How do I get my team to step up?

Maureen is exhausted and at the end of her tether. She has a team to support her but somehow she doesn’t seem to be able to tap into them as a resource. She feels like the only person she can rely on to get anything done is herself.

What we have here is a classic Catch-22 situation – but neither side can see it.

Team Leader Maureen wants evidence the team are ready before delegating anything. The team feel disempowered by a boss who does everything herself and doesn’t lean on them for anything.

If this sounds familiar, here is an exercise that might help you.

“Nothing happens unless I initiate it. I need to be on everyone’s back all the time to make anything happen. I’m exhausted and not sure how much longer I can keep this up!”

Outward Bound: An Exercise

Imagine you and your team are on an Outward Bound exercise, a ten mile hike across country, taking all your gear with you. It has to be a distance that will stretch the team but which you are confident they can complete with effort. Mentally adjust the distance or terrain as necessary. The team have to stay together and cross the finish line together. There’s loads of gear and it’s very heavy and you as a team have discretion on how to distribute it…

How is morale on the team?

Imagine your team on the starting line. What is the atmosphere? Are they excited about the challenge ahead? Consider each member of your team in turn. How are they showing up? What are they doing and how are they contributing to the exercise? Are they an energy contributor or an energy drain?

How is work distributed in your team?

How has the gear been distributed between the various team members? How big is your pack? How does it compare to everyone else’s pack? Who has the lightest pack? Who has the heaviest pack? Is everyone on the team carrying their fair share of the weight? Is everyone on the team making their best contribution? Who decides what that is? Were they consulted?

Packs that are either too heavy or too light are a disservice to the team as they slow the team down.

Does your team understand how work is distributed and why?

Does the team understand how and why the gear has been distributed amongst the team the way it has? Have they been actively involved in the decision-making process? Do they understand your rationale? Have they bought into it?

Unless the team understands the rationale behind decisions, all they see if that some team members are getting an easier deal than others and that translates as you playing favourites. Are you?

How often do you check in with your team?

Did you consult with your team about this challenge and your strategy for it? Did you ask for their input? Or for their feedback? How do the team feel about the challenge? How are they feeling this morning? Do you know who you need to be keeping an eye on? What’s your strategy in the event of injury, bad weather or general team crankiness? How are you going to check in with the team during the challenge? Will you do it all yourself or have you shared or delegated that responsibility? Who are the key people that you need to be in contact with?

How can you be sure that you will be on top of all development and be able to respond to whatever comes up in the moment?

What aren’t your team telling you?

Which team members will be frank about their experience? Which team members will suffer in silence? Who do you need to be particularly attentive to? What non-verbal signals will give insight into their true state of mind? What are the red flags for each team member? 

How are YOU doing as the leader?

How are you feeling? What is your role today? What are your expectations? Of yourself.  Of others. How do you feel at the different stages of the challenge? Do you feel like a part of the team, sharing the experience with them, or are you overseeing the team, analysing and assessing as you go along? How would you like to be showing up for the team? What is the best contribution you can make during this exercise? Who, or what, are your resources?

Do you share your challenges with your team?

How open are the team about their experiences?  Whose lead are they following?  Are you honest about your challenges or do you like to present a polished front to your team? What verbal and non-verbal cues are you giving to your team about what they should do when they feel challenged or overwhelmed? How comfortable are members of the team asking for everyone to stop and help them?  How would the team respond to that? 

Do you celebrate success with your team?

As you all cross the finish line together, how is the team celebrating?  Is it a boisterous affair or rather subdued? Do the team want to hang out or get in their cars and go home? What do you say and do to mark the occasion?  How generous are you with your praise? Do you feel the team did their best or do you think they could, and should, have done better? How do you recognise success on your team? How do you make your team feel valued?  How do you keep them engaged and motivated?

Visualising your team in a different scenario can provide interesting insights and clarity around team dynamics.  It’s good to talk this exercise through with someone, ideally a trusted colleague on your team or a coach.  Also print out and answer the questions on the attached worksheet to take your thinking to the next level.

Please email me on if you have any questions.

“Visualising your team in a different scenario can provide interesting insights and clarity around team dynamics.  ”