Why Stretch Opportunities are the Lifeblood of a Kick-Ass Team

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This post is part of a series on the 5 Keys to Building a Kick-Ass Team.

What does it mean to stretch? We hear phrases like “stretch goals” and “stretch opportunities.” But, what are they and why do they matter?

I’ve always enjoyed coaching and developing others. Maybe it started when I was a kid running my own tutoring company. Then and now, I’ve enjoyed investing in others and helping them reach their goals. However, the goals we set for ourselves don’t always rise to the heights of our true potential. That’s why team members benefit from moments that push them out of their comfort zones and challenge them to be better, more effective versions of themselves. Those moments are stretch opportunities.

When I met Tafadzwa Mahlanganise, she was a college junior studying economics. I was interviewing her for an internship with my consultancy, Afara Global. As is often the case with interns, the plan was for Tafadzwa to help out with basic tasks like secondary research and social media posts. As she proved to be quite sharp and resourceful, I thought it would be great to set goals that would really push her over the course of the internship.

I wanted to set goals that took advantage of her skills in economic research and analysis. After some discussion, a white paper on energy sector privatization in African countries seemed like a natural choice. Beyond words on paper to be filed away somewhere, I saw an opportunity for Tafadzwa to test her skills while elevating her profile and building her confidence through professional quality work product. To do that, Tafadzwa not only produced a report built on sound analysis and supported by first-hand experiences in her home country of Zimbabwe, but she also crafted an easily digestible article for mainstream consumption, and got it published by an online publication.

When she was a senior preparing to graduate and launch her career, Tafadzwa thanked us for the internship opportunity and shared how it had given her the kind of substantive experience she needed to be competitive in job interviews. Fast forward three years later and Tafadzwa is doing even higher caliber economic research and analysis for the International Monetary Fund here in Washington, D.C.

Stretch opportunities are the workouts that keep team members strong and nimble. From interns to senior executives, we all benefit from stretch opportunities. If you’re not providing your team members with stretch opportunities, you could be both missing out on their full potential and allowing their existing strengths to atrophy.

Takeaways

  • Beyond helping team members reach their goals, help them set new goals they may never have pursued on their own.
  • Tailor stretch opportunities to team members’ skills and interests.
  • Showcase team members’ accomplishments by highlighting them to as many others as possible.

What about you? What are the stretch opportunities you’re most grateful to have had? I’d love to read your comments below.

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