these frequent moves meant I never had the history or detailed expertise that a specialist develops over time. Understanding this gap, I learned to preserve and tap such expertise in each team. Identify these stalwarts, learn from them, support their transfer of knowledge, and recognize them in your succession plan.
These important steps help to develop a cohesive, complementary team, a team better prepared to support each other through tough times and to exceed their own expectations together.
Strong teams don’t happen by chance. They require your focus to SHAPE and optimize in order for your team to not just be a place of harmony, but to foster creativity, problem-solving, and celebrations together.
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