The best sports organizations in the world are continually obsessed with recruiting the right team members. Building a team that will have the right chemistry to win and then retaining those administrators, players and coaches after they have achieved some level of success are perhaps the twin holy grails of sport.
A dose of reality: If the top teams in the world have trouble getting this exactly right with nearly endless resources, we need to realize building the best teams that succeed and then remain intact is hard work.
I’ve had the benefit of watching amazing leaders build teams at 500 companies. At my current firm, I’ve been involved in this activity. If I think back over 30 years and imagine what the key lessons are, here is what comes to mind:
1. Capability and Curiosity:
Many are capable, but few are curious. When you have both, you have a person who has the hunger to learn and the ability to do something about it. It’s what we often refer to as “fire in the belly.” The thing is, you have to have talent and fire to do really well.
2. Diversity of Thinking Helps Retention:
Members of great teams often say one very important thing: They speak of many people smarter than they are in certain areas at the organization where they’re employed. In addition, they say they can benefit by learning what these people know, and they love it. They realize that they have to think effectively and differently and be willing to accept the views of others to achieve excellence. When you know you can learn more by staying at an organization, you often do. So diversity of thought and retention go hand in hand.
3. Avoid Boxing-in and Encourage Unlocking:
Sometimes, in an effort to show great clarity at the time of a hire, the new hire’s responsibilities are so clear that there appears to be no room to evolve the role. When you do this across an organization, it works great if you are in the military. It is terrible if you are encouraging innovation and freedom of thinking. Great leaders have the ability to give guidance on what you should do and then watch you, shape you and help you unlock.
4. Coach Managers on Managing:
No matter how many teams we may have managed, we’re all always learning how to deal with new and different personalities, complex and new issues and changed marketplace realities. We need to conversationally coach managers so they can see what they need to do, and then do it in ways that work for them. Just as we avoid boxing in a person, we also should be careful about micromanaging when we coach. Help people discover what to do. It’s more powerful and lasts longer.
Retaining Talent & Teams
5. Focus on Intellectually Scalable Models:
It’s a reality that talent will come and go. So leaders must focus on building intellectually scalable models that outline how to work, how to achieve results, which processes to follow and what great results look like. High-performance teams, in turn, will define these models to meet their team’s skills. And when one team member drops out and another comes in, the team can continue to excel. If you establish clarity in how you achieve success together, you can build teams that do well in a sustainable fashion. Each team will make the models better for the next team.
6. Retain Team Members Who Remain Hungry and Focused:
Time to whack a sacred cow. Avoid worrying that someone will leave. Rather, we should focus on helping those who are eager to succeed do exactly that. If we keep our focus on those team members who are positive, forward thinking, business-focused and who bleed the company’s vision, you’re in good shape. If you find your time being dominated by the unhappy few who often also are the ones with the largest egos, then you are spending your time unwisely.
As former GE chief Jack Welch said a long time ago, don’t focus on the type IVs, get rid of them. Type IVs, in his model, were capable of high performance, but they worked against the social fabric of the company. Just being smart isn’t enough. You have to be smart, high performance and a cultural fit.
Overall, the biggest learning that I’ve had is the most simple and it is really a series of insights that I’ve learned by watching my favorite team, the New York Yankees, over the years.
Great chemistry and talent can lead to being the best in your business. Talent is easy to spot. Chemistry is a process of getting the right people together, giving them the right amount of space, the right amount of coaching and supporting them with the right resources. Chemistry is super hard.
It’s really a never-ending formula that we will tweak for the rest of our careers. We’ll win some championships; we’ll lose some, too. That we can count on.
What matters is what we choose to do tomorrow and for every day thereafter.