Building your team

Dec 04, 2022

While you undoubtedly have other responsibilities, one of your primary roles as a leader is assembling, maintaining, and motivating your team.

Your job as a leader – whether that is for the entire company, an office, a department, or a design team – is all about building your team. While you undoubtedly have other responsibilities, one of your primary roles is assembling, maintaining, and motivating your team.

Unfortunately, unless you start a business with a clean sheet of paper, you are bound to inherit some or all of your team members. So, many times you have to work with the people you have – or at least largely do for some period of time – until the timing is right to move some new talent into your team. That’s not always a bad thing. You may think you know the character and capabilities of someone based on limited exposure to them and their track records, but then again, you may not. Sometimes you have to work with people for a while to appreciate all they bring to the team – or to learn about their negative behaviors that hurt the team. So time – if you have it – can be a good thing.

My experience is that it helps when you, as the leader, really get to know the people who work with you (and “with” is an important word, because no one wants to work “for” someone else!). Working alongside them is the best way I know how to do this. Too many managers think they are above doing the actual work of the team and when they have that attitude, problems will develop! Or, they are under the impression that doing the actual work of the business is not the best use of their time, because they have the misconception that they should be full-time managers. You build trust and respect when you show you are willing to do any job that needs doing yourself. It also helps you figure out what individual people are best and worst at doing.

By the same token, you also have to get to know your people as just that – people. We all carry our personal baggage into the workplace. I know I did. Leaders who don’t elevate themselves above everyone else find this part of their job easier than those who do put themselves above everyone else. So you’ve got to be willing to avoid some of the trappings of success at times, at least in my experience. Those trappings could be as simple as having a private office with a closed door that has an admin person posted outside who functions as a guard keeping people away from you. Or maybe it’s your reserved parking spot. Things that separate you from everyone else will create barriers when it comes to getting to know your people.

Some people who work for you will seek out your mentorship. It has to be a mutual thing. Mentors and mentees can’t be assigned. Don’t play favorites, but at the same time, be willing to put extra energy and time into those who really want to learn from you. Effective leaders are mentors. I have found mentorship and the relationships I developed with certain people to be one of the most rewarding aspects of management over my lengthy career in this industry.

Much like a coach of any sports team, you have to constantly be on the lookout for good people, and when you meet them, be willing to take a stab at recruiting them. This could happen at professional or trade group meetings, events at your kid’s school, or any number of other places. Some people feel self-conscious about recruiting. I never did. I always felt like we had a good company that a motivated and caring person could do well in, so I took a shot. You have to believe in what you are selling and I never worked anywhere I didn’t believe in. Even though I am retired from the business, I still try to get my best students working as interns or entry-level employees at the company today and there are a number of them working there as a result.

Dysfunctional or disruptive people have to be dealt with or they can ruin morale. That, for me, was always one of the least pleasant aspects of my job as a manager and probably one of my greatest failings. No one really enjoys having to tell someone what they are doing that is negatively impacting other people, yet it is sometimes necessary. Best to confront it early versus later. Approach it from the spirit of caring. You are trying to help that person. Yet be honest about how their behavior is hurting them and others. Keep your emotions in check – also easier said than done, but necessary. This is a critical role in team building.

Always be working to equip your people with the skills they need to move up. You want everyone on your team to be ready for their next role so when a vacancy occurs for any reason there is someone there to step into their job. I’m a big fan of promoting from within. The older I get the more I appreciate how critical this is. Outsiders often take too long to get up to speed when hired in as managers. They don’t know the people and the culture and it takes time to figure that out. If they move too quickly they get shot in the back. If they move too slowly they get nothing done. My first preference is going to always be looking for someone who is already there for a management role and I will only go outside when absolutely necessary.

I have never been a fan of “team building” exercises or forced company get-togethers as team building exercises, although I do think certain attributes of people may come out in the course of doing these things. You can see how social people are, and occasionally leadership qualities in people who aren’t managers may evidence themselves. Some business owners swear by them.

So think about it. Can you do more than you are now to build a better team around you? If so, you had better get on it – now!  

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at

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About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.