Archive for January, 2014

Great teams and their brief shining moments

aussie ashes

I caught up with a friend a month ago, whom I hadn’t seen for a while.  She’s the CEO of a successful not-for-profit, and I’ve been with her on and off, directly and vicariously, on her leadership journey over the last 5 years or so.  She’s endured toxic team members. She’s persevered in the face of  intolerable behaviour from misguided or self-interested board members.  She’s dealt with the challenges of inheriting, then rebuilding and inspiring, an executive team in the underpaid NFP world.

And now, she says, I have an awesome team, and we are kicking goals all over the place.  And I say, that’s great, enjoy it while it lasts, because it won’t go on forever.

Then I think, that was a bit negative, and not what a good coach or friend would say.  But maybe that’s exactly what should be said, because those perfect, Teflon-coated times don’t last indefinitely.  Sooner or later, one or more people will leave the team, or there will be some major strategic shift forced by the board or the owners, or there will be a takeover or merger.

It’s really difficult to win back-to-back premierships in football – it just doesn’t happen that often.  Last time in the NRL was the Brisbane Broncos in 97-98.  In the AFL it was the Brisbane Lions 02-03-04.  (Damn, both Brisbane.)  You hear the guys being interviewed, just before the grand final, when they things like: “We are going to make the most of it, win or lose, because getting here is really hard and we mightn’t be here again for a while.”

That’s how it goes with teams.  They can have their golden seasons, and then their falls from grace. That English cricket team that has beaten Australia regularly over the past few years is now at the end of a 5-0 whacking.

Some might never gain that final prize.  The Cronulla Sharks are still waiting, and probably will be for a while yet.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t savour and treasure those brief shining moments of a great team while they last.  They are worth celebrating, and they might not come again for a while.

And while they are happening, it’s not a bad idea to reflect on why it’s all going so well.  What is the essence of this team’s brilliance?

There are many factors that can make a team great.  Sometimes it’s serendipity – all the right people coincidentally in the same place at the same time.  Sometimes it’s good management rather than good luck.  Different teams respond to different drivers, and build their own individual cultures to support their performance.

Here are three of those drivers I have experienced in some of the great teams I’ve either been a part of or had the privilege to lead.

Values

The team knows what its values are – what it stands for and what it will not stand for. Even though we were only a humble sleeve sponsor, we once got into the home dressing room of the West Coast Eagles at Subiaco Oval, and I was pleasantly surprised to see their team values explicitly and proudly emblazoned across one wall. It wasn’t something I had thought a bunch of macho footie players would respond to.

Language

The team members have a common language that allows them both to positively reinforce each other and deliver constructive feedback.  When I was part of a team led by the inimitable Grahame Maher, we did a rigorous process that might in the absence of a shared vocabulary have been very confronting.  It was called “self and peer review”, where each team member would in turn say what they thought they were doing well, and what they could do better.  Then each other team member would then say what they thought that person was doing well and could be doing better.  All the comments were meanwhile being recorded on a big whiteboard.  Try doing that if you don’t all speak the same language.

Altruism

Someone is always prepared to take one for the team.  One of the most inspiring qualities I saw in my old boss Russ Hewitt do was his ability to go into bat for his team, when there was undoubtedly going to be a hostile reception from global head office, of which he would bear most of the repercussions.  That willingness to take the hit for your mates, especially in a leader, is a builder of team loyalty like no other I have experienced.

There are plenty of other drivers of team success, some of which inevitably involve alcohol and late nights.  Of course I couldn’t officially endorse such methods, but I guess as long as you can all show up in the morning, and no-one is injured in the process, even those antics may have their place.  Been in one too many such capers myself ( I particularly regret the one in the karaoke bar in Tokyo, principally because I am such an out-of-tune singer and I don’t think there has ever been a worse rendition of Maggie May – sorry Rod; or maybe it was the two hours sleep).

Anyway Jayne, enjoy your awesome team, you’ve earned it.

(Image courtesy of uk.eurosport.yahoo.com)

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