Creating Conditions for Team Success When Conditions Aren’t Optimal

Good leaders inspire confidence in themselves and their abilities. Great leaders inspire confidence in the team and their collective contributions. Great leaders also inspire enthusiasm among the team members to exceed their normal performance level in order to reach a common goal.

In order to create an optimal environment for success, leaders must be able to do all of these things and more. This article will discuss the four essential leadership actions necessary to cultivate healthy and productive conditions for teaming. Of course, these actions may be applied to nearly any scenario, however, with respect to the topic at hand, they can provide a solid foundation for learning and execution practices within the workplace.


Frame the situation for learning

Framing is an important leadership action that facilitates a behavior change and promotes teaming through learning. As a leader, it is crucial to understand how this action shapes the team’s views, particularly its purpose and the member’s respective roles in achieving the desired outcome. The relationship between positive framing by the leader and the successful outcome of a goal is directly related. This necessary action provides context and influences how members of the team work together with one another. It can be the difference between success and failure, which is why it is vital that leaders create a clear and compelling purpose that unites and inspires team members.

The successful framing of any situation requires a defined leader, a skilled team and a motivating purpose. Each role plays an important part in reaching the desired outcome and determining which actions is most beneficial for forward movement. Below is a short description of each role and its purpose within framing for learning:

  • The leader is an expert and visible spokesperson responsible for communicating awareness of a crucial performance gap and able to create a compelling vision based on a new direction or initiative. It is crucial that this role convey its interdependence on the team for a successful outcome. The leader must frame the situation in a way that promotes full participation across the team. As the leader, remember to ask for assistance, listen to feedback and learn from your own limitations.
  • The team consists of skilled support staff hand selected by the leader. Each team member must possess the intellectual and emotional commitment to the project. This is accomplished by the leader, as they are responsible for conveying the value and skill set each individual brings to the team. By framing the team’s contributions as integral to success, the leader is able to build motivation and commitment across the team.
  • The Purpose is an aspirational or defensive objective, typically focused on solving a particular problem. As a leader, it is important to provide a compelling reason as to why the team exists. This allows team members to understand the context upon which their expertise and skill set will be utilized. In order to create a truly motivational purpose, the leader must communicate the connection between the teaming effort and the overall objective of the project.

At times, it is necessary to change the framing of a situation or project. Doing so isn’t easy, and it requires a level of self-awareness that not all leaders possess. To change the frame to promote learning and improvement, leaders must recognize their own self-protective behaviors and understand how those actions can inhibit the process. Actively working to transition to a learning frame requires the successful implementation of the following activities:

  • Enrollment: Let employees know that they have been specifically chosen for this project.
  • Preparation: Hold a team-building meeting to discuss the current state and collect ideas.
  • Trial: Envision and enact the process in a way that provides insight for the team.
  • Reflection: Learn from the trial process and make adjustments for the next iteration.

Make it psychologically safe to team

Great leaders do not see employees as a means to an end. Rather, they see financial success as a tool to help grow their employees.

Psychological safety is the solid foundation upon which organizational effectiveness and financial success are built, which is why it is crucial that leaders focus on creating trust and respect within the workplace. A safe environment provides many positives for organizations, such as higher levels of employee engagement and overall better performance outcomes. When employees feel emotionally safe, they often seek out more learning opportunities and are motivated to expand their respective roles on the team. This type of positive environment also mitigates image risks such as being seen as ignorant, incompetent, negative or disruptive.  

The following actions can help promote psychological safety:

  • Put others first: Take care of your team first and put their needs before your own.
  • Create a safe zone: Develop an environment focused on trust and respect.
  • Lead by example: Demonstrate the qualities necessary for the team to excel.
  • Be inclusive: Encourage input and invite team members to participate.
  • Set boundaries: Express clear guidelines about what is acceptable.
  • Promote accountability: Hold team members accountable in a fair and consistent way.
  • Acknowledge shortcomings: Display humility and encourage the team to learn from mistakes.

When team members feel psychologically safe, the collective output of the group is both intrinsically fulfilling and financially profitable. As a leader, this is one of the most crucial steps towards creating an environment where employees can learn from failure without fear of judgment.

Learn to learn from failure

To create an environment of learning, leaders must learn to shift their thinking about failure. The first thing a leader must do is realize that failure is inevitable. They must also understand the two primary reasons failure occurs in a team environment: technological and interpersonal challenges.

New technologies and change processes often require a new skill set, and groups assembled from different backgrounds and disciplines can create interpersonal challenges. Understanding the primary reasons failure occurs while teaming, helps leaders develop the appropriate learning opportunities to combat such failures.

Because learning from failure is an iterative process, leaders should treat each failure as an opportunity. To do so, it is important to create a culture of learning by employing these three core organizational activities:  

  • Identifying (detecting) failure: Proactively identify failures through feedback.
  • Analyzing failure: Review and discuss all possible causes and effects while distinguishing between fault and failure.
  • Deliberate experimentation: Strategically create failure for the purpose of learning and innovation.

There are strategies for learning that leaders must combine with each core organizational activity in order to motivate employees to embrace the difficult and emotionally challenging lessons revealed by failures. These strategies require openness, patience, a tolerance for ambiguity and a spirit of curiosity — by both the leader and the individual.

Employ these strategies to identify failure:

  • Create a support system for identifying failure. Make it safe for employees to go to leaders and peers when unsure.
  • Don’t shoot the messenger. Maintain psychological safety.
  • Encourage access to data by soliciting feedback.
  • Reward failure and potential failure detection.

Employ these strategies to analyze failure:

  • Analyze process improvement techniques.
  • Create teams with diverse skills and expertise to identify potential failures.
  • Statistically analyze complex data to figure out all contributors to the failures.

Employ these strategies to encourage deliberate experimentation failure:

  • Make it safe to experiment often.
  • Reward experimentation and failures.
  • Use terminology that breaks down the interpersonal challenges of learning to learn from failure.
  • Create more smart or intelligent failures.

We would like to thank Whitney Lane for this post, Click Here to check out her website!


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Sinek, S. (2014). Leaders eat last: why some teams pull together and others don’t. Kbh.: Nota.