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A team is only as good as its people

Article provided by Discovery Business Insurance.

Sizakele Marutlulle has over 23 years of experience in the business leadership, brand building and people development. Here are her insights into building the best teams.

Sizakele says building a team should start to look like a script from a Hollywood movie.

“You have to think about where everybody fits, because if you don’t balance talent, attitude, temperament and life experience, then you’ll only have a group of people who work together but don’t necessarily like one another. If people can’t jam together, it’s always going to feel fake. It is always going to feel hard,” she says.

Secondly, she says organise people according to their strengths. “You know, the person who is good with admin, don’t ask her to take a chance at copywriting. I have found that what really works is to ask people what gets them excited, and see whether the role you have, will contribute to sustain that level of excitement.”

But she warns, it isn’t always fun and games. “You also need to have an honest conversation – that work isn’t always about excitement. There’s the piece that’s called the grind, and I want you to show up for that as well. So, I make a commitment that says, ‘I will invest in you as long as you show up for yourself.”

People who can show up for themselves are those who want to go above and beyond. “You’re also looking for people or whom integrity is important. Have a values conversation. When we’re recruiting, we are so focused on the role, we don’t have a conversation around values. Values are how you and I will succeed or not succeed,” she says.

Sizakele says it is a group ethos which people rally around. “People talk about the ‘Microsoft way’ or the ‘Apple way’ or the ‘Google way’ and we giggle at those things, the ‘rah rah’ stuff, but having people gather around a unifying mantra is a very powerful way of creating stickiness as a team,” she adds.

Get it right from the get-go

“It’s easier for you to then filter who fits and who doesn’t fit, to save both parties the pain of having to divorce much later down the track. You want to be certain that a team member has the same level of commitment getting there, and getting there the right way, whatever the ‘there’ is for that team,” she says.

“The other part that is really important is that the people who stay are the ones who focus on the giving. Because the getting will take care of itself. So, when someone enters a role and says, ‘This is what I can contribute’ that’s how much more persuasive engagement for me to have rather than ‘So, what is this role about?’  You know, ‘I’m on 300 now, can I get 400?’ If that’s the conversation we’re having, then you and I don’t belong together.”

Leadership – the quandary

She adds that leaders must be careful around star talent. “Some leaders struggle with star talent, and how do we keep them at the expense of offending everybody else. It’s a dangerous thing to do because what happens is that star talent starts to believe he or she is untouchable, right? So, she doesn’t rock up on time, she doesn’t show up for the rehearsals, she just does what she wants because somebody told her that this agency is built on her creative talent,” says Sizakele.

She likens this scenario to parenting. “Sibling rivalry is not because you and I don’t get along, it is cause our mother treats you differently than she treats me, and thus, leaders can also breed this thing we call colleague rivalry. We have to be mindful in how we lead and how we reward and how we praise to balance things out.”

“Kenneth Blanchard talks about situational leadership, because you can’t lead people the same way. There’s a person who receives feedback in private and if you ever gave them feedback in a public setting, they would feel outed. There’s somebody else who receives feedback in writing, versus in person because in person, it feels harsh. So, it’s just about saying ‘How might I lead?’ Create the environment where the feedback can be received as it is intended.”

Key takeaways

Sizakele says that the key to developing a good team, is to remember teams are made up of people. “I believe in the Human Operating System. That it trumps everything.  Automation has no compassion, automation has no imagination. I honestly believe that there’s always going to be a role for the human being, because that trumps the doing. Where I think we may have a lot of work to do is in helping one another remember that technology helps with contact, right? But relationship helps with connection. And relationships can only happen at the human level.”

She says this is particularly important regarding feedback on a technological level. “That is what we lose when all we do is just trade on contact. Connection allows for me to contextualise what I‘m saying, what I’m asking for and how I’m giving you feedback.  I see a lot of people saying ‘we can work off site, we can Skype, we can zoom, we can do all these fantastic things’ but there is a joy to coming into the room. Because on the phone, even when I am on video with you, you could never sense my energy, you can only sense that when we’re in the same room together. And that’s the gift because energy travels but also energy helps fuel whatever it is, we’re aiming to achieve.”

Diversity is critical – but is it what you think?

“Diversity presents an opportunity to look at a whole picture. But I have a different take on that. I challenge leaders to look beyond just diversity, into inclusion. Cause here’s the difference, Diversity could be twelve different coloured crayons in a box. But inclusion is every crayon has a chance of being used, when you’re mapping out a canvas. And that’s where we need to go to, so it’s not ‘I’ve got twelve different coloured crayons’ no, it is ‘every crayon has a fair chance of being integrated into this wonderful piece of work that we’re creating as an agency,” says Sizakele.

She adds that diversity comes from many areas. “It is gender, it is class, it is education level, it is all these other dimensions that come to bear when you and I meet in the world of work. Commit your heart to it. Don’t do it as an exercise but also, people function at the level of your expectations, if you think I will soar, of course I will. If you think I will flunk, of course I will, because energy travels,” she says.  

The 15-episode Healthy Business Show is brought to you by Discovery Business Insurance. Listen to the full podcast episode, ‘Get the right people on board’ with Sizakele Marutlulle below.

Discovery Business Insurance is a proud Partner of the NSBC