Championship Teams are the Result of 5 Critical Factors

Before starting a career in oilfield operations and ultimately consulting, I was fortunate to coach ten high school football and baseball teams to state championships. As I look back at what made us successful as sports teams and then start to look at the very successful business teams I have been fortunate to serve on, I notice a trend.  They both have the same five critical factors necessary to be successful.

  1. Great teams set high goals. We never set a goal to win X number of games, we always set a goal to win the championship. In business, we never set a goal to be average, rather we set goals that would create a competitive advantage for our team and company.
  2. Great Teams hold themselves accountable. As we have stated before, accountability does not mean punishment. We must focus on three things for which we must hold all team members accountable:
      • expected behaviors related to how team members respond to one another
      • continuous process improvement to reach higher and higher objectives
      • tasks done on time and done right.
  3. Great teams talk through tough issues. Team members do not always agree on everything and at times don’t even get along. To help with these “bumps in the road”, great teams must show respect to all team members, focus on the goal and collaborate for success. Dr. Stephen Covey once said “It is not my way or your way it is a better way” that is the essence of collaboration as you check your ego at the door and focus on the goals and objectives set out from the start. (Check out the latest Newsletter on Collaboration and Teamwork).
  4. Great teams connect their work with the other teams in the company. They understand that the Company as a whole is the total team and that its success is based on the success of all the teams that support and deliver that success. Knowing this, they will then support and contribute to other teams as necessary and share knowledge and results throughout the organization.

Great teams believe in their mission/goals. A Gallup Poll released June 11, 2013 indicated that only 30% of workers are engaged at the workplace and that the vast majority do just enough to get by. Great teams get their teammates to understand how their efforts impact the team and company and ultimately get them to buy-in. They know that to motivate the employee to a top level of performance they must align sub-team goals with the goals of the overall team.

Let’s look at these 5 critical behaviors through the lens of one of the more underrated American sports team. The San Antonio Spurs have quietly built a dynasty of sorts. No, they may not be the Celtics of the of the ‘60s that won 8 in a row and it’s not the Bulls of the Michael Jordan era, but they are great in their own right. No, they didn’t win the World Championship this year, but they did take a far superior team (on paper) to 7 games and they have 4 championships since 1999.

This is what is amazing about the run the Spurs have been on over that time, they are ALWAYS overmatched on paper. If you simply compared the talent of the players, the Spurs are almost always on the short end of that stick. Sure they have Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and had David Robinson. These are all names that the casual fan has heard at some point, but they may not have heard of them if they hadn’t played for the Spurs. Ginobili and Parker look more like law partners than world class athletes and the two big men quite honestly are closer to Will Purdue than they are Wilt Chamberlain. So how do they win? How have they continued to be so successful?

Look back at our list of 5 critical factors and imagine what it must be like to be on that team and playing for a leader like Greg Popovich. Do you think each team starts with the goal of winning a World Championship? Do you think the coaches hold the players accountable to their actions and performance, as well as the players to other players? Do you think they deal with tough issues that arise over a grueling 82 game schedule? Do you think the front office, medical staff, coaches, players, etc. all have the same mission and vision for the organization? Do you think that the entire organization has bought into this vision? If you answered “yes” to all of these questions then you see what an incredibly functional team must look like. The other side of that coin must look like the Dallas Cowboys, but it pains me far too much to discuss that disfunction in this blog.

4 Steps to Influence Mission "Buy-in"

How can I influence employees to "buy-in" to the mission of the organization?  As we stated in our last newsletter, the mission of an organization “is its reason for existing, its purpose, where it is headed”.  People need to know, understand and “buy-in” to the mission so that they can “get on board” and help with its accomplishment.  But how can you get them “on board”?

Average organizations assume that people are on board when they read the mission statement, so they place signs and even plaques around their facilities, on the walls in conspicuous places, so that employees are always aware of the mission.  We call this “buy-in by proclamation” and it is a strategy that a lot of managers use when giving assignments and introducing change.  However, while awareness is essential, it is not sufficient for buy-in.

The key is to “influence”, not to dictate or merely proclaim.   Influence is not related to “power” but rather to understanding and therefore requires communication of the impact of accepting the mission and the individual’s role in its accomplishment.  This requires communication of something more than the mere mission statement.  It requires communication of the relationship of the organization’s mission to the success of the organization, the individual and society in general.  We recommend following a 4-step process in communicating these relationships.

  • Articulate the importance of the mission to the success of the organization.
  • Articulate the importance of the mission to the individual team members.
  • Articulate the importance of the mission to society/customers.
  • Communicate 1, 2 and 3.

While we could discuss these steps in the abstract, it might be helpful to use a specific example, so let’s use The RAD Group’s mission statement as that example.

“The RAD Group’s mission is to improve individual, team and organizational performance.  We seek to provide products and services that help leaders create a culture in which employees are skilled, motivated and able to serve all stakeholders - employees, investors/owners, customers and others.”

1.  Articulate the importance of the mission to the success of the organization.  This mission statement helps to guide our decision making relative to what products and services we develop.  Not all products and services fit with our mission and we only consider those that do.  Likewise, not all products and services that fit our mission are accepted or developed; only those that are deemed to contribute to both the success of our customers and the success of The RAD Group.

2.  Articulate the importance of the mission to the individual team members.  Every team member of The RAD Group understands that his/her success is in some part tied to the success of the organization.  Likewise, every team member understands how his/her performance impacts the success of every other team member and therefore, our ability to succeed as an organization.  Marketing impacts our image, research impacts the quality of the products and services that we develop and delivery impacts our reputation and impact on the performance of our customers.  The understanding of this connectedness increases the motivation of each of our team members to work toward the accomplishment of our mission.

3.  Articulate the importance of the mission to society/customers.  This may sound a bit lofty, but we need to understand that if our mission does not provide value to society, and especially our customers, that there is little or no reason to exist as an organization.  We believe that what we do provides value to our customers by improving their performance and we constantly challenge ourselves to both demonstrate and increase that value.

4.  Communicate 1, 2 and 3.  While we do attempt to communicate our mission formally through papers, speeches and marketing materials, communication does not have to only be formal.  It can be done through conversation with customers and within the organization by respectfully challenging and evaluating ideas to determine if they align with the mission.  We bring our mission statement to life, not by having it on a plaque (although we do have it on our business cards as a reminder), but rather by asking ourselves regularly if our products and services are improving the individual, team and organizational performance of our customers.  We also attempt to measure that impact to help us fine tune those products and services.