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3 Secrets to Effective Teaming


August 24, 2023

By Rowan Van Dyk

3 Secrets to Effective Teaming

5 min

One of the burning issues these days, when it comes to leadership, is dealing with your teams and getting your teams more engaged and inspired. I recently spent time with a client that was having challenges with the middle and senior management when it came to teaming and working with teams and getting the teams engaged.

It had really been a serious problem for him, because the complaint that I got from the client was that these managers didn't have people skills and they didn’t know how to talk to the staff. What the meant by that was that they don't know how to speak to the team members and they have an arrogant attitude in general. They try and enforce policies and procedures mostly and when things don't go their way, they simply discipline and dismiss staff to resolve the issue.

This creates a major problem when it comes to working with teams, especially if you're a leader, and you're trying to get your teams committed, and you're trying to get them engaged. Not having a meaningful relationship with the team will definitely not get your teams engaged and will have the exact opposite effect.

You’re going to be unsuccessful in getting your teams engaged and committed unless you're building proper relationships with them. Relationships are built on heartfelt communications - yes, heartfelt communication, which actually just means that you need to communicate properly, speak to the people the way you want to be spoken to. So, this raises the question of respect. If you respect them, they will respect you.

Okay, so you're going to tell me, you're in charge, you're the boss, they first need to respect you, then you respect them back. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. You have to give respect to earn respect. You can't wait for them to respect you before you start treating them with respect. When you start communicating warmly and properly, they will reciprocate and start connecting with you on a more trusting level.

You need to take the first step; you are the leader. You need to get your team functioning properly. As Simon Sinek has commented before, teams are not groups of individuals who work together to achieve a goal or objective, teams are a group of individuals who trust one another.

Trust is a scarce and valuable commodity in a team. If the trust is not there, things will go wrong. This client of mine was complaining that the staff dismissal rate was way too high - the staff retention was pathetic. Secondly, he complained that the stock losses and administrative errors were way too high.

This client is a large retail corporation and in retail you budget for a particular percentage of losses because that's the nature of the beast - but his losses were exceptionally high.

Sometimes this is a way for staff to show their unhappiness with the manager or leader and to retaliate. They try and hit you where it hurts most mainly because they are hurting. So, what they do is they steal or they are nonchalant in their work ethic and in the way they do their work. When they are receiving stock for instance, in the receiving bay, they don't check it thoroughly; they don't check correctly, and as a result, there are mistakes that end up in a loss for the business. We know that losses are actually financial losses. Whether it is physical stock being stolen or whether it's admin errors, it results in you as a business losing money.

As I've said before, as a leader your success is measured by the success of the team. Your individual team member is measured on their own performance, how they perform, how well they do at keeping the stock losses low, your staff turnover, those type of things. They are measured on whatever else their KPI’s are, like sales to customers. But you as the leader, are not performing any of these functions. You are facilitating the process and coordinating the input of the team.

Therefore, you can only be as successful as the team is. If you're treating your people, like rubbish, you're not communicating with them properly. and they are unhappy and disengaged and uninspired, then guess what - at the end of the day, those results are going to reflect badly on you as a leader.

So, what do we do about this?

Let's look at the structure of teams. How can you set up how teams work?

Teams basically go through three phases. Yes, I know, Dr. Bruce Tuckman many years ago, came up with his own process. And he had four stages which eventually became five, but I'd like to break them down into three. Those three are basically:

1.   Step-Up,

2.  Step-Out and

3.  Step-In.

1.  Step Up Stage

Step one is Step Up. This is what Tuckman would refer to as the formation stage - forming. The individual team members step up andaccept the roles that you give them. They become part of a team. It's thebeginning stage. Whether you are employing new staff into an existing team, or whether you're starting an entirely new team makes no difference; it's the beginning step. And yes, there's a lot of guidance and leading required from you as the leader.

If I walk into a new team, or I started at a new business, even if I've had previous experience in the industry, I'm basically clueless. I don't know how your policies and procedures work. I don't know your nuances and your customs in your business. Even if it's a chain store setup and I moved from one store to another store, there are differences, sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious. As the leader, you need to communicate those clearly to me in a way that is not degrading or causing friction between us.

Explain to me in detail what's required, even if you hand me a job description, I might not it understand exactly the way you intended. Sit me down, spend some time with me and provide the details of my job, my responsibilities and how they are measured in detail.

In days gone by, organisations used to spend at least a week on induction programmes. I can remember working for an organisation, a retail organisation, that inducted us over a week, The first day, we had an address by the CEO, explaining to us the values and the mission and the vision of the organisation, so that we understood what the strategic objectives were and the way we were moving towards and what the plan was, and where this company wanted to go.

Then we had presentations from HR, from Operations, and everybody that was either directly involved in the function that we had to perform, or that was a support function, such as Finance and IT. They explained everything from leave, sick leave, and all issues that were necessary for us to perform according to the requirements of the business.

When you left the after five or six days, you were completely familiar with all procedures and resources and you felt as if you'd been working for this organisation for years You knew exactly what was going.

We don't do this anymore. We expect people to walk in on Monday morning, and by 9am, they are supposed to know exactly what's going on in the organisation - and off they go.

2. Step Out Stage

When the staff member steps up to the job, steps up to the position they've applied for or been appointed to, but as the leader you did not step up and communicate all the details of the job detail clearly, and explain to them exactly what their role was, how are they supposed to be engaged and perform to their best if they don’t know exactly what is expected of them?

This is when performance management becomes a challenge and you enter the Step Out phase. They step out of line and become a challenge tolead – they challenge your authority as leader; they question their roles in the team and become a general problem.

I can remember my children would constantly push the boundaries. They knew they weren't allowed to do a certain thing, but they would see how far they can push before they got brought back into line or before they were disciplined.

The same scenarios is playing itself out daily in businesses all over the world.

This stage is effectively called the storming stage by Tuckman. If you want to complete turmoil in your team, this is where you will find it where your team has stepped out of line and they challenge everything you say or do.

Things start going wrong at this point and your leadership gets tested to the limit. It's not what you know at this point, but instead how do you react to the situation. Being a great relationship leader requires that during this stage you work on those relationships to build trust and get the team through the turmoil and to the point where they are engaged and inspired.

When things go well, you don't have to face challenges. This is the point where you start facing challenges. How do you deal with those challenges? Do you face them head on? Do you run away? Or do you simply revert back into boss mode and start kicking butt and using policies and procedures and instructions to get things done.

So how do you get out of the Step Out phase?

It is going to require that as the leader you build trust relationships with your team. Build relationships, communicate clearly and regularly and listen - listen actively.

Let's talk about this communication. It starts off with listening. I have previously given you the recipe for proper communication, being one part speaking, two parts listening, and three parts understanding. It's now time to implement that recipe.

Communication starts with listening to understand. Let them tell you what's bugging them. Let them tell you what the challenges are, what their frustrations are in the team. Listen to them, but while you listen, don't judge, let them speak. Most importantly, is that you need to listen to understand, which means that in order for you to understand, you can't be forming a reaction or response to what they saying, while they're talking. You've got to listen attentively to them. Then based on what you've heard, and based on what the situation is, you can formulate a response if required.

Many times I've been in situations where they don't want you to respond, they don't want you to fix the problem. They simply need an ear to hear their frustration, to get it off their chest. They don't really want something to happen, they just want to feel better inside. If you listen to understand, or listen actively, as it's known, you will then be able to identify what needs to be done at the end of the conversation.

Do you need to respond? Or do you just need to give a sympathetic ear and listen to them and let them air their frustrations? Or do you need to fix something? Do you need to speak to somebody else?

You are not going to figure this out if you are constantly interrupting them or trying to formulate the response or formulate an answer, either to defend somebody or defend yourself within the system or defend the organisation after the first sentence.

Don't do that. Remember, part of listening actively is to show that you're listening. Don't be distracted. Don't give them the impression that you are faraway or thinking of something else.

Listen to us ask the right questions.

How can I help sort this? What is it that you actually feel? What can I do to help you to resolve the situation?

Those are the type of questions. The questions need to be centred on the need, and not on you as the leader. Most importantly, don't take sides. You'll find, and this has been my experience over the years, that many of the problems that cause conflict and issues in your team are due to a lack of proper communication and listening.

Listen actively and you will get to know your team. You will understand what's keeping them in the Step Out phase.

3. Step In Stage  

Once you move through the Step Out phase, you move to the Step In phase where they have stepped into line. This is where things start running smoothly. Even thoughthis is the ideal phase to be in, where your team is working optimally, everything is functioning properly, and they are engage and inspired, beware to not suddenly start resting on your laurels. All the work you did in the Step Up and Step Out phases is going to be lost if you do.

You have not “arrived.” You're going to go back to creating the impression that everything is fine, the leader doesn't care about us anymore. Keep up those relationships. Keep on building that trust. Keep on communicating, listening to them, having those conversations, showing them that you're there.

Once you move from the Step Up, and Step Out phase into the Step In phase, you're not going to have to be that actively involved and physically do so many things and putting the hard graft.  You're going to have to just trim the sails and manage and keep the boat on course. But if you're going sit back and relax, everything's going fall flat, and you're going fall back into the Step Out phase.


It's simple. You want your teams to be engaged and inspired. If you want them to function optimally, communicate with them, build relationships, and develop trust.