Eight Executives Offer Their Best Advice on Building a Team of Go-To People

Posted 09.14.2021

Last week, I ran a poll on LinkedIn on one of the biggest things I coach executives about – making the shift from being the go-to person to building and leading a team of go to people. When I asked, “Which works better for you? Being a go-to person or building a team of go-to people?”, 84% of the respondents answered building a team of go-to people.

Not surprising necessarily, but how do you do it? I’ve shared my own ideas over the years in blog posts and in my book The Next Level, but since I don’t have all the answers, I decided to ask some of the leaders who are focused on building teams of go-to people for their best advice on how to do it. Eight of them answered and, collectively, they’ve come up with a great list of steps to take for any leader who wants to build a team of go-to people.

Here’s the best advice from each of the eight executives on how to build a go-to team:

Create a Safe Environment

Step one is to create a safe environment for the team. Holly Kortright, Chief Human Resources Officer for Navy Federal Credit Union explains what that enables:

“Build a safe environment where everyone can bring their full and true selves to the team. Then coach the team to find best solutions by embracing dynamic tension and bold creativity.”

Make the Roles Clear

As Cynthia Horner, M.D., FAAFP, the Medical Director for telemedicine leader Amwell, explains, ensuring role clarity is the “secret sauce” of building a go-to team:

“Building a go-to team requires empowering and energizing people with the right skills to work together. We have to start with people with content expertise, availability, and great communication skills, then given them clear authority to DO the work and respond to the ask without needing heavy oversight.  But the secret sauce is in helping them know HOW to work together efficiently and effectively. Each person should have a clear understanding of their unique role in the group and what others bring as well. This allows the team to leverage the specific strengths of each member without the frustrating overlap and weird politics that inevitably arise when this understanding is missing.”

Be Patient

One of the challenges of making the shift from go-to person to the leader of a go-to team is being patient while your team gets up to speed. Here’s what Cara Streb, Chief Operating Officer of Take 2 Consulting has learned about how to do that:

“Coach your team, trust they are doing their best, and support their failures. Teach them to fish. Don’t do their work, guide them through the process. While it might take a bit more time in the beginning, they will become more confident in their own talents.”

Keep It Real

Another important step is keeping it real with a “no divas” rule. Leigh Chaney, Corporate Director of CAMC University at Charleston Area Medical Center describes it this way:

“Build a team who understands that great work comes from the recognition that no work is beneath you.”

Don’t Settle

If building a go-to team was easy, every leader would be doing it. Brian Schools, President and CEO of Chartway Federal Credit Union explains why you shouldn’t settle for less as you build your go-to team:

“Building a true go-to team is not easy, so my first piece of advice is not to settle or the “go-to” part really won’t ever transpire as the underlying belief and trust isn’t there.  When you feel that trust, you’ve got the team.  Then the team, including yourself, needs to have an agreement that you will grow together.”

Fight for Them

And just when you thought you were out, they drag you back in. What do you do when your colleagues and customers keep coming to you instead of your team members? As Terry Chu, General Counsel of MPOWER Financial has learned, sometimes you have to fight to get people to work with them instead of you:

“Sometimes, I had to put my own reputation on the line in order to convince someone to let someone else be the performer. Sometimes I had to just say no (and put up with a lot of whining or, worse, end runs around my authority). Using a fighting analogy, creating and managing a high performing team is not a genteel activity; it’s a contact sport. If you’re not willing to be actively throwing elbows and creating conditions of success for your team, then get out of the fight because everyone will be unhappy, both your team members and your clients/customers.”

Remember, It’s Not About You

In building go-to teams, Maureen Finn, Learning and Talent Development Executive for global pharmaceutical company Takeda focuses on where her focus should be:

“For me, it’s a few essential ingredients: 1. Trust 2. Respect 3. Support 4. Empower.  In addition, make everything about them and not about me!”

Put Them in the Spotlight

Picking up where Maureen left off, Michael Keeton, Director of Data and Analytics for Barclays U.K. looks for opportunities to put the spotlight on his team:

“Don’t always feel the need to be the front man when presenting to senior leaders. Give your team the opportunity to front up. It develops them and also signals their capability to others.”

Which of these nuggets of go-to team building wisdom resonates the most with you and why? What lessons have you learned that you’d add to this list? Please share your thoughts in a comment if you’re reading this on LinkedIn or send me a note if you’re reading this directly on the Eblin Group blog.

If you liked what you read here, subscribe here to get my latest ideas on how to lead and live at your best.