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“If you want the benefits of teamwork, you have to give the team the work.”

–J. Hackman, Leading Teams


Effective managers understand that building strong, capable teams is the bedrock of high performing cultures. Make this a priority development area. If you are a seasoned leader, you know that this skill set “says easy, does hard” but the rewards are well worth your investment!

Calling a group of individuals (sales reps, kitchen staff, marketing group) a “team” doesn’t make it so. “Rah, rah” team platitudes, while sincere, will never make believers out of employees. To be less delicate – your people are smart and have strong bullshit detectors. They know how it is around here.

Here’s a loose operational definition for a team that you can use to measure your leadership skills against, as well as, gauging the group’s developmental progress:


“A team is 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.”

-Katzenbach & Smith, The Wisdom of Teams


Coaching Tip #1: Teams are not a panacea. Be a strategic team leader – does the desired business outcome require building a team (think IPod or Prius)? Poorly designed team initiatives drain people’s mojo at the same rate as crappy meetings.

Let’s sequentially breakdown the required manager skill sets against this definition:

  • Complimentary Skills – Smart managers/coaches know that throwing a group of rock stars, athletes or cooks together rarely guarantees a Grammy album, Olympic gold, or a Michelin star.
  • Leadership principle – Cultures get created, with or without, clear and unwavering leadership. Be strategic and disciplined in selecting your people; it’s the single most important decision leaders make.
  • Committed to a Purpose – Purpose provides the fuel, the passion, the energy, and the spirit to achieve remarkable — not okay — results. If I were to randomly survey your employees and ask them what their “job” is, what would they tell me? Would the bus girl say “to clean and re-set tables?” Or, would she say “to deliver an unforgettable hospitality experience.” Two different beliefs lead to widely different customer experiences.
  • Leadership Principle  You need to be visibly passionate and strive to over-communicate using all available communication channels.
  • Performance Goals – What do you measure individual and team performance and progress against? Is everyone on the same page? Are expectations crystal clear? Do you provide regular, candid feedback and coaching based on concrete goals?
  • Leadership Principle – What gets measured gets managed, and what gets managed gets done. Be a talent magnet by gaining a reputation as a high-performing leader who brings out the best in others. Trust me, there are worse reputations to have.
  • Approach – These are the clearly understood processes for “how” the work gets done. This includes standards, behaviors, policies, team meetings, communication methods, and feedback loops.
  • Leadership Principle – A true team understands that friction is natural and desired. It’s proof of their commitment to winning. The leader understands that clear processes help manage conflict in ways that produce positive outcomes.
  • Mutually Accountable – Your performance metric here couldn’t be clearer.
  • Leadership Principle – A group of individuals are a true team when they police each other on their agreements and actions. Managers who find themselves solving their team’s problems and putting out all the fires have failed in their leadership responsibility. Being the hero-manager is seductive, but it’s a failing path to success.


Coaching Tip # 2: Teaming, by Amy Edmondson, or teamwork on the fly (HBR article), is a framework to help teams who must come together quickly to accomplish a project or goal. Think of a pick up basketball team versus an intact team who trains together all season.  

Effective managers understand that a potent team will always outperform a collection of stars. The output of an energized, aligned and committed team is always greater than the sum of its parts. Top industry talent is attracted to leaders who have a reputation of building, leading, and coaching high performing teams. Be that talent magnet. Be that leader!


Pop Quiz – Of all the qualities in the working definition of a team, which single element is the most important according to the authors? In other words, what missing element will most likely result in a fractured team and sub-par performance? (See answer below)


Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Definitely keep it inspiring!  -Steve