This October, two long suffering Major League Baseball franchises – the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs – met in the World Series. Many of the stories centered on the leadership of the front offices and especially the managers who built and guided those teams: Terry Francona and Joe Maddon. Articles like “World Series 2016: Why Joe Maddon vs. Terry Francona May Be Series' Best Matchup” appeared constantly in the days leading up to the Fall Classic.
The same great leadership that built those World Series teams is the same great leadership needed to build great teams in business. Leaders who are not afraid to course correct, make the difficult decisions and establish standards of performance that are constantly being met – and improved – at all times. Most of all, whether in the workplace, the sports field, or your local community, team building requires a keen understanding of people, their strengths and what gets them excited to work with others. It requires the management of egos and their constant demands for attention and recognition – some of it unwarranted. All this makes teambuilding both an art and a science and those who master both have the track records to prove it.
In sports, the late John Wooden set the standard for great coaches, leading UCLA to 10 NCAA national basketball championships in a 12-year period, seven of those in a row. Wooden’s even created his own “Pyramid for Success” to help others excel through his iconic wisdom. In business, Jack Welch, the former Chairman and CEO of General Electric is just as iconic. The company’s value rose 4000% during his tenure and by 2006 his net worth was estimated at $720 million. In 2009, he launched the Jack Welch Management Institute at Strayer University to help educate future leaders.
As you evaluate the sustainability of the teams you lead and its real impact on the organization you serve, here are three ways those and other leaders built their successful teams:
1. Be Aware of How You Work
You must be extremely aware of your leadership style and techniques. Are they as effective as you think? How well are they accepted by the team you are attempting to lead? Though you may be in charge, those who work for you may not appreciate how you work. Evaluate yourself and be critical about where you can improve, especially in areas that will benefit those whom you are a leading. You may have good intentions, but make sure you hold yourself accountable to course-correct and modify your approach if necessary to assure that you’re leading from a position of strength and respectability.
2. Really Get to Know the Rest of the Team
Much like you need to hold yourself accountable for your actions to assure you maximize performance and results, you must make the time to get to know your team and encourage genuine rapport – not manufactured fun but real relationships. In my “emotional intelligence blog,” I discuss the importance of caring, understanding the needs of your team and embracing differences and helping your colleagues experience their significance. To do this requires real people intelligence and learning what defines their strengths and capabilities of your team – the real assets that each member brings to the table, those they leave behind and those yet to be developed. You fully know your team and have invested the time to understand how they are wired to think and what is required to motivate them to excel beyond what is expected from them. That’s how you know exactly what buttons to push and when to push them. You are expert at activating the talent that surrounds you and equally as effective at matching unique areas of subject matter expertise and/or leadership competencies to solve problems and seek new solutions.
3. Define Roles and Responsibilities Cleary
When you successfully complete step two, you can then effectively and clearly define the roles and responsibilities of those on your team. But here’s the rub: You’ll often find that people’s ideal roles lie outside their job descriptions. Each of your team member’s responsibilities must be interconnected and dependent upon each other. This is not unlike team sports, where some players are known as “system players,” meaning that although they may not be the most talented people on the team, they and everyone else knows how to work best within that “system.”
This is why you must have a keen eye for talent and can evaluate people not only on their ability to play a particular role but also on whether they fit the workplace culture (the system) and will be a team player. For example, I once inherited an employee who wasn’t very good at his specific job. Instead of firing him, I took the time to get to know him, and we discovered his natural talents as a strategic facilitator who could keep all of the moving parts within the department in alignment and in lock-step communication. This person helped our team operate more efficiently and saved the company money by avoiding the bad decisions they previously made because of miscommunication. He was eventually promoted into a special projects manager role.
In the end, managers must operate their teams as mosaics in which their unique strengths and differences convert into a powerful united force. That’s what great managers do: They use their innovation mentality and find like-mindedness in people through their differences and leverage that to generate strength and growth.