‘The Magnificent 7’ – Lessons I have Learned about Building Great Teams

Teamwork is all about achieving goals that you could never possibly achieve on your own.

It’s where your grasp becomes longer than your reach, where as an individual your ego becomes secondary to the collective will to being part of something special, even unique, where values and purpose are shared and a sense of uniqueness and belief predominate.

It is where the fundamental paradoxes of our contemporary working lives – balancing risk and opportunity, creativity and discipline, change and continuity, passion and profit are assimilated and acted upon.

J.R. Katzenbach & Douglas K. Smith in their seminal book Wisdom of Teams offer a summary definition of a team:

“A small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, set of performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.”

But how do we get there? These are my ‘Magnificent 7’ lessons from my own experience:

1.Set great challenges, the best people will expect and want nothing less

Great challenges begin with even better conversations:

let’s build an online library where you can download almost any book within 20 seconds’, or ‘how about building a global information retrieval system that can access any subject you can think of’, or, ‘how about designing a phone that can become your personal friend and helper, as well as a sophisticated mobile communications tool?’

All these began with great conversations, and great conversations lead on to even better stories.

If your story is not compelling enough, then you need to set a new challenge.

You will know when the challenge is great enough, it will excite and scare you in equal amount, it will embrace the impossible, defy the norm, it might even incite ridicule, but, nevertheless, it will also become an all consuming passion.

2. Be clear about the ‘why’, the real difference the team makes to others and let the difference guide team actions, mindset and behaviour

Be crystal clear about the overaching reason why your team and organization exist.

What do you do that makes people’s lives easier and/or more productive?

As Simon Sinek stated in his book Start With Why

“People don’t buy what you do but why you do it.”

The best teams constantly ask themselves what difference they make to the world.

The ‘why’ creates the emotional connection, the stimulus which spurs creativity and discretionary effort, it drives your team’s desire to stretch thinking and push back the frontiers of product and service.

This is where the roots of creativity truly lie.

3. Be the role model you want others to see and encourage the leader in everyone to step forward

Role models are the people who bring the core values of the team and the organisation to life.

Rhetoric and reality are one.

Role Models are the ‘beating heart’ of every team, they drive core behaviours, they determine the dominant mindset and inspire others to step forward and act.

Role models are not static roles, they may be leaders or followers.

They are the people to turn to when help is needed, when there is a problem or a sensitive issue to be tackled. They form the bedrock of the way you get things done, the culture you inhabit.

4. To earn the trust, manage by influence and not by title

Creativity was once the realm of the few, it is now the kingdom of the many.

The teams that are able to maximize the cognitive potential of each individual will be the ones who will be positioned at the head of the pack.

People now seek mentors not managers, not symbols of authority which restrict the capacity to excel but informed facilitators of original thought and collective contribution, people they want to respect and trust.

The deeper the trust, the stronger the team cohesion, the more powerful the communication, the more courageous the conversation and, ultimately, the more considered the opinion.

5. Recruit on character selecting on passion, competence and especially curiosity

Embedding core values into the recruitment process not only promotes the corporate brand in a public and positive way but also helps to attract the very best to your team. With the right values and desire to achieve, you can mould most people to become a winner and a valuable contributor to your team.

A base line competence is a must, a natural work ethic helps, but most important of all is the unquenchable desire to learn, to seek new frontiers and to identify the unmet customer need.

6. Never fear failure, understand that risk and uncertainty are the twin pillars which underpin exceptional achievement

I term fear of failure ‘the silent assassin’, it freezes the mind, inhibits the bold move that every organisation needs to make from time to time, as Ginni Rommetty, IBM CEO eloquently stated:

“Whatever business you’re in, it’s going to commoditise over time, so you have to keep moving it to a higher value and change.”

This is the challenge every team faces; it is so easy to be seduced by compromise, to seek the comfort and safety of the status quo.

We fear making the wrong move, making a mistake. But mistakes are often the stepping  stones to groundbreaking initiatives.

You cannot think yourself into a new way of acting, you must act yourself into a new way of thinking.

You can only really learn by doing. The challenge is to make mistakes survivable, to empathise and learn, not to blame.

7. Never ever give up, resilience is the flip side to innovation and the critical component to crossing the winning line first

Much is spoken of innovation but rarely is there a silver bullet; however, what is truly golden, is the ability to carry on in the face of adversity.

The axiom the harder you try, the more difficult it is to give up, is true. Brian Walker and David Salt in their book ‘Resilience Practice’ define resilience as:

“The capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and still retain its basic function and structure.”

This is where the team ethos truly kicks in ensuring the sum is much larger than the individual parts.

An individual might falter, the challenge might be perceived as futile and the ‘why’ begin to fade into a lost cause.

But the team carefully selected, properly motivated will never falter.

An individual can never be perfect, but a team can be; a real and vibrant team with the mindset, drive and collective capability to make the impossible, possible.

These are my 7, what are yours?