Creative LeadershipCreativity

The Secrets of Building Great Teams

1.  We don’t understand what teams are for:    Leaders make decisions.  Teams execute decisions.  Simple as that.  Stop delegating decision making to your team.  That’s your job.  In military terms, a team can decide how to take the hill, but it takes a leader to decide which hill to take.

2.  Stop valuing everyone equally:  There’s no question that everyone is equal in terms of intrinsic worth and human value.  But don’t get that confused with the individual talent and skill members of your team bring to the table.  Celebrate talent and stop
ignoring it.

3.  We don’t know how to deal with high-achievers:  The key to managing high achievers:

—  Treat them differently than low achievers.  Your low achievers may be wonderful people, but they’ll stifle your high achievers.  Reward achievers and give them more incentive.
—  Give them the resources they need, and then get out of the way.  Don’t thwart sharp people.  Let them rock.
—  Separate them from low achievers.  (Nothing drives high achievers more nuts than having to work with low achievers.)
—  Pay them what they’re worth.  Don’t be petty with salaries when it comes to your best people.  Above all – don’t treat all your employees to the same salary scale.
—  Give them deadlines.   Don’t be afraid to add pressure.  High achievers thrive on pressure.

4.  Our insecurities create failing teams:   (Insecurities from both sides)

— Insecure leaders are afraid talented team members will make them look bad.
— Insecure team members get offended way too easily.

5.  We don’t fire enough people:  When Jack Welch was CEO of General Electric he said: “When you don’t fire under-performing members of your team you’re not only hurting the organization, you’re hurting them – because you’re giving them a false sense of what success is.”

Help those people find a new position – don’t be rude or kick them to the curb.  Help them find the place where they can blossom.  But get them out of a position where they’re failing.   And by the way – you need to understand the difference between “loyalty” and “competence.”

6.  We don’t understand that successful teams are about talent, chemistry, and vision:

Talent – you have to get people with the right skill set.  I love Jim Collins’ concept in Good to Great.  You’ve got to get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.  Two things are important:

Chemistry – you have to get people who will get along.
Vision – you have to get people who have a vision to change something.

7.  We don’t realize that culture is more important than vision:  I know plenty of powerful, visionary leaders who have created an oppressive, dark, culture.  Create a powerful, creative culture, and trust me – a vision will happen.

8.  Whoever invented the “open door policy” was an idiot:  Well, he might have been well meaning, but there’s a time to shut the door and get to work.

9.  Our teams are too big:  We don’t accomplish much because there are too many opinions.  More than 6 or 8 people in the room just creates chaos.  Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon has a great idea – never have more people in a brainstorming session than you could feed with two pizzas.

10.  Our team meetings are too long.  I’ve been in 10+ hour marketing meeting where I wanted to kill myself.  After about 40 minutes people start wandering – checking emails, looking around the room, or talking to each other.  You simply can’t accomplish much in marathon meetings.  Keep them short and sweet and your productivity will shoot up.

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  1. This is an awesome list! I said ‘Amen!’ to #1 and 10 especially. I shared this at the office.

    Thank you again for the comment on the book review. I enjoyed JOLT! and am looking forward to your next book.

  2. Planning is key to execution. What are your thoughts on effective planning and time management. These two areas if not managed properly by leadrers often are the demise of effective and healthy organizational growth. This is a great discussion question. Thank you

    1. Planning opens to door to make positive things happen.  Too many – especially in the church – “leave things to God” when He’s expecting us to use our brains.   

  3. State the facts via e-mail a few days before a meeting so all can see them. Come to the meeting, set the timer, and make a decision in 10 minutes or less! Next decision….

  4. Great list here Phil! If there’s a slacker on the team, the leader should speak to the slacker (or whatever the offense is) separately and privately. The leader shouldn’t address the issue(s) to the whole team so everyone is left to wondering who the guilty party is. Confrontation is not a bad word. The reprimand wastes everybody else’s time in a meeting.

  5. Good stuff.  I do have one comment on the open door policy, the invention of which is usually attributed to David Packard at HP.  In Packard’s implementation of the open door poilcy, anyone could come in and talk about anything, but he was famous for not putting up with unfounded whining or complaining; you would quickly be shown the door for that type of behavior.  If you went to Dave with a complaint, you needed to have a proposal for a solution, too.

  6. This advice is so important, it’s hard for bleeding hearts to read that sometimes firing someone is the best thing you can do for them.

  7. This is a great article! I am in an MBA program now and this is really useful information for us. Hopefully we will all apply these lessons to build and lead winning teams.

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