How co-creative leaders build capacity on their teams

How much do you focus on building capacity for yourself and the people around you? What are some of the areas that you need to help your team build capacity on?

Steffan Surdek
June 3, 2020
Build capacity on teams

In my first articles of this series, I introduced you to the five skills of co-creative leadership. When people ask me to name the key traits of a co-creative leader, I usually list the following five skills:

  1. Being a voice among many in the conversation
  2. Unleashing the leaders around them
  3. Building capacity on their team
  4. Dancing with the system around them
  5. Encouraging learning by doing

This article will explain the third key skill, which is how to build on your team's capacity.

Let's talk about capacity.

Think back for a moment to the last time you started a training program at the gym or even at home. How did it feel when there was too much weight on the machine? How much did you struggle to do the exercise?

Think back to a few weeks later after going to the gym lifting the same amount of weight. How did it feel at that point? Did you struggle as much or did regular exercise and repetition help make it easier? How does returning to this same weight a few months later feel?

Building capacity on your team is pretty much the same thing. There are things people on your team are currently good at doing and others that they struggle with. The more you allow them to learn and practice something new, the more they build capacity doing it.

Build capacity on purpose.

Many times, I see leaders working with their teams and taking center stage in discussions. How often do you do this with your team? Why do you do it?

I often hear that leaders are doing this to help their teams move faster. They tell me that if they don't do it, the discussion will spin around in circles. Can you see the real problem here? The team is not building capacity to have useful conversations.

Building capacity takes time to do. It can also be challenging because it can show you your own limits. For example, if you struggle being a voice among many in a conversation, how can you teach this to others?

To build capacity on your team, you first need to see and accept what it can and cannot do. You need to choose that in some situations, you will allow things to take more time to allow people to learn.

Make your intention clear.

When you are trying to build capacity, you may find it useful to make this explicit with the team. Make a clear statement that this is a learning experiment to practice doing something and it may be ugly.

For example, imagine you are trying to teach your team to do a brainstorming session together. Tell them upfront that you are trying something different and explain what will be different. Invite them to take part with an open mind, and make some time at the end to discuss how things went.

Another way to do this is to speak with some team members beforehand to get their support. You may want to do this to feel less alone. The idea is to build capacity so you don't set traps for people by being unclear on your expectations.

Structure can help create focus.

Let's go back to our workout example for a moment. When working out, there is a routine you are trying to put in place. You can build capacity in a similar way at the start. When the team faces a new type of problem, guide them around how they want to solve it.

For example, when I run a problem resolution session with teams, I like to use this basic structure:

• What problem are we trying to solve?

• What are the facts and impacts of this problem?

• What are the potential solutions?

• Based on all the above, how do we want to address the problem?

By framing the discussion in this structure, it helps the team learn to work together. They know a bit more about what to expect from one another and what will happen next. The idea is to provide them with a container to have their discussion and let them fill in the content.

The more they use the structure, the better they get at doing it and the more problems they can solve together. The idea here is for your team to develop new habits together.

Practice building capacity on yourself.

The best advice that I can offer you around building capacity is to practice on yourself. Did you learn a new tool in a training course? Really practice using this tool on yourself. What did you find easy using the tool? What did you find more difficult? What adjustments do you need to make to be able to use it effectively?

By practicing on yourself, you will be better able to help others around you use the same tool. I can hear you saying, "But using this tool will take time!" Yes, and your team will have the same excuse at one point for you. So what will you tell them? What benefit do you see in using it?

When you practice on yourself first, you are also setting an example for your team. If they see you practice and value building capacity, how could it impact them?

As a leader, your role is to help your team grow and learn new things. You may forget to do this when you get caught up in your usual day-to-day routine, but you still need to do it. This is in the nature of co-creative leaders because it helps unleash the people around them.

How much do you focus on building capacity for yourself and the people around you? What are some of the areas that you need to help your team build capacity on? What are some of your favorite ways to build capacity?

This article was originally published on in November 2017.