Follow These Three Keys to Team Success
My daughter has played sports for most of her young 22 years, including Division 2 college lacrosse. She’s serious about playing well, but most of all, she’s serious about winning. In individual sports, she excels because she has gobs of natural talent, she loves competing, and most importantly, she will outwork just about anyone.
It’s the team sports where she’s had mixed results. You might think that poor results are due to a lack of talent, and conversely, impressive results spring from immense talent – but that has not been the case. And, it’s not the case for many teams. Still, if you listen to analysts and former players, you’ll often hear them say that the team with the most talent wins every time. There’s even a cliché that “if they played 100 more times, the most talented team would win 99 of them”.
This has never made sense to me. If this is so, why do you need a coach? Do you think the New England Patriots would be the same without Bill Belichick? That the Green Bay Packers of old would have been the same without Vince Lombardi? Why do you need to practice? Do you think the Eagles won the Super Bowl simply with talent? No – they won because they had faith in each other and their system. They practiced as a team and they won as a team… and even though they lost their starting QB to injury, Nick Foals came back into the proven system and worked it exactly as planned. Why can’t we pick winners all the time if we’re just going on raw talent? Because. It takes much more than that to win.
As a former athlete, coach, and just a fan of sports in general – and as a business owner, executive, and lifelong student of success – I know that of course talent matters. However, talent must be supported by three other key practices used by successful leaders: Continuity, Consistency and Confidence.
Continuity, Consistency, and Confidence can overcome many challenges. For example, we often want to throw resources (money, people, etc.) at a problem. We believe if we just add more stuff we will have better results. Certainly, resources are useful, and having large and luxurious facilities, large budgets, and lots of human resources can certainly be a benefit – especially when recruiting top talent. But physical and technical resources don’t ensure success, and if chaos exists, even the most luxurious environment can’t keep good talent.
Team success, in my opinion, isn’t a matter of brilliant leadership or brilliant planning. Continuity, Consistency, and Confidence breed success when deployed properly. They allow leaders to stay out of the way of their talent and simply keep them focused on what matters, so come game-time, success is inevitable. Failure is easily overcome without impacting momentum.
Practice 1: Continuity
So, it’s pretty obvious to say that if a leader must deal with an ever changing “roster of players” on their team, it is nearly impossible to successfully implement anything. It takes time to learn a system and even more time to master it – they say it takes 10,000 hours! Mastery of a system allows for MORE flexibility not less. Think of it as mastering the fundamentals, if you learn to dribble a basketball extremely well and it becomes an extension of your hand like it is a part of your body, then doing amazing things off a dribble is as simple as learning to go from crawl to walk to run.
This holds true in the mastery of systems and processes, and one’s role within the system. If a team learns their individual roles, how those roles fit into the overall system, and all the roles work together… calling an audible is easy when necessary. EVERYONE knows exactly what to do when the audible is called, immediately, without hesitation. This can’t occur if the team changes constantly.
Team continuity is key to an organization transforming into a high-performance organization.
Practice 2: Consistency
Strong continuity can be entirely diminished by a lack of consistency. What do you get when you put ten uber-talented people in a room for ten days without any direction? Throw them a challenge every day along with a different process. While you’re at it, make them solve a problem in a different language. You get a hot mess.
One football team may run a different offensive system than another football team. But one team doesn’t run a different system every day. A team needs processes and systems to follow and the systems and processes need to be enforced. Changes (or audibles) are called only if those have also been defined clearly, so everyone understands their role.
Often, a rogue believes they have a better way but doesn’t formalize it with the rest of the team. For example, look what happened when NY Giants coach Ben McAdoo benched Eli Manning for the first time in 211 games last season. (Manning had a start streak of 210 games since 2004 until week 13 against the Raiders). What happened? No one knew what was going on, morale was down, the whole team was thrown off and frustrated… and they fell apart. They lost the game and guess what… McAdoo was fired and so was the GM.
Of course, playbooks, processes and systems evolve. But they must evolve properly – implemented across the team. Resources and team members must be properly trained (or practiced) on the new processes. Only when they master the new system should it be used in a game. Having a playbook that is consistently followed and enforced is key to becoming a high-performance organization.
Practice 3: Confidence
If you practice Continuity and Consistency, your team will build Confidence. However, that is not enough. You must create a culture of confidence; and that is an enormous task for any team. The reality of a competitive world is that you don’t win every time (no, Timmy…everyone does NOT get a trophy in the real world!). The reality is that mistakes happen. Shit happens.
When you build a culture of confidence, your team understands that mistakes and issues will occur. But then what? Then you rely on your processes and systems! You don’t go change them with every mistake. That only makes it worse. You double-down on following your system, because that’s where confidence kicks in. If personnel don’t follow the system, then you have a problem. Losses in revenue, satisfied customers, employee satisfaction… games.
Confidence comes from belief in yourself and belief in those around you. The secret to confidence – and ultimately success – is understanding that there’s no such thing as “the best” system. What gives you a win is being the best at what you do and doing it better than what your competitors do. So, your system may not be better, you are just better at making it happen.
So, confidence comes from familiarity. Think about it, the most confident person you know, truly confident (not Johnny Bravo confident) is comfortable…not amazing.
Being confident as an individual, and an organization, comes from familiarity and is key to a high-performance organization. For more on helping your team thrive, read my previous post on successful innovation.
Want to win as a team? Want to win a lot? Keep the team together. Implement systems and practices and stick to them continually while improving as a team. Adapt. Call audibles that make sense with your system. Create a culture of confidence through familiarity, not false bravado.
Let the games begin!