Welcome to Part 1 of a 3 part series: “The Essence of a High Performing Team”

You have heard about great teams, and you see them from time to time. Pundits attribute a great football team’s success to the magnificent coach and his system, or to the star quarterback.  In business, many leaders consider themselves “coaches” and want to possess that magic ingredient that allows them to get the most out of their teams.  There is not a leader among us who doesn’t wish we had a super star performer, or two or three, on our team. The fact is, leaders I run across in business are struggling to get the most out of their team. Some are doing a fair job, but only one or two have proven themselves to be great leaders as measured by the engagement and results of their teams.

The fact is you don’t have to be a brilliant and motivational coach to have team success.  Similarly, you don’t need a superstar to achieve team success. What is it then?  What is that magic ingredient that can take my team to the next level?

Team Accountability. Bill Belichick, legendary New England Patriots Head Coach, states that the key to success on a team is having every player know his job, and motivated to do his job because he doesn’t want to let his team down.  That is it. No brilliance in that statement. No superstar in that equation.  Knowledge of their jobs and how it serves the team, and motivation to have their teammates’ backs.

So how does a leader build ‘Team Accountability?’ It is not easy, and doesn’t happen overnight. It starts with helping your people learn to be selfless instead of selfish.  Human nature makes us selfish.  You wake up in the morning thinking about yourself, your life circumstances, what is worrying me, what I can do to make myself happier, what I need to do to succeed.  Selfishness is endemic, part of our nature.  Leaders are facing the selfishness of the individual, because like it or not, each person is out for his or her own survival.  I am not saying that every team is faced with mutinous self-serving behavior. What I am saying is that top performing teams have figured out how to take and turn the selfishness into selflessness.

A good leader knows it starts with each individual and his or her needs. Great leadership plays to selfish behaviors.  If you can’t beat selfishness you may as well join it. One on one individual meetings with each direct report is the breeding ground for these incredibly important conversations.  What is keeping you up at night? Where are you at in your career?  What is the role you are playing on the team?  How are your behaviors effecting you, me, and the others? What does the future hold for you?  What skills do you need to build to get there? How can I help you?

Each person should be looked at as an enterprise.  It is the leader’s job to identify the strengths of the individual enterprise, the role of the individual enterprise in the system, the blind-spots or weaknesses of the individual enterprise. To improve the team, leaders must focus on affecting individual behavior driven by selfishness.  When a person knows his leader is motivated to provide the greatest degree of success for his own needs, the leader has laid a cornerstone for motivating this person.  If on the other hand, the individual feels the leader has his own best interest as primary, the cornerstone is not laid, and team accountability is impossible.  It is only when the individual feels his or her enterprise is being served by the leader and organization, that trust can be built. Read more in the best-selling book by: Simon Sinek, “Leaders Eat Last.”

Once trust has been built, the leader has taken the first step in turning selfishness into selflessness. Team accountability is a multi-step process, one that starts with understanding and harnessing individual needs.  In the next article, we will explore how to match the individual needs to those of the team.  In the third and last article, we will explore how to affect behavior and performance.


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