MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How do you build a strong team? is written by Linda Addison, U.S. managing partner at Norton Rose Fulbright.
Whether you are building a leadership team, a board of directors or a management committee, the strategies for selecting a strong group of people who can get the job done are the same. Here are five tips that have worked for me:
Say no to “yes men”
One of the toughest challenges of senior management is staying in touch with what people are thinking, feeling and saying. As people move up in an organization, others generally feel less comfortable being honest with them. A strong team must include people who will tell you the truth—but not only when they are asked. All things being equal—and things are rarely equal—if you are considering two people with comparable skills and abilities, choose the person you trust to be most candid.
Leadership and communication styles vary. For example, once those who need to speak on an issue have done so, I typically move my management committee agenda toward resolution by saying, “Here’s my analysis. Now tell me—is there a different or better way to look at this?” I am comfortable with this approach because I appointed management committee people who are confident, assertive and know that I expect them to speak up. I also have served with good leaders who allow everyone on the team to speak first, either out of courtesy or to avoid influencing an outcome. This can take more time, and I agree with Lee Iacocca’s, former Chrysler chairman and Ford president, observation that “the speed of the boss is the speed of the team.” Styles vary, so make sure the people on your team function well with yours.
Appoint people with a strong work ethic
People with a strong work ethic find ways to take on new assignments and still fulfill other responsibilities. For example, to lead our firm’s diversity efforts, I appointed the head of our intellectual property transactions practice, who has a successful practice herself and is the mother of three young children. She has not missed a beat (although I suspect she has missed some sleep). Look for people who see new assignments as additive and who will not use these additional tasks as a reason to delay or neglect their other responsibilities.
Look for the skill set first—not the individual
Every committee or team needs a certain body of skills, which typically requires members with different proficiencies and abilities. I appointed my management committee the way a corporation appoints its board of directors: acknowledging the various skill sets needed on my management committee to help me lead our firm. In addition, I wanted members who would take the responsibility seriously, devote the necessary time and as noted above, be independent thinkers who were not afraid to speak their minds and disagree when appropriate. One of the men whom I asked to serve responded, “But Linda, you barely know me.” And responded, “But I have seen you in action and I am impressed with what I have seen. You have exactly the skills we need.”
Select team members who can offer different perspectives and outlooks. Ample data demonstrates that diverse teams make better decisions, and that businesses led by diverse teams outperform those that are not. In addition to gender and ethnicity, consider whether your team could be strengthened by other types of diversity, including geography, age and educational background. As a proud University of Texas at Austin alum, I like to remind people that not everyone needs to come from an Ivy League background to contribute great ideas. The more diverse your team is, the stronger it will be.
Finally, a tip for those who want to serve on committees and teams: let people know that you are interested and available. Identify yourself as someone who is willing to pitch in and work on various assignments. And always do what you say you are going to do. If you develop a reputation as someone who can be counted on, not only will you be appointed, you will be reappointed to positions of increasing responsibility.