Three Things Leaders Should Know about Team Dynamics from Someone Who’s Not a Natural Team Player

By: Rosilyn Rayborn

Growing up, I always hated group projects because it never failed that someone in the group wouldn’t pull their weight, which meant either more work for the rest of us or if the rest of the group decided not to pick up the slack, a less-than-stellar end product.

So of course, as an adult with a career primarily focused on writing, even when I was a part of a team, I was all-too-happy to skate around projects that required me to consistently cultivate teamwork. No collaborative projects for me: just tell me what you want and then turn me loose and I’ll deliver.

But when I got hired as a Digital Marketing Manager for Associa, I became a part of a team that actually functioned as a team. There were no silos and if any silos were identified, plans were quickly put in place to remove them. Seeing how deliberate the Marketing team was about making sure the team functioned properly made me realize that working on a team is not teamwork. Teamwork has to be established by design, not by chance.

When I became Director of Content Marketing and was tasked with building my own team, I knew from the start that I needed to be deliberate. I put a lot of thought into what type of team dynamic I wanted. Now, thankfully, I had the overarching Marketing team and some great leaders as models, but as I began eking out the team, here are the things I identified as most important for leaders  to do to ensure the team actually works.

1. Be mindful of what your team dynamic is and what you want it to be. 

If you’re new to a role, department or an organization, sometimes you build a team. Sometimes you inherit one. Sometimes, it’s a mix of both. So, start at square one. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that if you don’t create a company culture, one will be created for you. Or, if you don’t actively develop a brand voice, one will be created for you. The same can be said for team culture. The culture of the team will materialize, so the question for leaders is whether you want to take an active role in making it materialize, or if you want to wait and see what materializes. 

As with company culture and brand voice, you don’t have complete control, but by defining the team dynamic you want, you’ll be much better equipped to get the outcome you desire. Now, teams go through phases like any other relationships in your life — new faces, saying goodbye to old faces, etc. — so the dynamic may sometimes wax and wane, but setting expectations around the team dynamic you want will act as a compass and even when things go a little off the rails, everyone will know it’s not the norm and you can quickly get back on track.

2. Be authentic and realistic. 

If you want your team dynamic to be hyper-collaborative, think about the implications of what a hyper-collaborative team looks like. I’m not 100% sure, but a team of accountants may not need a “collaborative” team culture. I’m sure accountants are collaborative when necessary, but collaboration may not be the most useful trait for them. Make sure the dynamic you want is reasonable to your team and the work you do. And, it’s not reasonable to want a collaborative environment if you don’t create spaces and opportunities for collaboration to happen. When you define the team dynamic, commit to creating opportunities for it to grow.

3. Foster an environment where people can be transparent about their weaknesses. 

Most advice you find about weaknesses and your natural inclination say, hide your weaknesses. Never say them out loud. Don’t let anyone know. So this tip isn’t a welcome one, but giving the team the chance to be honest about areas where they don’t perform as well as they’d like lets them know they’re in a safe space and allows them to trust the team to fill in those deficits. In my current role, I’ve really enjoyed the freedom of being able to say “I am not very good at spreadsheets!” Also, not the world’s best delegator. But, guess what: these aren’t secrets. My team knows because they spend 40+ hours a week with me. So, expressing my weaknesses wasn’t a revelatory experience, but it allowed my manager to help me cultivate those skills—adding them as part of performance goals or making a comment when I looked overwhelmed that reminded me that I can delegate. And now as a manager, when building my own team, I try to create an environment where people know that their weaknesses won’t be used against them. Instead, when they’re open about them, , I can encourage them incrementally to grow and when hiring their counterparts, I can be on the lookout for talent whose strengths and challenges are complementary. Remember: you can’t treat what you don’t diagnose. 

As leaders, we're also part of a larger leadership team, so stay tuned for the second installment of this feature, where I share tips to cultivate team dynamic on your team.

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Rosilyn Rayborn is the Director of Content Marketing at Associa — North America’s largest community association management company is the U.S. Connect with her on LinkedIn or on her website.

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