As the coach of a championship-winning sports team, your goal isn't just to rally a group of talented individuals but to transform them into a cohesive unit that consistently outperforms the competition.
Being an effective leader isn’t much different. The journey requires that you assemble complimentary skillsets, foster camaraderie and establish a shared vision. In this article, I'll explore the core principles that guide high-performing teams and provide some steps that can help you build and nurture these world-class teams within your organization.
High-performing teams thrive on a shared operating principle and vision where each member's skills are not only unique but also carefully chosen to build off one another.
Imagine a marketing team entrusted with launching a new product. Within this team, you find a dynamic mix of analytical, creative and administrative skills. Analytical members bring data-driven insights, using market research and customer data to shape strategies. Creative members infuse innovation into advertising campaigns and design, ensuring the product resonates with the target audience. Administrative members excel in task coordination, guaranteeing that timelines and budgets are met.
As a leader, your role is to recognize and harness these complementary skills, bridging any gaps that may arise. This collaborative approach ensures the team operates as a cohesive unit that deliver exceptional results.
I find that the most high-performing teams are the ones who genuinely care for each other, taking their relationships further than mere respect. This mutual affection and camaraderie create a bond that transcends the workplace, fostering an environment where team members are not only colleagues but also friends who deeply care about each other's well-being and success.
This fondness can have a profound impact on organizational success, helping foster trust, fearless idea exchange and robust problem-solving. Teams grounded in these values tend to be more resilient and capable of overcoming challenges and adapting to change.
This environment in turn motivates team members to go the extra mile, understanding that their efforts contribute not only to the task but also to the well-being and success of their colleagues. Ultimately, while skills and shared vision are essential, it's the presence of mutual respect and genuine fondness that propels high-performing teams to their zenith.
I believe that General Stanley McChrystal's book, Team of Teams, provides a compelling example of how fostering trust, transparency and respect among team members led to greater adaptability and success in challenging situations. McChrystal's transformation of the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) during the Iraq War serves as a testament to the power of collaboration and mutual respect.
In McChrystal's case study, he details the shift towards a "team of teams" approach. By breaking down silos, increasing transparency and encouraging cross-functional collaboration, JSOC became more agile, responsive and adaptable.
As a leader, when I recognized that I couldn’t do it all, I was able to focus on creating world-class teams—clusters that work together and separately to meet business goals or solve tough problems.
For a business to both scale and persevere, a CEO must choose to stop leading people and start leading through them. Leading people is the equivalent of being a team captain while leading through people is the equivalent of being a coach.
In 2021, during a dangerous winter storm in Texas, I lost communication capabilities for 48 hours. Fortunately, I knew I had leaders at various touchpoints who were able to make critical decisions in my stead. PR teams initiated a crisis response, operations teams mitigated risk to properties and cared for the safety of residents, legal teams put insurance carriers on notice and HR teams conducted head counts to ensure everyone was accounted for. As simple as it sounds, everyone just did their job. This is the essence of leading "through" people—ultimately working to break down silos, increase transparency and encourage cross-functional collaboration.
To help you apply these principles, here are actionable steps for building and nurturing high-performing teams:
I recommend that you start by thoroughly analyzing the specific skills and expertise your team needs to succeed in its tentpole objectives. Craft job descriptions and qualifications that precisely align with these needs. In interviews, focus on probing candidates for their unique skill sets that complement those of existing team members. Encourage candidates to provide examples of how their skills can enhance the team's collective capabilities.
You can utilize role-play scenarios or practical assessments to gauge how candidates' skills would integrate with the existing team. Finally, consider a candidate's potential for growth and adaptability to ensure that they can continue to complement the team's evolving needs over time.
For effective communication start by distributing clear meeting agendas before team meetings that helps ensure everyone knows the discussion topics and objectives. Encourage team members to actively contribute by inviting their input, opinions and ideas during meetings. You can implement collaboration tools like project management software and messaging apps to facilitate real-time communication and streamline document sharing.
Finally, through deliberate actions, foster a safe and respectful environment where team members can freely express their opinions. You can lead by example by openly sharing your own challenges and vulnerabilities as a leader, demonstrating that it's safe for others to do the same.
Look to provide training in conflict resolution and constructive feedback techniques to help team members navigate disagreements and provide feedback effectively. You can also schedule regular one-on-one check-ins between team members and their supervisors to facilitate open dialogue.
Building a high-performing team is not a one-time effort but a continuous journey. By embracing principles like complementary skillsets, effective communication, genuine respect and the creation of a safe space for honesty, leaders can set their teams on the path to becoming world-class units. As Henry Ford once said, "Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success."