Secret Ingredients of Winning Teams (SIWT)
The shorter duration of sports teams seasons allow for more efficient research and we also find they correlate well with companies, non-profits, and families.
Secret Ingredients of Winning Teams (SIWT) is leading to the creation of a management process for coaches and businesses to implement.
SIWT is for coaches and owners who believe the best teams are made when both the individual's and the team's needs are met. This dual goal takes leadership and management to a higher level, it's not for the lazy coach or boss.
Our first edition focused on Vulnerability. This edition we turn our focus to Following.
Secret Ingredient: Following
If the leader is an intermediary to a vision, then a follower in a team context is someone who agrees with that vision, and subjects themselves to the needs of others in order to reach the agreed upon target. This sounds easy, yet a series of subtle forces are at work undermining group success. Individuals are efficient at calculating their own cost benefit analysis of their time, level of engagement, and compensation needs as they seek to optimize their return on effort.
The act of following while still thinking is a critical component that turns a group of people into a team. Today’s group efforts demand a fully engaged collective body where every person is thinking while they are following. Gone are the days of being able to blindly follow, now at a moment’s notice any member of the team may be called upon to lead. If they don’t have the vision in their mind, the outcomes will suffer.
Great Following Trait #1: Stay close and Observe
Google may have replaced mentors as the best source of knowledge in general, but on a team the subtle needs and tricks to great performance are still passed on human to human. The closer you can stay to your immediate leader, the more they will pass along in either word or deed. First year cadets at West Point are taught to observe and adapt as they start the tightly manicured 4-year matriculation. There will be distractions everywhere at work, from coworkers, to trade shows, to all-hands meetings. Navigate all these with discretion and observe how your boss behaves and mirror it.
Great Following Trait #2: Anticipate
Some of the best teams in the world come in pairs, and seldom is that pair splitting each task 50/50. They often deploy a divide and conquer strategy with each one owning a series of duties and relying on the other to deliver on their stack. As the team builds beyond a pair, a collaborate-to-innovate strategy can start to evolve. It is at this point that the ability to anticipate the needs of others plays a key role in how great followers enable successful teams. At the root of anticipation is empathy. Empathy requires setting aside your thoughts and seeing the world through the eyes of another. New members of work teams who seek to serve the needs of the group first will not stay at the bottom of the totem pole for long.
Great Following Trait #3: Be Comfortable with Conflict
Universities may talk a tough game when it comes to deadlines, but ultimately the student is paying for the knowledge. In recent decades the school administrators have a consistent record of caving to student and parent demands. The workplace is a different story, the customer is a fickle and petulant king, and this can turn even the nicest boss into a frustrated time-constrained leader with very challenging demands.
“Stop what you’re doing and get this done today! It has to get done now!”
What happened to: “How are you, is everything OK in your world? When you get a minute could you step in my office to discuss our latest cool project that you will love?”
Anyone who has worked for even six months knows tension and conflict arrive via phone, email, and text at a moment’s notice. Having a series of communication tools to work with others during times of duress is a game changer. Being able to work with conflict when you are in a low power situation starts with being able to frame what you are hearing, and then nailing what you can offer to the solution. When people disagree on the solution it is key for the good follower to grab the similarities that exist amid the differences, and then look for a good moment to share your findings. Master this trait as a follower, and your leaders will take note and your responsibilities will increase.
A View into Our Future
Tomorrow’s leaders will be challenged to get a population of individuals to buy into the need to follow as we have defined it. Those that can sell the benefits of supplanting the self for the group and create outcomes that feed the entire team will find that word of mouth among the members will keep a steady stream of applicants at their door. Very few enterprises scale without more people, and people having a good time while winning is contagious. We all want to be on that team. The question being asked is are you willing to follow long enough to get there?
The New Employee
We would like to highlight a specific moment when the individual is new to a team or company. One's ability to assimilate quickly appears to have a strong correlation with later success.
Here is a quick guide for you or a friend to use when they are new:
Secret Ingredients of Winning Teams
Six years ago Sara and I started Banyan Tree Strategies to help people build re-mark-able businesses and we are thankful for its success. In the midst of our work we started to notice a correlation between what we were doing for companies and our past experiences as professional athletes and more recently as youth sports coaches.
What was our big revelation?
Everyone wants to be on a winning team and nobody wants to be tagged as not being a team player.
OK. We get it, big deal, everyone knows that already.
Then why is it so hard to repeat as a winner, and why do most teams fail?
We took what we are learning from CEO’s and are applying it ranging from college coaches, to people coming out of college looking to grow their networks, to 6th grade lacrosse coaches. Four times a year we will share our insights called “The Secret Ingredients of Winning Teams,” a topic we have touched on at various moments in our Banyan Tree Branches & Roots Newsletter.
We hope our research can help you in your efforts to build winning teams in all facets of your life.
These are the themes we are currently following:
• The coach’s pursuit of collective excellence
• How small societies impact performance
• The evolving role of the captain
There are many noble pursuits for a coach at the beginning of the season and we hardly ever bump into one who is volunteering their time in the hopes of causing a kid to quit the sport. However, if we were to vote on one of the hardest goals to obtain, we would put achieving collective excellence above going undefeated and winning the all-city title.
Our definition of collective excellence has its roots in the work of John Wooden and those who also seek to build a personal relationship with each player in the joint pursuit of the team’s goals. The ability of the coach to build trust with the player, to such an extent that the player can agree to the role the coach has constructed for that season is crucial. It's part sales pitch and part plea for support and trust.
Each season is as an opportunity for the coach to have a scouting report done on themselves, a book as it were. It answers the question, how do we beat this coach? Scouting reports are common on players: what is the book on that guy?
A coach should also want to know what “the book” is on them at this point in their career, and then work the next season to improve. So what is the book on you right now?
The coach who trusts his or her team enough to be vulnerable with them should be well on their way to existing in a state of consensual interdependence with the rest of the coaching staff and the players. We wrote about this in one of our Thought Leadership Series pieces shown here.
The pursuit of collective excellence begins with the coaching staff and then continues through to the players. If you can think of a team you were on that achieved this, please share with us as we continue to build out stories on this topic.
How Small Societies Impact Performance
We first heard this term small societies from UNC women's soccer coach Anson Dorrance in a talk he gave at the What Drives Winning Conference in 2015.
It was a scant reference at the beginning of the talk (minute 1:15), but for geeks like us, it was cause for research. Dorrance is a coach in pursuit of collective excellence. He is building a cumulative chest of wisdom on the topic of human collaboration in the pursuit of putting a ball in a net and caring about each other in the process. His research led him to discover Cesar Luis Menotti of Argentina who had the high pressure job of being that country's national soccer team coach.
It was Menotti who started talking about the teams within the teams, calling them small societies when describing the relationships between the goalie and the fullbacks, the right midfielder with the center forward. It is similar to Metcalf’s law of networks and how intertwined our relationships can get.
Our current learning is this:
Consider looking at your team the same way you would look at this square. You know you are going to be asked, how many squares can you see? If a square is a small society that could exist on your team, how many can you see? Make a list of small societies for your team and then if you feel like it, share it with us. As the coach, you can’t advise and mentor what you can’t observe.
We have reached out to Dorrance with no success to date. If you have a link to him, please let us know as we would love 15 minutes to have a conversation on his current thoughts.
Oh Captain, My Captain
No topic has captured our attention in the area of teams more in the past six months than the role of the Captain. Both Sara and I were captains of our high school and college teams. Both of us found it an arduous role to fill. In the decades since we have spoken to countless others who had similar experiences and were delighted to find that Sam Walker did years of research and published “The Captain Class.”
His goal was to answer one of the most challenging questions in the history of sport: who are the best teams of all time? In all sports, in all time? Talk about a Mt. Everest goal. He also had a second goal. If he could make a claim that there was one class above the rest, did they have any characteristics in common?
Turns out he could and there was. It was that they had a certain type of Team Captain. He then went on to identify that those captains had seven characteristics in common.
This was pure catnip for us and led us to interview as many college, high school, and youth sport coaches we could and ask, if this is true, then how can you incorporate identifying potential captains and then developing them as part of your program?
What we heard and how coaches are changing what they are doing in response to the data is encouraging.
We will continue to review this effort in this section of the publication. Here is a copy of what we send to coaches prior to our conversations with them, feel free to send it to any coach you know and we would love their advice and comments.
Thank you so much for your readership and engagement with our research on building and maintaining winning teams. Winning together is a jump for joy moment and we think those are worth the blood, sweat, and toil that goes into being collectively excellent. We will be back to you in the middle of May with our latest insights that we glean from our network of awesome contributing coaches and leaders.
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