Three Difference Makers Great Teams Understand

Three Difference Makers Great Teams Understand

Somewhere around my 5th year in management it began to dawn on me that building high performing teams wasn’t just a nice thing to do.


Oh, I know we ALL talk about its importance – and I would like to have a dollar back for every leader I met in the course of my career who proclaimed in their “elevator pitch” how much they enjoyed crafting world class teams.


Most – truth be told – knew about as much about the subject as I do about modern ballet.


Which isn’t much.


I began my leadership tenure with an “infantry mentality” – by that I mean I worked with employees, I coached them, I gave them feedback, and yes, I encouraged them to work together – but my focus was much more on building individual traction – and letting things sort of “work out” when it came to collaboration and synergies. (Which means my knowledge of team building rivaled my previous reference to dance – not particularly awe-inspiring.)


I don’t think I’m alone in that kind of myopic approach though.


One Step At a Time – Maybe Not


Talk to most leaders and they can easily roll off what they’re doing with their direct reports – to include papering the walls with the individual feedbacks, end-of-year performance reviews, and various ratings/assessments they have in place.


Now – ask them to speak to the progression of the overall team and you can expect far broader responses.


“I think we’re coming together…”


“We have a plan…and most everybody understands it…”


“Everyone gets along…”


You get the picture. Few leaders really think of their work group in strategic terms – at least not with the level of specificity that’s required for the whole to exceed the sum of its parts.


We coach individually.


We provide reviews individually.


We assess individually.


And in many organizations we reward and compensate individually – even as we shout from the mountaintops how important it is “to work together.”


But one truth remains – the truly great leaders look at the big picture first, not last. And the big picture begins with assessing the scope of your people resources – which fall into 3 broad buckets:


  • Their time
  • Their talent
  • Their passions


Three Dimensions 


Best in class coaches, managers, and leaders view the landscape, then contrast that with the shining city on the hill they hope to build and those people resources required to do it. Then they begin to assess how they can do it – not simply work with everyone and expect good things to happen.


Big difference.


Which takes me back to why many teams really aren’t – oh, they may become work groups or a collection of contributors but they never realize their collaborative potential.


Three dimensions distinguish sustainable high performance teams – universal tenets that are often overlooked but remain incredibly powerful.


  • Dimension #1– Great teams enjoy CONSTANCY OF PURPOSE. They know why they work and they understand what they must accomplish. Now for those who want to interject right about here, “Isn’t this something that should be clear to all?” – think again. Most “work groups” have little to no appreciation of:
    • How what they do contributes to the overall organization’s goals – in other words no symmetry between their sections of the world with the larger mission. Quickest way to organizational oblivion – fail to make clear what we do makes a difference.
    • Why their work is truly important. My job can get tedious – so can yours, but if you help me understand where I fit then I am far more likely to stay engaged. Give me purpose. Purpose sustains.
    • Goals – Objectives – Strategies – Tactics. G.O.S.T.s are very real but many industries invest as much time in building a cohesive plan as they do ordering take-out for casual Friday. Want to test the supposition – individually canvas your team (whether you’re the manager or not) and ask 3 questions:
      • What are our business priorities?
      • What and how will we know if we are successful?
      • How are we measuring progress or lack thereof?

(Spoiler’s Alert – less than 10% of work groups can crisply articulate correct answers to the above.)

  • Dimension #2– Great teams demonstrate INTEGRATION OF EFFORT. Here’s where we separate – it’s one thing to get clarity around Purpose – it’s a totally different matter to get alignment around HOW we are going to realize that purpose.  Remember, many work groups are simply a collection of individual contributors. Meanwhile truly high performing teams double down on a few basics, namely:
    • They make clear everyone’s role – and how it fits into the larger Purpose/Goals of the team.
    • They build/stake ground rules on how members will work together – with heavy emphasis on matters involving:
      • Communication
      • Conflict resolution
      • Operating guidelines
      • Trust and integrity
      • Commitment to task
      • Mutual accountability
    • They make clear that we ALL own the HOW – and place the overall success of the team at the pinnacle of how they will measure outcomes.

(Spoiler’s Alert #2 – If something less than 10% gets Constancy of Purpose right you can assume a similar number hits the mark around Integration of Effort – 10% of the 10%. The reality – we send teams of individual contributors into their respective work places and HOPE. Hope is not a strategy.)


  • Dimension #3SHARED OWNERSHIP. The final dealmaker – or breaker. If we truly have alignment around Constancy of Purpose and Integration of Effort (the Why and the How) then Shared Ownership totally focuses the team (not just the individual) on the What. Specifically by:
    • Ensuring each member embraces accountability for the results they attain – and comparing that with the expectations that are in place for the team overall
    • Constantly assessing progress (or lack thereof)
    • Contributing to routine After Action Reviews that identify/inventory opportunities – allowing the team to self-correct
    • Celebrating and rewarding TEAM success


In summary:

  • Few work groups evolve into high performing teams.
  • Few leaders (and fewer members) embrace the principles of Constancy of Purpose, Integration of Effort, and Shared Ownership.
  • But even a team of average contributors – outfitted with the mechanisms that drive the above principles – can and often does outperform teams that are (on paper anyway) more gifted.


Want to test your supposition about your current team? Here are 10 powerful questions you might consider posing to each member – whether you’re the formal leader or a peer interested in carrying your group’s performance to a higher level.  If you have a tight range of responses – a positive. If your answers ramble and/or differ greatly you can make your own assumptions!



The Compass Team Self-Assessment Tool


  1. What are the 3 most important business results we are accountable for as a team this year? _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
  2. What does success specifically look like? (Editor’s Note – Share, volume, growth…can your team articulate it?) _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
  3. My contribution to that team success is: _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
  4. Our business results align with the larger company/divisional goals in what way? _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
  5. The role I play on this team is _________________________. This means I must hit the following Goals and Objectives for this {business period.}____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
  6. We have several key guidelines on how we will work together. Those guidelines include: _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
  7. I would rate the level of teamwork here as: (From worst to best – 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8 – 9 – 10)
  8. The frequency with which we assess team progress and adjust our strategy and tactics:
    1. Daily
    2. Weekly
    3. Monthly
    4. Quarterly
    5. Seldom if at all
  9. The greatest single strength of this team is: ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
  10. The greatest single opportunity for this team moving forward is: ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


A new day dawns – as do the challenges that follow.  How many hands are pulling in the same direction on your team?




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