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I work with many early-stage entrepreneurs who face the frightening and exhilarating need to start building a team. This is a critical fork in the road for a growing business and it is very important to approach this in a thoughtful way instead of cobbling together a job description and starting a Monster.com account.
So, it is easier to first think about what it takes to build a championship sports team. Let’s say the 2009 Irish championship rugby team pictured above.
The critical first steps for building effective teams requires embracing these ideas:
1. Strong Leadership: Every effective championship sports team must have a strong-willed Coach that can effectively inspire his/her team to reach beyond their collective expectations. The Coach doesn’t need to be just a dominant top-down commander. A Coach can be most effective by crafting the vision, and molding that vision into actionable steps that helps everyone perform at a peak level. Building effective teams also boils down to having several key teammates that have bought into the mission of the Coach and are the go-to informal leaders that leverage the effectiveness of the Coach.
2. Common Goal: Building effective teams begins with a thorough understanding of what they are trying to attain. The Coach’s role is to clearly define that goal and be able to portray that goal creatively and personally, and also to have the tenacity to aggressively and frequently remind the team of their individual contributions to that goal. Everyone on the team needs to be accountable to that common goal or the entire team is significantly weakened.
3. Rules of the Game: Every effective team understands what is expected of them, not only in their performance, but the boundaries that they have in how they perform. I always think of this as a code of conduct, or behavioral expectations. It’s more that what you should do, but also how it should be done. These are the rules that effective teams have to live by. The champions usually have these written out, and there are frequent reminders that are touchstones about acceptable behavior.
4. Support Risk Taking: Building effective teams cannot be accomplished without taking risks. Every effective team allows the players to ad lib in the heat of the moment of an important game. This doesn’t mean anarchy or ignoring the rules of the game. This means that not every rule can be interpreted quickly when the pressure is on. Think of any important sporting event. While a play can be well designed, “stuff happens” and the individual player must decide in a flash what must be done to win. Mike Tyson, the boxer, said “the game plan changes when you get hit in the mouth”.
5. 100% Involvement/Inclusion: Every effective teammate has to be “all-in”. The Coach must openly share the results, address conflicts immediately and openly, and honestly debrief the shortcomings of the team. There cannot be teammates that sit on the sidelines emotionally. If they can’t or won’t embrace the goals and rules, they need to be traded. Those locker room malcontents should be optioned to another team quickly if they don’t engage and believe.
6. Action Plan: Every effective team has a laddered action plan that converts the vision & mission statements, and the rules into incremental steps that will be the catalyst to get to the championship game. In sports, that means there are a series of plays that are well understood, well documented, sequential and almost second nature. This game plan is the “how” that supports the “why” of the common goal.
7. Energy & Passion: Every effective team believes in and displays a high level of energy and passion. Can you remember a championship game where you wondered if they wanted to win? High energy pumps up a team and allows success. Winners know how to take their game to the next level and how important that energy and passion are to get to the finals.
I truly hope that you think about these 7 keys to building effective teams in your business. Championship sports teams share the same success attributes of your soon to be championship business team.