A company’s failure to grow results from one of three types of weaknesses: (1) Investment in insufficiently appealing customer propositions; (2) Poor or erratic delivery of the proposition; or (3) A limited pipeline of new growth options and ideas.

For most businesses, the greatest focus tends to be on the first and second issues: in most companies they receive at least 99% of management attention. The third issue – the development of a robust pipeline – frequently gets put on the back-burner. Managers recognise its importance, but are quickly distracted by other, more urgent issues.

This approach is short-sighted. A key differentiator between high-growth and low-growth companies is the level of engagement people have in developing new growth, as well as in delivering this year’s numbers.

An acid test of your leadership is therefore your ability to induce your teams to pursue and deliver against your longer-term growth objectives. Here are five golden rules for effective team development that I’ve observed in high-growth organisations.

  1. Create A Shared Challenge. The challenge to the team must be clear, ambitious – where’s the challenge if it isn’t – and time-constrained. When JFK famously declared in 1961 that the USA was going to put a man on the moon he didn’t say that this would happen sometime, but would happen by the end of the decade. Similarly, you must not only say what you want but also by when it must be achieved.
  2. Play To Each Individual’s Strengths. One of the many lessons I’ve taken from Walter Isaacson’s excellent biography of Steve Jobs is how Jobs repeatedly built teams around the individuals, not the other way round. Key players were hand-picked and allowed to focus on the areas where they could make the biggest contribution, rather than having to carry out tasks at which they couldn’t excel. So, rather than creating generic job descriptions and then finding people with the best overall match, focus solely on the critical skills you need and then find individuals with those unique strengths. You can always find other ways to compensate for any weaknesses they may have.
  3. Let The Team Decide ‘How’. As leader, it is your job to set and articulate the challenge and the goal. As far as possible, however, you must let the team decide how the challenge will be achieved. This generates the level of involvement, ownership and commitment necessary for success through the inevitable ups and downs of any initiative.
  4. Ensure A Focus On Action. I have yet to see a successful high-growth team that spent all its time developing and polishing plans and seeking others’ approval to implement them. On the contrary, all the successful teams I’ve encountered have focused on action, often starting small, with trials and prototypes, before developing larger-scale solutions. This cycle of action and learning creates the momentum and pace for sustainable growth, rather than looking for an illusory ‘silver bullet’ solution.
  5. I Win, You Win; You Lose, I Lose. The essence of any team ­– whether in business, sport or another field – is that it stands and falls together: either the whole team wins or the whole team loses. Teams fall apart when some individuals can still succeed when others are failing. Bonuses and incentives should therefore be based solely on team performance. Not only does this keep everyone focused on the overall challenge, but it also encourages team members to hold each other to account.

Which of these rules do you follow, and which have you missed? And do you think there are other critical steps to take? I’d love to hear your comments – just click on the box below.

© Stuart Cross 2012. All rights reserved.