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.

The Secret to Conflict Resolution -- Stop Compromising

We hear the word “compromise” anytime we turn on the TV or read a newspaper article about how the U.S. Congress should fix our fiscal woes.  Talking heads and Joe Public alike beg for more compromise to fix the situation.  Is it possible that compromise is what is putting us in such a predicament?  Compromise is based on giving up something you want, thus it is based on “losing”.  As that term suggests, I give a little, you give a little, and we meet somewhere in the middle at an agreement.  While compromise sounds like the best way to get unstuck, it actually leaves both parties feeling unsatisfied, almost as if they gave up too much.

To truly resolve conflict we suggest another “C” word -- “Collaboration”.  To collaborate, two or more parties must brainstorm ideas to fix a problem.  The goal, in the end, is to walk away with a solution that is more likely to truly “fix” the situation over which the parties were at odds to begin with.  The process is really pretty easy.  First, the two parties must come to an agreement on a goal that they both want to achieve.  Once that goal is agreed on, they brainstorm ways to get them to their shared goal.  No giving up one’s beliefs or buying into the other guy’s beliefs, simply agreed upon strategies that can get both parties what they have agreed that they both want.  The task then is to choose one solution that both parties have already agreed will achieve the common goal.

Let’s look at an actual conflict that shows how this works.  There was a state in the Southern U.S. that was having violent clashes between Pro-Choice and Pro-Life groups.  The state’s governor knew he must do something before more violence led to somebody’s death.  He told his assistant that he wanted the leadership of both groups to meet with him so they could come to some sort of agreement to stop the violence.  His assistant, thinking the governor had lost his mind, questioned if getting these two groups together in the same room was wise, but the governor insisted.

When the meeting did occur, both sides were at each other’s throats from the moment they arrived in the meeting room.  The governor eventually created calm so that he could address the restless crowd.  What he told them was surprising even to is staff.  He said, “As you all know, we have a significant teen pregnancy problem in our state.  We rank 49th out of the 50 states in teen pregnancies and 50th in the number of teenaged abortions.  What I need from you is to help me solve this problem.  I need your ideas for cutting back the rate of teen pregnancy so that we can cut the number of abortions in the state.”  Both sides instantly changed their demeanor.  After all, the vast majority of abortions are performed on teenaged mothers.  If they could solve that problem, their debate would become moot.

For the next few weeks both sides met and came up with a strategy to lower the pregnancy rate of girls in their state.  They worked together, civilly to reach a common goal, and in the end, they lowered the teen aged pregnancy rate over 50% in their state.

How about you, how does this work in your world?  Can you find a common goal to work towards rather than trying to determine what you are willing to give up, and therefore feeling unsatisfied?  Stop compromising when you are at odds with your co-worker, spouse, or neighbor and find a way to create an action plan that gets you both to a mutual goal.  If only they understood this in Washington.