Six Factors for Building a Team

May 1, 2008
To lay the foundation for a winning team, begin by putting the fundamentals in place.

I'm hearing more and more from executives about needing teamwork in the workplace. Everyone wants to participate on a winning team. Executives always want to talk about the great things their team is accomplishing, but few understand the basic foundation of a solid team in the workplace.

The following six factors are the first priority any organization should focus on and support when looking for better teamwork among their staff.

  1. Purpose

    What is the purpose of the team? Imagine a football coach telling his team, “It doesn't matter if we win or lose, as long as the fans feel like they got their money's worth.” No coach I know will charge up his team with those words of encouragement, yet executives often tell their staff, “We need to maximize shareholder wealth, and save money and we will do whatever it takes!” Where is the buy-in from the team in either of these statements?

    The purpose of the team as a whole has to be in line with what the team members want as their purpose for belonging to the team. If there is a disconnect at this basic level, then the team is not going to be driven for success. Be sure to align your team and your teammates with a singular focus and purpose before you try to decide what success looks like.

  2. Challenge

    The basketball team is up by 27 points with four minutes left in the game. A player commits his second serious error in the game in the last 18 seconds, and the coach has an absolute fit in front of the bench!

    “What's the point?” you may wonder. “The game is won. So what if the player slacked off a bit and decided to get a little sloppy?”

    The reason the coach got upset is because he understands a fundamental aspect of mental preparation for winning: being challenged.

    Great teams in sports or the workplace are constantly challenging themselves to be better. Once a little coasting is acceptable, it becomes a habit, and that habit will grow unchecked. New studies are showing that “casual Fridays” have actually had a negative impact on productivity. The message received by employees for this casual day was that Friday is a quasi-weekend day, and we can coast a bit.

    Challenging your team doesn't mean setting unrealistic goals, and it doesn't mean pitching a fit (which are frowned upon in the workplace). It means you have standards of excellence and you strive to achieve those levels of performance at all times. It means constantly looking for opportunities to coach and develop your teammates, pushing them to challenge their own performance and to raise their personal abilities and capabilities.

  3. Camaraderie

    It's the first day of practice and the coach has the entire college team sitting in the auditorium. The seniors are in the front, then the juniors, and on back to the freshman. Starting at the front of the auditorium, each player stands and says why he is glad to be on the team and shares a few bits of information about his personal life. These aren't glib comments; this is “to the core” sharing with teammates.

    “I'm proud to be playing for this team because I have learned how to win, be excellent and have self-discipline. With my college education that playing on this team provides for me, I hope to get a good job and one day be able to buy my mom a house. I'm here to win and respect my teammates because I know I can't win alone.” And, it goes on from there.

    Why do coaches do this? It creates camaraderie because the teammates know what's important to each other. There is a raw vulnerability that is shared in these sessions that helps people find bonds with their teammates.

    In business, we think time is money, so we don't take the time to build camaraderie in our work force. Great teams are great teams because they understand the importance of investing in people. If people don't take the time to know each other, how are they ever going to work as a team? Executives set the tone. Take a lunch with all of your managers and have a sharing session like I just offered. Then create mentoring opportunities to build the newer or less experienced managers' skill levels and help them fit into the team.

    As the old saying goes: A hand with five fingers when pulled together can create a very powerful fist. Pull your team together and increase your power as a team.

  4. Responsibility

    In the game of basketball, success occurs on the court when the players accept the responsibility of their roles on the team. The point guard is responsible for running the offense, the tall guys are responsible for taking down rebounds, and the coach is responsible for keeping the players focused and working together. Gosh, if basketball and work could really only be that simple, but I think you understand my point. Without individuals accepting their responsibilities, success will not happen in any aspect of life.

    Responsibility breaks down into three steps:

    A: Defining Responsibility

    Many organizations fail to have basic responsibility definitions in place; therefore, people are confused about who should be doing what, when and how. Do you have up-to-date job descriptions? Have you clearly spelled out who is responsible for what tasks down to the smallest detail? Have you developed the people to succeed at those responsibilities?

    B: Accepting Responsibility

    Once the responsibilities have been clearly defined and articulated, the “players” must step up and accept the responsibility. A basketball team can have the best dribbler, and the player can be extremely successful in getting the ball down the court, but if he also loves to shoot the ball and never passes to his teammates, he hasn't accepted the responsibility of leading the team on the court and getting everyone involved in the offense. How many managers do you have in positions of responsibility who are stuck in a “lone wolf” mode and would rather do it all themselves rather than incorporate the team? A manager must accept the responsibility of building and incorporating a solid team, or otherwise you don't really have a team performance.

    C: Following up on Responsibility

    Responsibilities have been clearly defined; your players have accepted the responsibilities given to them so now you can go home and assume everything will go as planned, right? Not in any organization I've been involved with. Without proper follow-up, people may forget, misunderstand, or have conflicting responsibilities. Without the follow-up component, there is no clearinghouse for questions, guidance in tricky situations, or assurance that you are on the path of success. What follow-up procedures are in place in your organization? Do you need more? Are the ones in place giving you the follow-up results you are looking for?

  5. Growth

    Team growth is critical to lasting success, and sometimes you have to grow out of pain and loss. In fact, some of the best growth comes from disappointment. Bitter defeat can be debilitating, or it can be a lesson and an opportunity to escalate your team's ability. When you have a “losing” month, or lose a critical contract opportunity, are you the manager who growls and pouts, or are you the manager who is looking to teach growth following adversity? No one in the business world gets a free ride of everyday success; it's the mistakes, errors, and abject failures that possess the greatest power to teach. Take the opportunity to be proud of accomplishments while teaching from losses and your team will grow exponentially in its future success.

  6. Leadership

    Is it any wonder the same coaches bring the best teams to the tournament time after time? When coaches move from team to team and take moribund programs to speedy success, it isn't a lucky coincidence: It's what I call the Law of Leadership.

Whether talking about a college basketball team, or Google, or XYZ Inc., the leadership defines the culture and success of the team. The jury in the trial of Bernard Ebbers, the fallen chief executive of WorldCom, sent a message to corporate America that an “I didn't know” defense was unacceptable. The message was loud and clear: If you are in a position of leadership, it is your responsibility to know what is going on within your team, regardless how large your team is.

Leadership is not a title; it is an earned position that comes with tremendous responsibility. Great teams succeed with great leadership. Evaluate your leaders in your organization. Are these people the type who could lead most any team to success, or do you have some leaders who are simply occupying a position of authority, with the company's success predicated on the success of the other teams in your organization? Now you need to exercise your leadership and decide how you want to strengthen your team.