Can Your Team Truly Stand the Test of Time?

effectUX is growing, and as such recently I have been spending a lot of time looking for the right Experience Design minded individuals to join the team. Some of you may have read some of my posts around hiring for the skills needed in such a team, but as many of us have become aware, it is not just the skills that matter. I tend to mark passion and personality highly on my list- but the challenge is, how do you recognize true talent when you see one? And assuming you have the right team, how does a leader help a contrasting, disparate group of people work together in a meaningful way that outlasts ongoing flux and change? Standing the test of time today does not mean lasting years, as change seems to ever more become the only constant, rather lasting through the pivotal and critical junctures that might typically break a team

While at an event the other night, I got talking about this challenge with an accomplished colleague of mine, Tiffany Liu, whom I have always admired for her leadership qualities. She had a lot of valuable insights from her experiences, and a unique take that was different to what I usually heard in leadership meetings or summits. For background, Tiffany has had numerous roles throughout her career, including leading large business transformations. Her teams have always been seen as exceptional, so I thought it would be interesting to get her take on how you can build an enduring team that lasts the test of time to share with our readers.


How did you first realize that competency was not enough for endurance?
It's not about what they have done, it's about the potential of what they can do.

Just like everyone else, I was immediately attracted to people at the top of their field, automatically interviewing them based on preconceived notions. After all, a resume boasting an Ivy League pedigree listing a high variety of achievements is bound to impress even the harshest of critics. It was as a result of this that I made the mistake of hiring someone who had both a flawless resume and came highly recommended by colleagues I trusted. This individual was a subject matter expert in their field, having won multiple awards for excellence and possessing a multitude of industry credentials. In some jobs that have a specific routine, this kind of "great on paper" resume is a perfect fit. While one would assume that this individual would have no problems exceeding expectations, it turned out that they lacked critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Why do these things matter? Critical and problem solving skills give an individual the ability to troubleshoot problems in a contextual manner, during which a certain sort of ability to conceptualize is necessary in order to survive in a fast-paced environment that is in a constant state of change. My tiptop candidate was only able to thrive in a structured environment and became crippled with even the slightest hint of chaos or irregularity. They were not able to adapt to today's business environment, which is without a doubt complex, ambiguous, extremely uncertain and, not to mention, volatile field.

In your experience, what else is there when it comes to factors other than competency?
Seeing More than Meets the Eye.

To avoid making the same mistake as I did, I would instead suggest looking for a balance of impressive resume credentials along with the equally important but often neglected "hallmarks" of talent--the intrinsic, innate qualities that can be sought out through interview questions intended to probe deeper. In the Harvard Business Review article "The Future of Talent is Potential", a "paradoxical blend of fierce commitment together with deep personal humility" is described as being necessary for success. This can be concocted from four other secret ingredients: great determination (the ability not to crack under pressure), insight (the ability to connect the dots), curiosity (the ability to observe and ask questions) and an engaging personality (the ability to engage the hearts and minds of others). This insight has proved extremely eye-opening for me; when a tiger earns his stripes through all of his various credentials and accolades it is certainly worth recognizing. However, these may not necessarily be the determinants of someone who has both the potential and capabilities of becoming a luminary in this new era.

What would you advise Leaders today when creating and building teams?
Getting Personal Leads to Cohesive Unity

Have a clear discussion with your team about what everyone expects out of one another from both a behavioral and functional perspective is crucial. Ask each team member, "What do you feel is the value and contribution that you can bring?" Being open and vulnerable towards one another is what will establish the sort of enduring relationships that can last, even in the most turbulent of times. When a team can hold themselves and each other accountable for their collective outcomes, they have the ability to overcome any changes or challenges that will inevitably pop up. Don't be afraid to dedicate a large chunk of time towards defining who your team is, what its true purpose is and how best it functions, because this is what will lead to and allow for unity and cohesion within. Once a team is able to understand what they're all working towards, it becomes easier to recognize one another's strengths and what each team member is able to bring to the table.

With this in mind, holding a team retreat or some similar experience that is led by an outside facilitator surprised me in more ways than one. Without a neutral facilitator present, your team might not be willing to share as much as they would otherwise. A nervous moment was when I was asked to leave the room so my team could discuss what my strengths and weaknesses were as a leader. After what felt like an eternity (but was really a mere five to ten minutes), I was asked to come back into the room to join everyone else. To this day, I still value the feedback I received which ranged from "valuing transparency" to "allowing for communication where failures and mistakes are open for discussion only to make the team that much better." Once a team is able to get real and personal with one another, it then becomes possible to discuss the value of the team and its agenda. Defining the team's true aspirations allows for lucidity even in the murkiest of sandstorms and once a clear purpose has been established, valuable time is not wasted on that which doesn't align with the team's mission statement. I would encourage keeping Team Days with your team sacred and meeting with them regularly as this is what encourages the breaking down of barriers and the building up of trust in one another.

Once you have the right people, the journey doesn't stop there. What can you recommend for the path onwards in sustaining a winning team?
Getting Out of the Way While Still Being Amongst Them

Now that a clear connection has been made, your team has the confidence to sustain on its own. Driving accountability is no longer a requisite role that needs to be tended to on a daily basis because the team itself is holding one another accountable. However, I advise not mistaking "getting out of the way" with being disengaged, disconnected or impersonal. In another words, don't be disconnected delegators!  I have seen so many leaders assign challenging goals providing little to no guidance or coaching, leaving their team to struggle in silence, when it can be an excellent opportunity to help compound on ideas and further expand the capability of their talent. 

The purpose of a leader is to support and empower his or her staff, not vice versa, and that stems from first and foremost, being amongst them. Through being amongst my team, the team's expectations for me changed. I began to have much more awareness of what was actually happening, which gave me the capability to understand and eventually even foresee a problem that needed to be addressed and resolved. Being able to see what's lurking around the corner gave me greater foresight into managing roadblocks before they bubbled up into something disastrous.

I thoroughly enjoyed jumping on calls and working alongside members of my team to help guide, enable, uplift, support and, most importantly, empower them in any way I could throughout potential conflicts, instead of merely ordering them to "go fix it". Being a part of my team also allowed me to develop a greater sense of empathy for them. I became more concerned with providing honest feedback and taking the time to coach them with continued education inside the office. I am still always in search of better, more improved ways of finding new solutions and thinking outside of the box and am hesitant to pass up on any opportunity to learn something new if I believe it can assist with further developing the team's collective skills. Recognizing your employees and their achievements will boost their energy and increase the level of passion they have towards their work in a way that is both infectious and gratifying for the entire team.

And passion is so incredibly important. It resonates with both customers and colleagues. So in summary, if leaders remember nothing else, what message would you like them to take away?

The first step is to find the right people. After you've found the best team ever, get honest and personal with one another. Once relationships have developed and a clear purpose has been established, let each member of the team play his or her role but don't forget to remain among them in order to provide support whenever needed. This was how I came to be a part of the dream team and instead of feeling like a flattened helium balloon, it gives me great joy to let you know that I, along with my previous team, can say with courage and certainty that we were soaring high, even during the most wayward of storms.