The Magic Words That Make Teams Work

Have you ever wished that effective leadership were only a matter of saying the right words at the right time? While it’s never quite that simple, there is a tried and true formula that can help your team pull together and succeed.

What are these words? According to Daniel Coyle in his book The Culture Code, they are:

“I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them.”

While they may seem fairly straightforward, these words actually send three different messages simultaneously. They indicate that the receiver is a valued member of the group, that the group is special because it holds itself to high standards, and that the deliverer believes the receiver to be capable of meeting those high standards.  

In order to be successful, individual team members need to feel that it is safe to take risks. Teams are founded on a sense of belonging, and the foundation of belonging is security. At the same time, individuals need to be capable of receiving and responding to criticism. One of the greatest challenges of team leadership is balancing the necessity of giving negative feedback while still maintaining a sense of security.

Teams also need to feel like they are working towards a common goal that is greater and more valuable than any individual. By highlighting the fact that your team is working towards something important, you remind each member that what they contribute helps the team get closer to that goal. It also reinforces the shared values that brought you all together in the first place.

Whether you work at a nonprofit organization or in the private sector, it’s important for leaders to reinforce core values, security and belonging. Without these elements, a team is just a group of individuals. By sending the message that the team is something bigger and better than each individual person, you motivate them to push themselves a little bit further. Over time, you will start to see a higher level of performance.

Have you ever tried this “magic formula”? Was it successful? What strategies do you use to motivate your team? I’d love to hear from you. If you’d like to start a conversation, you can reach me via my website, LinkedIn and on Twitter.

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