People are known to achieve exceeding levels of success when faced with adversity. The Helots, a subjugated group of people in ancient Greece, caused the collapse of the revered Spartan nation when they eventually rose up against their masters who habitually tortured and slaughtered them.
Creating and managing a super team, can be a daunting task that requires extreme patience. In pursuit of the best, there is need to define what great means and who an ideal team member should be. Steve Jobs famously quipped "It's too easy, as a team grows, to put up with a few B players, they then attract a few more B players, and soon you will even have some C players....A players like to work only with other A players, which means you can't indulge B players. From the onset what this means is ensure that all the required skills are known, and have a blend in the team of different backgrounds, perspectives and personalities. Not everyone should be modeled in the leader’s image.
Malcolm Gladwell talks about the 10,000 hour rule that can elevate a person to excellence. For any team to reach a pinnacle of success they have to understand that excellence is a habit; no team becomes better without practicing together. This can best be demonstrated in Formula One racing where speed and attention to detail differentiates the first and last position. The pit stop is a location where the driver has to stop during racing for no longer than six seconds, during which time mechanics will replace the wheels and add more fuel. This process is done by 20 mechanics and is evidence of constant measurement, refinement and repeated practice in bringing co-ordination and choreography to the pit stop using team dynamics. For this to work there can only be one team mind and body. The essential step is to define a shared approach for the team to work together and then practice it over and over again beyond perfection. Super teams follow the maxim of investing the time upfront in preparation, with the return on that investment coming from speed and effectiveness in execution.
Lack of role clarity or ill-defined roles and responsibilities is the reason why individuals in teams end up having increased stress and job dissatisfaction. To avoid this scenario, from the onset define roles clearly, stating who is performing what task and what skills they need to have. Individual roles need to fit into the bigger team picture.
For teams to make decisions effectively they need to be of a certain size beyond which productivity begins to deteriorate. After five, you will tend to have diminishing returns from each individual despite the fact that group output increases.
Trust is the cog that runs the team engine. Teams build trust by members displaying competence, reliability and showing that they care about each other. In Israel’s example, compulsory conscription creates breeding ground for people to trust each other because they train, patrol the nation’s borders and fight in wars together. This ultimately ensures that there is a high level of trust among the people in the Israeli state. In fact so much so that being in the military is a sure way of getting a job due to the networks created while serving.
In any team always get rid of the detractors, those who go against the vision and the intents of the team, those with bad team attitudes.
According to Khoi Tu’s Superteams, encourage creative abrasion; the goal is not to build a team without conflict, but rather channel conflict effectively. Harness the energy and creativity that comes from the combination of push and pull between the diverse members of your team. Business meetings in Israel are normally heated discussions illustrated by raised voices. In these meetings there is no distinction between boss and underling. After such meetings are dispensed with, everyone is guaranteed that the best idea was taken up and there is no backstabbing. Counter to this culture is an environment where everyone listens and adheres to what the boss has to say and there is no free-flow of ideas. In such an environment toxic backstabbing and politicking is chronic. Be alert that your team is not too cohesive, particularly watch out for the team’s desire for harmony and consensus against creative abrasion.
As a leader, remember the change you desire starts with you, embody it, be the best example that the team can emulate. Be open to learning and obsess about improvements that the team can adopt. Nurture a spirit of experimentation and excellence; teams that aim to make no mistakes end up making nothing of consequence. Failure can teach as much as success. Finally always design the future you want as a team.
Article written for CIO East Africa October 2013