Building Capacity In Others as a Co-Creative Leader

As a leader in your organization, what are your limitations around building capacity in others? As a leader, what do you teach your peers, subordinates or teams the most?

Steffan Surdek
January 30, 2017
Leaders build confidence

Early in my years as a consultant and change agent in organizations, I noticed a pattern I like to call “the Moses effect”: When I began consulting engagements, there were times where it was almost as if the waters parted upon my arrival, so that the change we were working on could happen.

The problem was that as soon as I walked away, the waters returned to their original bed. I wondered for the longest time why this was happening, and one day the answer came to me. I was not building the capacity in the people that would allow them to sustain the change we were making.

In another article, I shared that co-creative leaders work in collaboration with others; they build on the strengths of others and what they have to say. They are a voice among many in conversations, and not just a voice that tells others what to do. Because of this, building capacity in others is another key skill for co-creative leaders since it is the fundamental ingredient for working together productively. So let’s explore this idea of capacity in greater depth.

What Is Capacity?

When we look in organizations, we can answer this question in different ways. There is the capacity of individuals or the capacity of a team — or we can even scale this notion all the way up to the organizational level.

We can distill the notion of capacity to the skills, knowledge and abilities of an individual. When we scale up to the team or organizational levels, we actually gain some additional capacity by mixing the skills, knowledge and abilities of different individuals.

The more capacity we build in people, in teams or in organizations, the more resilient and the stronger they can become.

Why Should We Focus On Capacity?

I see many managers who make requests from their teams and get frustrated when they do not get the results they expect. One of the many reasons for this is the team (or the person fulfilling the request) may not have the capacity to do the task.

I work with many teams that are learning to become self-organized, and many managers seem to forget this does not happen magically. The team is at a certain maturity level; members of the team often do not know what’s expected of the as a self-organized team. More importantly, though, even when they understand what it means, they may not have the skills to get there.

Instead of getting frustrated by this, it is important for leaders to understand what their teams are capable of and help them learn what is needed of them. Leaders need to be able to take the perspective of their employees to better understand what is going on, as I wrote about in this article.

How Do We Build Capacity?

As leaders, when we realize that our teams lack capacity, it becomes our responsibility to help them acquire it. The challenge is that there are times where their lack of capacity actually points to a lack in ours. So how can we help?

Here are some ways to help individuals and teams build capacity:

  • Leading by example.In the cases where it is something we know about, as leaders, we can help point the way by doing it for the individual. Once they have that understanding, we can start doing it in collaboration with them and gradually let them take over.
  • Pairing people with others.There are times when the best way to learn is just to pair people together. This is a slight variation on leading by example as you may not be involved.
  • Training and certifications.Training does not make you an expert right away, but at a minimum, it does provide a good base of knowledge from which to move forward.
  • Support from a coach.By default, the role of a coach is to build capacity in people and teams. Depending on the size of your organization, you may be able to find support internally, or you may need to find an external coach as well.

Why Is This Important For Co-Creative Leaders?

Understanding how to measure and build capacity is key for co-creative leaders because they need to have the skills to help their teams learn how to collaborate better together.

Instead of getting frustrated because their teams are struggling to align on a solution, the co-creative leaders can sense what is happening in the room and help people work through it. I know many managers who will storm out of a room or get impatient and take over if the conversations seem to be going nowhere.

Groups of people need to know that some things are normal as we learn to be a team and play together. They need to know how to overcome it, as well, to reach a different level of collaboration.

As a leader in your organization, you have a strong influence on others around you, whether you recognize this or not.


Being able to recognize the capacity of individuals, teams or even your own organization is a key skill for leaders. We need to recognize the lack of capacity not as a failure but as an opportunity to learn and discover something new.

As leaders, in those moments where we may get impatient when people are not doing things right, we need to also remember that we are accountable to help them build capacity. That takes patience, willingness and the ability to teach others.

Building capacity also involves encouraging and allowing people to try new things, experiment, and even fail quickly, so they can learn from their mistakes.

As a leader in your organization, what are your limitations around building capacity in others? As a leader, what do you teach your peers, subordinates or teams the most?