BUILDING ELITE TEAMS
“I never said it would be easy…I only said it would be worth it…”
If you have been on a team that was firing on all cylinders and performing at an elite level, then you have experienced something magical. The synergy between teammates, the accountability, mission focus and sense of indomitability pervades the culture. Team members are fulfilled and look forward to coming to work and even working harder than ever before. All are happy, healthy, motivated and getting shit done. The elite team conquers seemingly insurmountable tasks with apparent ease. Life is good.
Unfortunately, this scenario is not very common, and all too often we find ourselves struggling to get along on a mediocre team. Mediocre, or common teams, have these traits:
- The teammates are diverse and the lack of commonality of experience is not addressed through an acculturation process to bring them into a common view. Instead the diversity is applauded, even though it leads to decrease performance standards as the team gets dumbed down to the lowest common performer.
- Teammates are randomly selected, or are on the team by default. Thus there is no sense of “specialness” amongst the teammates.
- Teammates are not all committed to self-mastery. This results in some holding themselves to the highest standard, while others have no standards at all. One bad apple spoils the bunch.
- The mission is ill defined and lacks a punch. It is hard to get fired up to “charge the hill” as a result.
- The organization requires endless reports and meetings of the team and leader that the focus and energy of the team is diffused by senseless management fluff.
- The organization’s risk aversion has led to a culture of “can’t do” rather than “can do.”
- The organization is habituated and aligned in “the way things are always done,” thus the team leader lacks the tools and support to allow flexibility, which leads to innovation. There is simply no room for creative expression on the team
As we discussed in the Authentic Leadership lesson preceding this one, most leadership theories are either a series of traits and behaviors or a “grand strategy” such as Servant Leadership. In these theories the focus is on the leader’s skills, competencies, traits and behaviors. Conventional wisdom tells us that great teams exist as the result of a leader embodying the classic horizontal leadership tactics. This awesome leader is a forceful personality who does things right – he or she defines a powerful vision for the team, establishes a SMART mission, and develops a set of sound team values. Then he or she prepares a strategic plan that captures the objectives in a chart and timeline. They are doing it right – and truly believe that these activities are foundational to taking the team to the top.
The mission statement and values are framed and placed in the lunch room for all to see. The strategic plan is published, circulated, and then led. The team is full of optimism upon forming and embarking on the mission but soon they are storming and blundering along as the differing values, lack of accountability to the team and shirking responsibility of the unspecified, yet implied tasks begins. The team’s demise is a slow death, and the leader is deemed a failure. A new leader is then selected and this scenario is played over and over. What is missing? The reality is that elite team performance is more complex than most admit. A team is a collusion of individual “selves” acting in concert to achieve an organizational mission in the context of the organizational systems, structure and culture.