Sports dynasties are the stuff of legends. It can be awe-inspiring to look back on truly great teams and list the talented players that made those champion seasons possible. But, do we think that the athletes on those squads were all carbon copies, cut from the same cloth? No. In fact, those teams were amalgams of many skill sets and personalities. Were these teams a harmonious mix of temperaments, easy to manage and develop? No. The same energy those squads used to win, could have torn the teams apart. Building a multifaceted team is a critical skill and a dire necessity for leaders who want to win in business. But it’s not easy to do. Finesse, discernment, psychology, a relaxed style coupled with firm direction - These are just a few of the tools and skills that the leader of such a team must use in managing these myriad skills and personalities.
Here are few things to consider when assembling the team you want to help you win year after year.
1. Skilled teams are made up of big personalities
If you want to build a management or leadership team that is going to ‘crush it’ for you year over year, be prepared to have some interesting dynamics. Think you’re going to have a dozen wall flowers who do everything you command and never have ire for one another? Think again. Skilled people have egos and they have ideas that they want to express. They don’t take things at face value. They are in the improvement and growth business so that means they demand the right to take things apart and make them better, precisely because they have the skill to do just that. You have to be a skilled leader to lead a skilled team. They are going to test you. They are going to challenge you. They are going to make you, and each other, better. But, you need to be ready to handle the energy, intellectual horsepower and dynamism of such a team. Want a team that has an ‘A’ game? Better bring yours too.
2. Winning teams are capable of more than you (and they) imagined
No matter the company, industry or bull market, our results aren’t constant. There are difficult periods we must manage and complex problems that must be solved. When you’ve assembled a truly world-class team, the solutions to these challenges are often right in the room, if you take the time to elicit them. One of the wonderful surprises of building a strong team, even with the aforementioned egos you must manage and high-level maintenance they require, is when the chips are down, these groups can do some pretty impressive things. Down several points on the year and you’ve got one quarter to make it up? Give your team the ball. A global crisis has hurt revenue and you need some genius ideas on which to build a recovery? Give your team the ball. Even paying top labor dollar and running at your fastest to keep up with the sprinters on this powerhouse team you’ve assembled, you will more than get your ROI when you run into situations in which you need to pull a rabbit from the proverbial hat. As long as you have the good sense to use the talents in the group.
3. Top tier teams like things direct and honest
I have never hired a highly-skilled professional for a team I have led that didn’t get a big smile on their face when I told them how difficult the job before us was. Great players see these types of situations as a chance to score and an opportunity to build legends. They relish being the source of that story that will be told years from now in the sales conference… ‘you remember the year of the factory shortfall, yeah, when the blizzard hit, and the fuel spike came, and the aliens landed and still the Central Sales team beat their annual target?! Like a boss…..’ Great leaders want those challenges. The most skilled people I have worked with aren’t afraid to hear about the bad, or the difficult or the daunting. Those situations are why they love what they do. If you interview a leader who asks how hard this will be or seems phased by the uphill climb the role entails, don’t hire them. Being honest with strong players is the most effective way to get those big brains of theirs churning on a path toward the goal. Clearly articulating a metric or a shortfall isn’t just courteous when you have ‘A’ players, it catalyzes. When you’re fortunate enough to have such a team, point to the goal line, give them a good defensive read and hand them the ball. More often than not, they will get you the win.
4. Highly-skilled teams are diverse, in every sense of the word
Much has been said of Abraham Lincoln’s leadership and particularly about the professionals he selected to surround himself with. In the often-cited book, Team Of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin brilliantly covers Lincoln’s courageous choices of seemingly opposing leaders for his cabinet. Easier choices could have been made by Lincoln, but he had the genius to know his cabinet and our country needed the talent and potency of the best people for the job - regardless of if they were going to be best friends or not. If a room full of sycophants is all a leader wants, one can simply hire just that. Sadly, though, taking such an approach means a watered-down, less effective overall squad. Poor leaders or ones who fear being challenged are the only managers who expect their direct reports to be parrots. The naked Emperor who thinks a team exists simply to nod and rubber stamp all they do or say doesn’t have much of a backbone. It takes vision and strength to hire smart people who may clash with one another as well as their boss. It is those strong wills and convictions that save a team, a company or a nation, when times get tough. Despite the current day trumpeting by some leaders who expect to never be questioned and thirst for constant tribute in the form of their underlings ‘sucking up’, the real courageous leaders know better. These leaders understand their legacy will be made rich because of their team, whose collective power is the sum of all of their efforts and talents.
5. World-class teams need you as much as you need them
How wonderful it would be if all of us who have line-managed could hire a great group of leaders and then hit the beach. True, that the measure of a really strong leader is how well their teams perform when the boss is away. But, that chief executive still holds a vital role. Sometimes you must be a filter, helping your expert leaders select which missions to take on. Other times you must be a lens, sharpening the focus of the collective talents in your midst. And, in some occasions, yes, you are a referee. As mentioned above, these incredible thoroughbreds you have chosen are all triple crown potentials. Sometimes they bite. You must be trainer, soother, facilitator and so much more. Like a General, you must also decide which challenges your elite squad will not expend energy on. Knowing how to best utilize your team’s talent and how to keep it fresh is part of your role. Selecting a high-performing group is never easy, managing them is harder still. But if you have the patience and energy to help these players join forces, you could have the makings of a dynasty on your hands, and that, is worth all of the effort.
Are you building a team or trying to assess current players to determine if you have what you need to take your company where you want it to go? I have selected world-class leaders, built talent strategies and assessed field teams in various sectors over the past 20 years. Get in touch and perhaps I can help you ensure you’re selecting the right people and building a talent roster that helps you accomplish all of your goals.
— Kimball Carr is a writer, owner and multi-unit leader with more than two decades of business experience across a wide array of sectors. He has produced work for print, film and the software world and has contributed his leadership to 3 of Fortunes best 100 companies to work for. As a consultant, he works with business and individuals and is currently the co-founder of Grom Coast Surf & Skate, an apparel brand and retail store built specifically for kids. —