I’ve spent my entire life involved in team sports. And, for me, there’s something really beautiful and inspiring that happens when a group of individuals comes together as a team to work toward a common goal. Time and again, I’ve seen teams with a mix of solidly talented players of varying backgrounds and win/loss records work seamlessly to rise to the top and become champions, while teams loaded with amazing individual talent—superstar players, winning coaches—fall short. The same is true in business. It’s been my experience that high-value work is accomplished not by the best individual performers, but by the best teams.
There’s a pretty good chance that no matter what you do for a living, you’ll likely be asked to work on a team at some point. So what are the building blocks of a great team in business? Here are a few tips from my athletics playbook that can help anyone build—or contribute to—a high-performing team both on and off the field.
A strong, positive, and clearly defined culture grounded in values and respect is the foundation for a solid, top-performing team—not to mention for creating a productive and enjoyable work environment where people enjoy each other’s company, spend time together, celebrate together, and want to see each other succeed. But a strong, positive culture very rarely happens in a vacuum. With or without intention, a culture will emerge and become the guiding force that team members will live and work by. When it’s a culture you’ve intentionally set, your team (and company) will grow according to the values and guiding principles you want to be known for. You’ll base hiring decisions on your culture. Employees will live by it. It will influence employees’ relationships with each other, their relationships with clients and stakeholders, and the work they produce. A strong culture based on values and respect will help get all team members working on the same mission. It will serve as glue that keeps your team together. And it will get you through difficult times.
I’ve had the privilege of working with a lot of different teams, and a lot of different cultures—successful and not so successful. Here are what I see as the building blocks of a winning team culture:
I’ve found that teams bringing different backgrounds, experience levels, and perspectives tend to outperform other teams. Why? Simply put, when you include differing perspectives, your efforts and your end product better reflect and connect with the world around you. Diverse viewpoints and experiences bring a variety of skills and approaches—and, better still—a variety of solutions.
Diversity comes in many forms, from lifestyle and personal characteristics to economic and political backgrounds, work experience, age, and many others. And once you start bringing fresh voices into teams organically, diverse viewpoints and perspectives will begin to flow through into your work—authentically. Here are some steps to creating diverse teams:
Keep in mind that not all goals are obvious to everyone. Team members may have different personal and professional goals (and as a leader part of your job is to support them as individuals), but there must be a clearly defined and regularly articulated “team goal” that everyone buys into and is working toward. With high-performing sports teams, the players not only understand what each of their individual roles are, they also understand that achieving the team goal depends on each individual executing their defined role, and that together they have a collective responsibility for success (or failure).
The same is true in business. Clarity and focus on the one common goal will work to keep everyone on track, even as individual team members can and should shine in their own unique way via their own unique contribution. Here’s how to ensure that team members are rowing in the same direction:
Truly great teams work on the belief that every team member brings something unique and important to the table. And that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. While there are, of course, a ton of nuances to running or contributing to a team successfully, if you start with a clearly defined culture based in values and respect, encourage and invite diversity of thought, and get everyone focused on the prize, you’ve got the building blocks of a high-performing championship team. Success is inevitable.