Sometimes without meaning to, we categorize “team development” as a one-off task to be completed by a coach or facilitator of some sort. We see it as a point-in-time exercise rather than an ongoing practice that’s woven into everything we do. And as a result, we often fall far short of where we want our teams to be in their development.
So, how can organizations move the needle on this to achieve their goals?
Create a structure for team development
Professional development doesn’t happen by accident. Long-term personal growth requires intention, resources, and commitment. And for growth to happen across the organization, it has to be encouraged and initiated across the organization. The group leaders must step up to set the expectation and be role models for their team.
By building this sort of growth into the big-picture vision for the organization, leaders can clearly and effectively communicate the importance of the initiative and their commitment to it.
You can start by providing resources for professional development, to include webinars or training videos, workshops, executive retreats, and more. Individuals are far more likely to prioritize growth when the organization sets the example.
Companies can provide funding for learning, but they can also set the expectation that employees spend time on professional development and give flexibility in what that means for each individual. Whatever the case, employees should have time in their normal workweek earmarked for learning. These steps clearly communicate the importance the organization puts on this initiative while also providing a cost-effective and engaging option for team members.
Next, create a structure to help individuals through the process of finding a mentor. Individuals need to find a good mentor for them, someone who can offer encouragement as well as constructive feedback. This may not be (oftentimes should not be) their direct supervisor. And in fact, this mentor could be someone in a different part of the organization or even at their own level inside the company.
If you don’t have enough great mentors inside your organization to meet the needs of your team, you may need to look to outside resources and coaching organizations.
Third, create guidelines and practices for developing the mentor-mentee relationship. A coaching relationship needs to have guidelines and expectations to be truly successful. Both parties will need to agree on a time commitment as well as a minimum duration of the engagement. You may need to provide expected outcomes and suggested activities to your mentors to ensure that meetings are focused and productive.
Talk about it all the time
Sometimes organizations start out with new initiatives, like an organization-wide coaching engagement, then allow it to fade as business demands grow and distractions creep in. While great mentors will generally continue to engage with their proteges, even they may find it hard to prioritize those meetings when the company gets quiet on the subject. Further, those who most need mentoring may not see the criticality of it in relation to their big-picture goals.
This initiative needs to be talked about in companywide emails, in team meetings, and in regular one-on-one meetings. Team members need to see that it isn’t going away and that doing their best to learn from a great mentor is part of their job responsibility. Employees should never be in doubt of the value the organization is putting on their mentoring time.
Remember that not every mentoring relationship is going to be a home run, however. And you might not have the plan down pat. Give participants the opportunity to provide constructive feedback on the process and even express concern about the value of a particular mentor-mentee relationship.
It’s okay to make changes as you go, and in fact, an overly rigid approach may limit the benefits. Course correction is a great way for your leaders to be role models to their team, setting the standard for adjusting plans and expectations when it’s the right thing to do.
Model it consistently
Leadership team development will not happen in a vacuum. To create an environment of continual learning and development, you’ll want to model a coaching culture where every achievement is a celebration and every misstep an opportunity for support and growth.
When your team sees learning, helpfulness, and constructive feedback at the core of every interaction, they’ll begin to see the true value of mentoring, both formally and informally. They can identify role models within the organization who set the standard for positive engagements and helpful advice and leadership.
Personal growth and true professional development very much require a “talk the talk and walk the walk” approach in your organization. Every member of the leadership team must be committed to the goals and willing to invest the time for personal growth and to help others grow. They must meet their own commitments in both roles of the mentor-mentee relationship.
Teams who embrace a coaching culture and make professional development a priority learn to work better together and get more done. Even organizations tackling significant changes and hardships have the potential to come through these situations with greater commitment and improved performance if they focus on the growth potential.
For example, Coastal Farm and Ranch engaged executive coaching to foster leadership development and guide them through acquisition and all the challenges that came with it. By committing to this endeavor at the top level, they showed their team how important it was and won over even the most resistant, with their HR Director celebrating that through mentoring they “laid the groundwork for future success.”
The Bottom Line
Most experienced business leaders acknowledge at least at some level the criticality of ongoing leadership and team development and the value of mentoring within the organization. But while people are quick to recognize the positive impact of coaching culture on the team, executing that sort of program takes a full, leadership-wide development and must be core to the organization’s DNA.
Leaders can’t be thrown off-course by changes in the industry and the organization. Rather, they will need that very development to help them weather those storms. Only by executing consistently and committally can organizations create, implement, and maintain leadership programs designed to help them move beyond the tyranny of the day-to-day and reach their strategic goals.