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October 5, 2022

Build a Team that doesn't Need You

It can be scary to step away from work.  

For many leaders, the prospect of stepping away seems like a lose/lose situation:  What if things fall apart without me?  What if things go well and the necessity of my role is called into question?

The truth is this:  your team should be able to run for a period of time without you.  Strategic leaders are not focused on the day-to-day or week-to-week workload.  Strategic leaders build for the next year and beyond, and set quarterly milestones to achieve those longer-term objectives.  Day-to-day decisions are made in consideration of long-term objectives, short-term imperatives, and any business-specific nuances that may apply. 

Stepping away from work, whether that’s for a true, unplugged vacation or a family leave, allows you to see exactly how well your remit functions without you. 

  • Have you shared enough context and perspective with your team such that they approach problems in a manner consistent with your team or company values?
  • Have you shared enough access and information with your team so that they have both the relationships and the institutional knowledge necessary to move initiatives forward in your absence?
  • Have you built processes that are not contingent upon any specific individual?

Fear may drive a leader to build a team that needs them by hoarding knowledge, relationships, and decision-making authority.  If you find yourself unable to disconnect for fear that things will fall apart in your absence, it probably means that you need to share:  share information, share context, share relationships, and share opportunities.  Thought partnership across all levels of an HR organization is key to building a strong, well-informed, and collaborative team.  As an HR team builds trust and becomes increasingly familiar, the whole organization benefits from a higher degree of cohesion and consistency in their engagements with HR.

Millennials like myself who began careers amid the Great Recession were imprinted with deep, lasting recollections of job scarcity.  Strong, healthy companies made layoffs, rescinded offers, and scaled back perks and even benefits.  It is natural in the face of such uncertainty for anyone to become focused on themselves.  However, as leaders, we need to push past our own fears and attempts at self-preservation and offer steadiness, support, and access to those around us.  The results delivered by maintaining a confident, open, and collaborative environment will serve as the best career safety net. 

What better way to express that confidence than to have enough trust in your team to hand over the reins for a while?  We owe it to our companies, our colleagues, and to ourselves to build teams that don’t need us.

Black and white headshot of Maureen Cawley, Senior Vice-President, People, Saatva

- Maureen Cawley, Senior Vice-President, People, Saatva

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