From culture to strong leadership: how to build the perfect team

Going from running a start-up as a sole entrepreneur to building a successful team can be a tricky business: so here are some tips to ensure a smooth transition

Everyone wants a winning team whether that’s in business or sport, but how do small business owners who are often under resourced and under pressure create a knock-out team that delivers?

Winning teams consist of engaged employees who work towards a common goal under supportive leadership within an environment of trust. Employees who are engaged and feel supported are more likely to be loyal and motivated to come to work every day.

Creating a strong and positive company culture is at the core of creating a winning team and this must be driven from the top down. Company culture is the personality of an organisation from the employee perspective, and includes the company’s mission, expectations and work atmosphere.

Core company values

Business leaders must create and instil – always leading by example – core company values by which the organisation operates. Core values should be clearly defined and communicated regularly so that team members live with them every day.

Everyone should share a common goal and understand how their role affects mission success from the CEO to the most junior member of staff. As Scott Scherr, founder and CEO of Ultimate Software said, “The true measure of a company is how they treat their lowest paid employees.”[1]

>See also: The power of saying no when building your business

Research published by Deliotte[2] earlier in the year shows that culture, engagement and employee retention are the most important issues facing business leaders with 87 percent of organisations citing culture and engagement as one of their top challenges.

Organisations that create a culture defined by meaningful work, deep employee engagement, job and organisational fit, and strong leadership are outperforming their peers and are likely to beat their competition in attracting and retaining top talent.

Companies that focus on culture are fast becoming recognised as the best places to work. Fortune’s ‘Best Companies’ are many of the same companies listed in Glassdoor’s ‘Best Places to Work’ and LinkedIn’s ‘Most In-Demand Employers’.

Fortune and Glassdoor’s lists are based on employee surveys and show that companies with strong positive cultures are now most in-demand with job seekers.[3]

Fully engaged employees

Google, which this year occupied the top spot for the sixth time in eight years in Fortune’s ‘Best Company to Work For’[4] , focuses heavily on culture and regularly measures dozens of factors to understand what makes people productive and happy. This research has helped to shape Google’s culture and their leaders explicitly attribute the company’s financial performance to its benevolent people practices.

A positive company culture and fully engaged employees are what all companies should be striving for in order to create their own winning team. Whilst small business leaders may not feel they have much time to spend on this whilst they get the business up and running; it’s worth remembering the business is nothing without its employees.

It’s never too late to start and the reward will be a winning team that can propel your company forward for many years to come.

Here are five tips for building winning teams:

1 Focus on leadership development

One of the most sustainable routes to well-being, motivation and employee engagement comes from developing leadership skills and roles in top talent. Leaders define the reality for employees – they create the culture, and we all know how much our day-to-day experience of work is determined by the quality of the leadership we receive. Those that are invested in become the most engaged and effective and can lift teams hugely.

2 Create a positive environment

The first step is for leaders to recognise that they can’t motivate all the people all the time – but they can create an environment in which their people feel inspired and confident that they can be their best.

>Related: How the UK can lead the global innovation leagues

So focus on what is working well in the team, give regular positive feedback, put success stories as the first agenda item in all meetings, and shift from discussing problems to exploring solutions.

3 Dust off the employee survey results

The information held within these surveys is absolute gold dust and will help develop an internal communications strategy which will help create the positive ‘grapevine effect’ and provide a solid foundation for sustainable engagement in the team.

4 Build your employer brand

Creating a reputation as an employer of choice for both existing and potential staff, and involving staff in process improvement, makes them feel more valued, more highly motivated and more ‘engaged’ with their organisation. Moreover, staff are more likely to implement any subsequent process improvement because it will have come, initially, from them and their peers.

5 Create an honest culture

Create 100% honesty about the business challenges ahead and include the team in the implications. It will create ownership, loyalty, energy and a sense of oneness. Create work groups – new teams which can get involved with different aspects of the turnaround mission; and establish very high levels of involvement.

Further reading: Using company culture to attract customers

Is it worthwhile developing better leaders?

Fast-growing businesses must identify and develop high-potential employees at all levels for career progression. Dominique Jones, vice president of human resources at Halogen Software, explores how current leaders have an important part to play in this development.

Attitudes to senior managers have worsened according to the CIPD and Halogen Autumn Outlook Survey 2015. More specifically, there were five attributes employees felt were lacking in their bosses: consultation, respect, trust, confidence and clarity of vision.

Young workers from the millennial generation, who now make up more than half the workforce, expect flexible working patterns and a flat company structure that gives them access to leaders and managers – and a fast track to becoming leaders themselves. As longstanding employees leave or retire, the loss of their knowledge and expertise puts business continuity at risk.

These are serious issues for growing businesses looking to nurture a leadership pipeline. Increasingly, fast-growing businesses must identify and develop high-potential employees at all levels for career progression– and current leaders have an important part to play. The test of good leadership is the extent to which your leaders cultivate leadership in others. Leaders should empower and inspire those below them and model the leadership behaviours that the organisation needs, so there is a free flowing pipeline of future leaders.

With fewer hierarchical layers in many companies, frontline managers are an essential component connecting top management’s strategic business priorities with the tactical responsibilities employees are given to accomplish those goals. Yet many companies fail to provide enough leadership development across multiple levels. A Harvard Business Review survey found that the vast majority of respondents (71 per cent) said that frontline managers received training and development only occasionally or infrequently, with nearly half (44 per cent) indicating a frequency of once a year or less. Only 14 per cent said that their companies offered a comprehensive leadership development programme that included frequent mentoring, 360-degree feedback, and leadership tools.

Identifying potential leaders

An effective succession plan has four steps: identification of what leadership looks like in your organisation, an assessment of current talent to determine leadership skill gaps, development plans to close these gaps, and managing and tracking the progress of your plan. Many businesses fall at the first hurdle by failing to identify potential leaders or earmarking the wrong people for development – your top salesperson does not necessarily have the attributes needed to lead and motivate, nor might they want to.

The type of employee who would make a good future leader likes what they do, always goes the extra mile and looks for challenges, and sees a future for themselves in the business, but most importantly naturally displays leadership attributes in their current role. Employee data can help here, from performance assessments to learning activities and data on interests and skills gleaned from professional development reviews. This information should inform plans to identify individuals who can help your organisation succeed now and in the future, and who want to expand their sphere, take on additional responsibility or a leadership role. Future leaders can come from out of left field – the perfect fit for that opening in marketing might be someone who currently works in R&D.

Benefits of leadership development

Businesses will see many benefits from improving their leadership capabilities and will reap real return on investment in developing the leadership pipeline. When a leadership role becomes available, either through a leader leaving the business or when further leadership capabilities are required to support business growth, a business with a solid leadership pipeline is in a good position to easily identify potential successors from within its talent pools. This saves time and money on the recruitment process and prevents any losses resulting from a gap in capabilities while a new person is recruited and brought up to speed.

Research from Aon Hewitt indicates that career development discussions are important in keeping employees motivated and engaged. This applies to all employees regardless of what stage they are in their career. Cultivating a talent-focused culture with a clear leadership pipeline not only engages and motivates employees at all levels, but also has a significant impact on the bottom line.

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.