Lead By Example and Watch Business Thrive

Build a strong staff by practicing transparency, compassion and a willingness to work in the trenches.

By Krista Popowych
Aug 25, 2016

Successful managers want to build a strong team; it’s part and parcel of good leadership. If you surround yourself with people who are happy, focused and motivated, everything else seems to fall into place. It’s also enjoyable to see others succeed while you do, and a winning team begets a winning facility.

So how do you develop and nurture a successful team? You’ve probably worked with enough teams during your career to have a sound understanding of what is and isn’t effective. For example, good communication is paramount. If you keep staff in the dark about key policies, you’ll never build trust. Feeling valued works, while feeling unappreciated creates disillusionment. Opportunities for camaraderie and contribution keep a team focused, whereas a lack of these drags everyone down.

In this article, we’ll discuss how to build a team by using strong communication, valuing each team member and providing avenues for empowerment.

Get Started

You may have been promoted into a leadership position at your fitness facility as a natural progression of your contributions there, or you may have been hired from outside the club. Regardless of the route that got you where you are, or how large or small your staff is, team building is grounded in knowing who is on your team. Jill Wattenbarger, MHA, the group fitness manager of four Health First Pro-Health & Fitness Centers in Brevard County, Florida, follows this tenet. “When I took over a large team, I met with instructors to get to know them and to learn a bit more about their personal lives.”

If employees feel that the manager cares and is interested in them, they’ll be more committed to both the team and the leader. “During my meetings, I find out what would make their jobs easier, and I reiterate that I am readily available if they need me,” says Wattenbarger. This type of management support is fundamental to building a strong team.

Share Your Vision

Communicating a vision is essential. As the manager, you may have a goal or a plan in mind, but timing is everything. Use a strategic approach when communicating your goal. Suzette O’Byrne, recreation manager at The Glencoe Club in Calgary, Alberta, decided to take her time getting to know her team and sharing her vision. “It’s incredibly important to understand culture, identify strengths and investigate why someone may have done something a certain way if you want to win people over,” she says. In her case, it worked. O’Byrne advocates being very patient up front, because, she says, it makes a huge difference in the long run.

Belle Dale-Wills, the regional director of operations for Crothall Healthcare in Vancouver, British Columbia, concurs. “Be a good student,” she says. “Come in with a can-do attitude, but be open to learning. Do not try to fix or change things right away.” Dale-Wills also feels it’s valuable to learn from your team. Before implementing any changes, assess what works and what doesn’t.

Set an Example

As a leader, you may feel as if you’re living in a glass house. Your presence, mood and actions are always on display. Therefore, it’s important to set a good example, both in words and in deeds. If you want to build respect, you must be prepared to get your hands dirty. Your team needs to see that their leader is willing and able to do every job in the facility, regardless of what it is. Wattenbarger exemplifies walking the walk and talking the talk. “It’s important to be a positive role model and practice what you preach,” she says. “Always let your team see you in the trenches—be a sub, take classes and offer feedback.” Communication is also imperative. Managers must be good communicators and, on the flip side, even better listeners.

The Team Roster

A team can have many disparate personalities, so it’s crucial to determine how best to manage the individual. O’Byrne says one of her biggest challenges is dealing with “strong personalities that don’t realize how they sabotage others.” This is especially true in an industry driven by outgoing, outspoken and ambitious leaders. “Often it’s a hidden lack of confidence that leads to this action,” says O’Byrne.

It’s essential to build and support everyone’s strengths and to realize how each person contributes to the team. A hockey team that’s made up of only superstar forwards and no defensive players probably wouldn’t win the Stanley Cup. A winning team needs all its players on the ice—including a strong offense, defense and goalie. Create a diverse team, and ensure that each individual is given an opportunity to shine.

Value Your Team

When employees are polled about what they want most in a job, praise and recognition are at the top of the list. A request for more money generally comes into play when an employee isn’t happy. Stave this off by recognizing your team’s efforts; it goes a long way toward building a strong team. If giving praise and recognition isn’t natural for you, make a concerted effort to correct that. Mark your calendar and recognize each individual monthly for a job well done. Write a note, send an email or make a phone call. The power of a kind word goes a long way.

Conversely, what do you do about the team member who isn’t contributing to the team goal? “Listen,” says O’Byrne, “and find out what [that person’s] frustrations are.” When Wattenbarger needs to deal with a challenging team member, she has a one-on-one meeting to determine if something in the employee’s personal life is affecting performance. “I never want to make assumptions or jump to conclusions,” she says. “I express my concerns and hope that the two of us can work together to develop a plan moving forward.”

Successful Staff Meetings

Meetings can be an effective tool for team building, but only if they’re executed correctly. O’Byrne finds meetings valuable if they have a focus. “[Meetings that focus on] team building, goal setting and planning all let people be a part of something, but an unproductive meeting seems to make negative individuals even more frustrated,” says O’Byrne.

A meeting agenda that points out only the mistakes or that highlights unrealistic sales targets will not end well, and positive staff uptake will be minimal at best. When planning a meeting, try a three-step approach:

  1. Encourage networking. Order food, invite staff to mingle, highlight team successes and offer rewards for team and individual successes.
  2. Provide fitness education. Empower staff, and keep them on point with new tools and tricks of the trade that will help them in their roles. Make the education relevant—and for greater impact, hire a guest speaker.
  3. Create engagement. Encourage staff to participate and share their feedback. You may have a goal or an outcome already in mind, but let the team think they came up with it. Brainstorm strategically.

Lastly, make sure the team understands the long-term goal or vision. As Dale-Wills points out, a successful meeting includes action items that have “who” and “by when” commitments. Devise an action plan, and communicate it to the team.

Make It Fun

No one wants to belong to the “boring club.” Team building is also about having fun! Camaraderie involves working toward a goal in meaningful and enjoyable ways. We are social beings, so it’s of high value to provide social opportunities to staff. Dale-Wills, for example, generously hosts parties at her home and organizes picnics, river-rafting trips, rope courses and more. Her goal is simply to get the team together. “I schedule team-building events and social activities often,” says Dale-Wills. “I like to recognize and share team members’ accomplishments.”

Team building is not a new concept, yet it’s invaluable to an organization’s success. Staff achieve goals faster, turnover is reduced and the work environment is more positive. The best teams are made up of a diverse group of individuals who bring various opinions, skill sets and experiences to the table. Your job as leader is to draw out individual talents with communication, praise, recognition, opportunities for growth and a spirited desire to see people excel. Team building is as much about strong leadership as it is about individual members. Happy people breed more happy people.

Managers Share the Most Important Component in Team

“Be an authentic leader, support your team and let people grow at their own pace.” —Belle Dale-Wills

“Hire instructors who have great customer service skills, a strong work ethic and a passion for what they do.” —Jill Wattenbarger, MHA

“Identify the strengths and skill sets of each individual. Empower and help others to share and utilize these strengths so that they feel like part of the team.” —Suzette O’Byrne

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Managers Share the Most Important Component in Team

“Be an authentic leader, support your team and let people grow at their own pace.” —Belle Dale-Wills

“Hire instructors who have great customer service skills, a strong work ethic and a passion for what they do.” —Jill Wattenbarger, MHA

“Identify the strengths and skill sets of each individua

Krista Popowych

Krista Popowych

Krista Popowych inspires fitness leaders, trainers and managers around the globe with her motivating sessions. As the 2014 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year and a three-time (2016, 2008, 2003) canfitpro Canadian Fitness Presenter of the Year, Krista has shown an outstanding commitment to fitness. She is Keiser’s global director of education, as well as a Balanced Body® master trainer, JumpSport® consultant, DVD creator, published writer, Adidas-sponsored fit pro and IDEA Group Fitness Committee member. She loves to inspire others through education and movement, and her energy, creative sessions and real-life approach to instructing and training make her a highly sought-after presenter.

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