Cultivating Your Team

The month of October always takes me back to my roots. I grew up on a farm in Kansas and we still work some of the same ground my great-great grandparents homesteaded in the 1800’s. This weekend I am taking off my facilitator hat and putting on my farmer hat and headed back to Kansas to help my family bring in the annual corn crop.

Corn harvest is a busy time in western Kansas. Corn grows over the summer and is usually dry enough to cut the beginning of October. Before that time comes, farmers and their families get the combines, trucks, and farm grain bins ready for the big event. We hope for warm, dry weather during the harvest season as it helps dry out the corn and tests best under these conditions. I play a support role during harvest and one of my tasks is to drive the semi full of the harvested corn to the grain elevator. My kids, nieces and nephews all take turns riding along in all of the different machinery, from the combine to the tractors and the semi. Having them along gives me a chance to teach them about work ethic and the experience of being a part of something bigger than they are.

When I relate farming back to Leadership I often think about how essential it is to cultivate your team. As leaders we are always planting seeds of knowledge and experience for personal growth for our team members. We also have to consider the climate of the team and organization as a whole to see if the current conditions will foster any kind of growth. Sometimes the results are predictable, and sometimes they surprise us.

High-performance teams do not result from spontaneous combustion. They are grown, nurtured and exercised. It takes a lot of hard work and skill to blend the different personalities, abilities, and agendas into a cohesive unit willing to work towards a common goal.

Let’s take a look at the word Cultivate and relate this back to Leadership:

Cultivating-verb, Cultivate: cul.ti.vate 

  • to prepare and work on (land) in order to raise crops; till.
  • to promote or improve the growth by labor and attention.
  • to develop or improve by education or training; train;
  • to promote the growth or development of (an art, science, etc.); foster.
  • to devote oneself to (an art, science, etc.).
  • to seek to promote or foster (friendship, love, etc.).

Here are 5 foundations to cultivate your team and a positive work climate.

  1. A harvest comes from good soil. Create a healthy atmosphere where good people want to come and make good things happen. Set your team up for success by providing them with the resources they need.
  2. Communicate. If a compelling purpose is the engine that drives the team, communication is the oil that keeps the engine well-lubricated. Fail to lubricate the engine, and it will lock up. So, too, will the team fail without effective communication.
  3. Create a purposeful approach to understanding and coaching team members. Doing so will allow them to achieve peak performance and shine as a team. One of the greatest benefits of leadership is being able to leverage the rich ideas and problem solving skills of all team members, not just your own.
  4. Develop common goals that people can commit to. Winning teams thrive in an environment where they can unite behind a common and compelling purpose, a cause everyone can understand, identify with, and commit to. Ideally, these goals should be developed by the team members, as this tends to create ownership, buy-in and commitment. One of the pre-requisites of a healthy team is that it is usually necessary to make a commitment in order to reap benefits. A farmer does not get a good harvest unless he or she has cared for crops through bad weather, pests, and droughts.
  5. Encourage and empower every teammate to succeed. Believe in them. You hired them because they possess certain skills, knowledge, and experience, so let them do the jobs you hired them to do, believing that they will do their best. Remember, performance mirrors expectations.

It is always a pleasure to be in the presence of people whose vision is success and excellence. You didn’t have to grow up on a farm to cultivate a great team, but you can definitely grow one. Hopefully these foundations will plant a few seeds for your own personal growth and learning.

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