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“by Pam Wickham,”

A strong team is the product of smart hiring, strategic training, simple respect and a ton of trust. Building a strong team is hard work, but the payoff is immeasurable. Here are a few techniques I’ve picked up in my efforts:

Hire as a team
A strong team requires the right people — not just good people, and not just qualified people — but the right people. I’m talking team players. When interviewing candidates, put them face-to-face with members of your staff — men and women, younger and older, junior and senior. For the candidate, it’s an early sign of how much teamwork matters at your organization. For your team, it reinforces their sense of ownership and sends the message that their thoughts matter.

Cross-train everyone
A strong team is packed with people who can step into each other’s roles when the need arises. Not only does cross-training make your team stronger and more agile, but it teaches empathy. Trying someone else’s job is the best way to learn how hard it really is. Most importantly, it eliminates the burden that comes with only one person being able to perform a certain task — a huge source of stress and a major morale killer that ruins vacations and drives people to come in on sick days.

Let them grow
A strong team never stops improving, and that starts with valuing your talent. Know what your people do well, and call on them to do it. Know what they need to improve, and help mentor them. Know where they want to go, and help them get there. Fight the urge to keep talented people in their positions. The more people you send off to bigger things, the more you’ll see good candidates knocking on your door.

Invest in them
A strong team delivers outstanding work, and outstanding work warrants recognition. Celebrate your team’s successes. Do it in small ways — a simple “thank you,” or coffee and donuts the day after a deadline. Do it big: Show their accomplishments to senior management, and give credit where it’s due. Above all, provide opportunities for promotion and career growth.

Set them free
A strong team deserves to break free and shine, and it’s up to the coach to give them the chance to do their best. Encourage employees to take on “stretch” assignments outside their normal responsibilities. Nominate lower-level employees to lead team projects. Good team members will find it rewarding to succeed at something new, and they’ll develop skills that will serve them — and the team — in the future.

In the end, it takes tremendous focus and a long-term commitment to create and nurture a strong team. By building an atmosphere of trust and respect, where employees are enabled to do their best and recognized for their hard work, you can create a foundation for success that provides real value for your organization.