6.3 Team Building – The Power of Relationships

Great teams are built on great relationships among the team members. Relationships enable great teams more powerfully than leaders, though leaders play an essential part. Leaders:

  • share a deeply compelling vision that intrinsically motivates each team member
  • reinforce how the team will work together

There is a natural flow to great teams of individuals when working together, supporting each other on their journey. It is like that of a river flowing down a mountainside. 

Great teams are built on relationships that flow.


Great teams self-organize around a shared vision for the difference they can make together. They support each other on their shared journey in a way that enhances one another’s contributions.

The Power of an Intrinsically-Motivating Shared Vision

Research has shown that a shared vision for the difference the team can make together is the only common factor among successful teams. The Guiding Principles that team members follow, and their acceptable boundaries, vary from team to team. Trust and respect are requirements, but they can look very different in each team.

The team’s Purpose and Vision must be in service of others, and align with our Stage III Fulfillment (Contributing to the Benefit of Others, now) or Stage IV Fulfillment (Legacy – Acting for the Benefit of Others, Although We May Not Live to See the Result).

The leader is responsible for ensuring the team is performing at peak performance, unleashing the intrinsic energy found in their shared vision. Enhancing individual contributions is vital, but that support must be in service of bettering the whole. It is never about any individual alone. Leadership reminders of the shared responsibility in service of something bigger keeps the flow moving in the right direction.

An Unusual Shared Vision – Rocky Flats

In their book Making the Impossible Possible: Leading Extraordinary Performance: The Rocky Flats Story, Kim Cameron and Marc Lavine share a remarkable story of a hostile unionized workforce that put itself out of work, voluntarily, and far exceeded the goals of the project.

The Challenge

Cleaning up Rocky Flats, America’s most dangerous nuclear weapons production facility, was estimated to cost $36 billion and take over 70 years. For many years, the unionized workers would not cooperate, as they would be putting themselves out of a job. The culture was toxic, and a solution seemed impossible. Kaiser-Hill was hired to tackle this monumental job.

The Response

Kaiser-Hill taught leaders at Rocky Flats how to engage union members in a positive fashion during assessment phase:

  • What is your vision for the future of the site?
  • What role can you play in making that possible?
  • How do we get started? What should we do?

The Result

The workers did put themselves out of work, while saving $30 billion and finishing the project 60 years sooner than estimated. Why? The team responsible for getting the work done shared a vision that was deeply meaningful to them. They felt individual and collective responsibility to serve that vision. Leadership gave the team the chance to own the outcome. In addition, leadership provided respectful outplacement transition support. They did what humankind does when we have a shared vision that benefits something meaningful that is much bigger than ourselves, they were there for each other.

A Team United, Always – Big 10 Champs

In 1969 and then again in 1971, University of Michigan Football teams I was a part won Big Ten Championships. The Big Ten Championship had been achieved only once at Michigan in the previous 19 years. How did that happen in two out of three years?

Clarity of Shared Vision. Coach Bo Schembechler conveyed that we were working for something much bigger than ourselves—we were playing for each other, in service of all who cared about the University of Michigan, as a team, not as individuals.

Regular Reinforcement. The shared vision was reinforced daily, that we were there for something much bigger than anything we could do alone. The lessons and results were life changing for those on the team.

Fostering of Deep, Caring Relationships. The deep, caring relationships we had for each other, built on trust and respect, are still powerful to this day, as both teams reunite every five years, because we still care so deeply about each other.

A Team United, On the Court – The Bad Boys

The Detroit Pistons of 1986-1992, known as the Bad Boys, demonstrated how to win as a team, without deep ties and connections with one another off court. The commitment of each team member to the shared vision and purpose of the organization was the essential criterion. They won the NBA Championship twice in a way that captured the attention of the nation. Each player committed to helping the team first, as each had a different role to play in the success, and individually they stayed in their roles; the team success followed.

The Power of Community

 

When we ask athletes, leaders, or exceptionally talented individuals to share their greatest joys, their greatest accomplishment, most respond with team achievements. Seldom does a reflective person share an individual success over a team success. We are wired for long-term survival as a community.

 

Leadership Challenge Questions

  1. What role are you playing as a leader to enhance deep connection to a meaningful shared purpose?
  2. Is a clear purpose to contribute to the benefit of others now (Stage III Fulfillment) or to contribute to the benefit of others long-term (legacy; Stage IV Fulfillment) the driving force for your decision making?
  3. What are you doing to build trust in your organization?
  4. Do all members of your team know they are valued as individual contributors to something greater?

 

For those new to this series . . .

This blog is for leaders who desire to capitalize upon natural strengths to realize individual and organizational greatness. We share insights from an upcoming book on The Foundation of Winning (FOW), the template we have developed to help our clients achieve their personal and organizational potential.

I have been privileged to spend 42 years in the Team Building business, including 21 years at University of Michigan Athletics. For the first 11 years of my tenure at U-M Athletics, I worked with Football Coach Bo Schembechler, one of our nation’s most exemplary leaders and team builders. My work has revealed there is much more to sustainable greatness than talent. Being a systems engineer, I was fascinated by the science behind what made sustainable greatness possible. There are many great leaders who possess the talents Bo embodied; because of my life experiences with Bo, he may be referenced more than others.

6.2 Great Team Leaders: Counterintuitive Traits & Practices

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, airlines in the US saw a steep drop in business as many individuals and organizations avoided flying. Like their competitors, management at Southwest Airlines, led by Herb Kelleher, faced tough questions: “How do we reduce our costs by 40% so we can stay in business? People are not flying; what are our options?” Southwest’s management included employees as part of the team crafting an answer; they made the required expense cuts with the team’s input without laying off any employees. Not only did they survive, they thrived when people began to fly again. Southwest came out of the doldrums faster and better than any other airline. In fact, research by Kim Cameron, David Whetten, Jody Hoffer Gittell, and others shows that there is a direct correlation to team input, or ownership in cost reductions, and the downturn recovery. Southwest remains in business today, although several of their competitors from 2001 went out of business or were absorbed by other airlines. Kelleher understood that caring about, and caring for, your people is part of the recipe for sustainable profitability.

The prototype we have come to accept of the leader as someone who must be hard-driving and charismatic is incorrect. The Foundation of Winning components for sustainable success are the same for the team leaders as they are for each of the employees of the organization: Guiding Principles of Deep Caring and Mutual Trust, with a Purpose to serve others are not optional.

Great leaders who succeed over time build trusting and caring relationships, with team members who will go the extra mile for the team. While great leaders can come from a vast spectrum of personality types, there is a triad of traits the best possess and a set of practices they engage in.

The Best Leaders Share These Traits

Humility – Listen, Be Vulnerable

01-Humility

Being humble and showing our vulnerability is an effective way to build trust. The best leaders share that they are responsible for leading the team, but openly acknowledge that they cannot do it alone.

Do I let my team see my vulnerability?

Positivity – Celebrate, Energize, Invigorate

Research has shown that when the ratio of positive to negative comments is greater than 3:1, productivity and revenues go up. Using a 5:1 ratio of positivity to negativity is a good practice as you work with your team, your family, your community, and yourself. Be good to yourself so you can be good to others.

Is my ratio of my positive comments/compliments to criticisms/questions higher than 3:1?

02-AuthenticityAuthenticity – Be Real, the Team Knows!

Leaders reveal who they are most strikingly in how they react under pressure. Be true to who you are, and apologize if you ever violate one of the team’s Guiding Principles. The admission of being out of bounds will reap trust and respect, given you demonstrate that you are learning.

Am I authentic in sharing who I am?

Positive Practices of Great Leaders

Seek to Learn from those Closest to the Frontline

Those closest to the customer/client/patient/product deal with the challenges that will determine the sustainability of your organization. Listening to the input of your frontline team members builds their commitment, responsibility, and ownership, and the team will grow more powerful, responsive, and proactive.

How well do I value and respect the input of frontline team members?

03-CaringModel Deep Personal Caring – People First 

The heart of any organization is its people. Assets like products, buildings, equipment, or intellectual property will change because of the team members’ actions. It is the investment in people that provides sustainable returns.

How does my team know I love them for what they do for our each other and our team?

Delegate for Growth

Leaders are responsible for moving the organization toward the Shared Vision, and often that means looking at the organization from a larger perspective. Many of our clients use the term “I am caught in the weeds.” As a result, they are not able to see where they are taking the organization because of the little daily problems they are addressing.

Are there responsibilities that I can delegate, freeing time for me to check our organizational compass?

05-ListenBe Open to Purposeful Contributions from Anywhere

Successful teams are built when individuals make meaningful contributions to the Purpose of the organization, when they feel like owners. Asking each team member for their input on improving the organization creates several building blocks for a sustainable future, including employees who can think for themselves and drive initiatives to conclusion.

How open am I to critical input from others, including from those further down the ranks?

Be Open to the Heretics

The larger an organization, the more reinforcing systems are installed to keep it stable, but we grow by trying things in new ways, not by doing things the same way all the time. It is the heretics who provide growth opportunities for organizations, who lead transformational change, rather than those who never question why. Heretics may surface a more effective, efficient, and fun path for the journey to your shared Vision.

Am I open to those who may look like heretics at first?

Close the Performance Gap

04-GapThe “Closing the Performance Gap” diagram in Blog post 5.4 demonstrates the gap between current performance and 100% peak performance; it is the responsibility of leadership to close it.

What are the performance gaps of my direct reports, and do we have a plan for strategic growth initiatives to close them?

 

For those new to this series . . .

This blog is for leaders who desire to capitalize upon natural strengths to realize individual and organizational greatness. We share insights from an upcoming book on The Foundation of Winning (FOW), the template we have developed to help our clients achieve their personal and organizational potential.  

I have been privileged to spend 42 years in the Team Building business, including 21 years at University of Michigan Athletics. For the first 11 years of my tenure at U-M Athletics, I worked with Football Coach Bo Schembechler, one of our nation’s most exemplary leaders and team builders. My work has revealed there is much more to sustainable greatness than talent. Being a systems engineer, I was fascinated by the science behind what made sustainable greatness possible. There are many great leaders who possess the talents Bo embodied; because of my life experiences with Bo, he may be referenced more than others.

6.0 EXCEPTIONAL TEAMS – AN INTRODUCTION

For those new to this series . . .

This blog is for leaders who desire to capitalize upon natural strengths to realize individual and organizational peak performance.  We share insights from an upcoming book on The Foundation of Winning (FOW), the template we have developed to help our clients achieve their personal and organizational potential.  The FOW elements include Three Principles of Mankind and Four Disciplines of Leadershipthey are the pillars that enable natural alignment and meaningful success.

I have been privileged to spend 20 years in the consulting business and 21 years at University of Michigan Athletics, including 11 years with Football Coach Bo Schembechler, one of our nation’s most exemplary leaders. My work has revealed there is much more to long-term peak performance than talent. Being a systems engineer, I was fascinated by the science behind what made enduring peak performance possible.  There are many great leaders who possess what Bo embodied, but he may be referenced more than others due to my life experiences.

blog6-0-1-teambuilding

My wife is convinced that the teams I played football with for University of Michigan have reunions every year. Not true. The 1969 and 1971 Big Ten Championship teams under Coach Bo Schembechler have met every five years since the ten-year reunion, for a total of sixteen reunions so far; another is coming up soon. We brought national recognition to the university and earned trips to play in the Rose Bowl. Although we did not win the bowl games, the bond we forged on these teams has transcended details about who started, who was the star, who was walk-on, who was fast, and who was slow. Was it our success that brought us together, or was it our closeness that made us successful?

An Overview of the Building Blocks

In the Section 6 blog posts, we will explore the elements required to build exceptional teams. For many people, success while on a team has deep meaning, whether from being part of a band, orchestra, or department that excelled.

Core Identity Requirements

There is a biological basis for the depth of meaning that comes from participating in a group effort that possesses a caring and trusting environment: serotonin and oxytocin are activated, and in turn, deepen and reinforce the positive experience. We will describe this phenomenon further in our next blog post, which focuses on the Core Identity Requirements for great teams.

A Team is Only as Good as Its Leader

In blog post 6.2, we will describe the traits of great team leaders, who create and foster the culture that determines the success of the team. Over the years, we have learned that there is no single personality type of successful leader. In my early days as an athletics administrator, if there was a coaching position to fill, I thought we should pursue dynamic and inspirational individuals. I came to realize, there is no correlation between a loud and charismatic leader and team success. This is as true in business as it is in athletics. Today, the focus of our practice is building leaders who intrinsically energize their teams to realize a shared vision, regardless of their natural behavior. That ability can come from the quiet, calm thinker as easily as from the more dynamic and expressive individual, if their heart is for the organization’s vision.

Techniques and Tools

In blog post 6.3, we will look at techniques for relationship building, and in 6.4, we will introduce the Team Survey we use to assess how strong a team you may possess.

An Iconic Description of The Team

For now, I’d like to share Bo Schembechler’s iconic and inspiring message on “The Team” — it is his only publicly recorded talk to his University of Michigan Football teams.

“We want the Big Ten championship and we’re gonna win it as a Team. They can throw out all those great backs, and great quarterbacks, and great defensive players, throughout the country and in this conference, but there’s gonna be one Team that’s gonna play solely as a Team.

No man is more important than The Team. No coach is more important than The Team. The Team, The Team, The Team, and if we think that way, all of us, everything that you do, you take into consideration what effect does it have on my Team? Because you can go into professional football, you can go anywhere you want to play after you leave here. You will never play for a Team again. You’ll play for a contract. You’ll play for this. You’ll play for that. You’ll play for everything except the team, and think what a great thing it is to be a part of something that is, The Team. We’re gonna win it. We’re gonna win the championship again because we’re gonna play as team, better than anybody else in this conference, we’re gonna play together as a team.

We’re gonna believe in each other, we’re not gonna criticize each other, we’re not gonna talk about each other, we’re gonna encourage each other! And when we play as a team, when the old season is over, you and I know, it’s gonna be Michigan again, Michigan.”

It has been enlightening, exciting, and enriching for me to learn that the principles we refined for the most successful athletic teams applied as well to teams in all organizations.  The Foundation of Winning Principles and Disciplines are how humankind was designed to work together; and as leaders, we need to understand them and how they support each other. Whether for survival or for winning, how we want to work together as a team for sustainable success is the same. We will share them with you in the Team Blogs in the next few weeks.

Leadership Questions

  1. When have you had the experience of being part of a successful team? What did that feel like?   What do you think made that possible?
  2. What is more important in your organization: team success or Individual success? Where does the most attention go toward in your organization?
  3. What are the characteristics of some of the best team leaders you have known?