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How do you build your team into a well-oiled machine? Use the Terrace Strategy.
From the sub-tropical hills of Vietnam to the steep mountainsides of the Andes, from the breezy Canary Islands to the vineyards of rural Italy, you’ll find beautiful, picturesque, step-like fields called terraces. Typically used to grow rice, wheat, barley, and many other crops, graduated terraces are an ingenious farming adaptation that have been used for thousands of years, allowing farmers not only the ability to grow crops on steep hillsides, but to use gravity as a natural mechanism for irrigation.
As rain falls from the sky, little by little, water makes its way down, nourishing every step, and every crop evenly.
No wasted nutrients. No crop left untouched.
With steps cut into the earth, what would normally have been seen as unusable land suddenly becomes the perfect environment for a vibrant agricultural economy.
Terracing, as it does for farming, also happens to be most effective approach for a leader to build a high-level, cohesive team. Remember, you are not a hierarchical leader. No one person on the team is more entitled than another. However, you are a territorial leader, and you know that within the territory, there will be different levels of skill, talent, enthusiasm, and optimism. Life is like a box of chocolates, as Forrest Gump would say, and your team is no different. You have to find a way to bring the best out of every single member of your team, no matter how diverse, no matter how distinct, no matter how far the gap is between the best and the worst members of your team. The Terrace Strategy allows for these fundamental differences to work together in harmony. It allows each member of the team to feed off of each other.
Picture your team as a terraced farm. As you water the highest levels, the nutrients and water spill over or filter down to the lower levels. Similarly, the highest performers on your team will often motivate others to step up. This is a straightforward, top-down approach. By recognizing high performance, you call attention to the kind of performance you expect, which serves as a guiding light for everyone else to strive for.
But the beauty of the Terrace Strategy in leadership, unlike farming, is that it’s not subject to the laws of gravity. You can make it work the opposite way as well. In fact, it is most effective when it works the opposite way—bottom-up.
You will inevitably have underperformers, people who lack confidence overall, or people who have failed in a particular task and as a result, have become unsure of their abilities. In most cases, they will lack the awareness and the resources to recover on their own, and you will need to step in and give them a spark.
Every member of your team is there for a reason: you see potential in them. You understand that where they are is not where they are destined to be. So if you truly believe in your people, the best remedy for low performers is to move them up a level. Give them more responsibility. Put them in charge of something within their capabilities. And when they inevitably succeed, they will have the confidence to take on more. Keep moving them up, one step at a time to prevent overwhelm. Eventually, as they encounter more and more friction, you will begin to understand the difference between their lack of confidence and lack of capability. If your people don’t believe in themselves, show them that you, the leader, believe in them. An opportunity for redemption is all someone who lacks confidence needs.
Your team doesn’t need to have a problem in order to benefit from the Terrace Strategy. The magic happens when you can see every single person with the belief that they belong on the next step. Groom them, train them, develop them, and teach them before they even think they are ready. If every single person on your team feels empowered to move to their personal next step, you will have a team of motivated people.
When everyone feels nourished, when everyone is growing together, and when no one feels excluded or left behind, they begin to feed off of each other’s energy. Like a terraced farm, each step nourishes the next. No wasted nutrients. No crop left untouched. With the Terrace Strategy, even the most unusable land can become a fertile farm, and the most disparate of teams can form a cohesive, high-performing unit. Trust your people to perform a step higher than they believe. You will be rewarded, your team will be rewarded, and each individual will be rewarded with confidence, self-belief, and the motivation to achieve more.
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