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In today's technologically-driven marketplace, organizations continually face rapid change. Alongside market disruption, the shifting social context reflects changing expectations to hold organizations accountable in new ways. Moreover, the global workforce is intergenerational, increasingly connected across borders, and more diverse in every way. This tide of social evolution in the current landscape means that organizations need to focus intently on cultures that meet the social demands of our time.   

To keep up and stay successful, organizations must embrace and understand the role of leadership at every level. While responsibility falls on the entire team to create and maintain their most productive work environment, action starts with leadership. 

In every high-performing team, no matter the talents and performance of individual team members, there are essential areas that leaders must focus on to empower effective collaboration in today's agile market. These focus points include the three pillars of high-performing teams: Purpose, Clarity, and Psychological Safety.  

United by Purpose and Clarity 

Because teams are diverse, what motivates employees looks different for each individual, making it crucial that leaders communicate a clear vision that empowers Purpose for the team. Every individual must know how their organization and team's work ties back to social priorities. What are the organization's goals and what social impact do these goals have? Who are their customers? How will the team's work benefit the customer? What role does the team play to help the organization succeed? How does all of this impact community?  

With a clear understanding of Purpose, the leader can better focus on clarifying individual roles, projects, and plans to the group as a whole. Create Clarity between your team’s people and tasks by aligning priorities around implementation, communication, analysis, and ideation. Being united across these four functions ensures everyone is marching in the same direction and helps avoid misunderstandings and conflict. 
It’s also crucial for leaders to use Clarity when communicating roles and responsibilities. Leaders must illustrate how each part of the team supports the larger objective transparently so that every team member has the same expectations about their day-to-day work. Done right, team members can remain accountable to each other for their areas of project ownership.   

Diversity of talent also means that individuals have different work styles and need a variety of support systems to thrive. However, it's vital that they also have a shared identity that brings them together and maximizes the performance of the whole. Beyond a clear understanding of Purpose, the shared values and ways of working within the group are essential aspects to consider. While team leaders may need to have strong functional skills and proven abilities, their role requires them to empower the success of the whole team. That means leaders must learn to prioritize and nurture the areas that build the culture which unearths the collaborative power of team talent.  

Innovation Powered by Psychological Safety 

One key aspect that high-performing team leaders must focus on is communication. As the leader, they set the stage for what's acceptable within the team. If their usual style is to show up as highly knowledgeable, independent, and decisive, they may inadvertently miss receiving crucial team member feedback. For individuals to admit mistakes and correct themselves publicly requires a considerable level of trust and Psychological Safety. Trust starts with the actions of the team leader, who must be transparent and vulnerable to encourage others to take interpersonal risks. They must show their fallibility by asking for, hearing, and acting on constructive feedback that helps make incremental improvements within the team.   

To get the best information out of their talent, leaders must also make room for individual personalities. Some people will benefit from more private conversations than others, and the leader must take the time to learn and accommodate preferences like these. They must also learn to be flexible about what motivates and enables employees on an individual level while remaining transparent and fair to the group as a whole. Once leaders get to know personal preferences, they must take steps to foster a culture in which individuals discuss their work styles with each other. A culture in which personality differences are transparent without judgment helps the team manage conflict and work together more effectively. Cultures that do now allow this too often become toxic.

Because high-performing teams are collaborative and often cross-functional, leaders must also evaluate and work on their work style to ensure it maximizes collaboration. While a certain amount of decision making and delegation is inherent to the role of a leader, having frequent, open communication in which other viewpoints are shared is helpful. This style helps ensure that team members have the opportunity to contribute or change meaningful outcomes in beneficial ways, rather than waiting for top-down directives only. When the leader does provide guidelines to the team, they must do so in a way that is not ambiguous. For example, if a directive requires the organization to pivot, they should openly discuss why, and ensure the team understands the change within the overarching context - how does this change align to the Purpose and team goals? If a mistake happens, leaders should honestly disclose it to establish trust and confidence in any adjustments necessary, rather than going straight to the desired outcome.   

While these are just a few of the ways that leaders influence team productivity, they cover areas that are not always intuitive or visible but are mandatory to create a strong foundation. The more that a team leader can support Purpose, Clarity, and Psychological Safety, the more they can draw support from a diverse group. By doing so, they help the team collaborate toward a more significant impact on the desired results.   

Empower Your Teams to Thrive 

Leading organizations use Birkman's High-Performing Teams turnkey workshop to develop the building blocks of a stronger team. Help your employees learn the skills and strategies to build the three important elements of Purpose, Clarity, and Psychological Safety into your team with 8 hours of actionable, working sessions and personalized content to drive your team to the next level of productivity. 

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