The SECRETS of Elite Teams

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The SECRETS of Elite Teams

The Idea: “How” we communicate, matters much more than “what” we communicate. When Magic Johnson announced his resignation as Lakers President of Basketball Operations, there weren’t gaggles of protestors demanding Magic Johnson return, but instead a chorus of disappointment about how he handled his departure. The “what” is fixable but the “how” is what is remembered. It’s no wonder that Gallup’s latest State of the American Workplace research reports widespread disappointment directed at leadership with 8 in 10 employees believing their boss lacks vision or clear communication.

Consulting and training leaders often uncover that having the most talent doesn’t necessarily mean winning. Elite teams are ecosystems where the sum is much bigger than the individual parts. Learning, and effectively distilling those learnings, is the growth engine. Jack Welch understood this: “An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.” A diverse, open, and emotionally healthy team is a competitive advantage.

Are you creating a team that embraces the “how”?

Almost 6 of 10 senior executives believe their teams are under-performing, citing both lack of accountability and lack of communication as key culprits. Building an elite team goes far beyond accumulating talent. On average, the highest performing teams take five years of deliberate daily practice to attain elite status. They are a blend of talent and organizational fit, operating as one. How does an organization create a culture that has the potential to birth a great team?

In a podcast with John Eades, Sam Walker, author of The Captain Class, said: “The best leaders are always communicating, almost to the point where it’s tiring. All of the captains of the greatest sports teams of all time were extremely effective communicators even though they weren’t always eloquent.” In fact, the act of relentless communication and insight sharing is a huge part of a team’s long-term success.

Alex Pentland shared in a Harvard Business Review article titled, “The New Science of Building Great Teams,” that high-performing teams possess an energy, creativity, and shared commitment that far surpasses other teams. The key to top performers lied not in the content of a team’s discussions but in the style in which they communicated. It was discovered that a team’s “patterns of communication (were the) most important predictor of a team’s success.” The findings continue to say that those communication styles “are as significant as all the other factors—individual intelligence, personality, skill, and the substance of discussions—combined.” Exemplary cases of peak-performing teams describe energy and connections in conversations inside and, importantly, outside formal meetings.

If the “how” is healthy communication, the “who” is the foundation. Daniel Goleman, psychologist, author, and researcher, found top team performance coincides with high emotional intelligence in his 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence. This includes cultivating internal motivation, persistence through frustration, an ability to delay gratification, and practicing mood regulation. Elite teams create psychological safety, allowing all members to enter difficult conversations and voice dissent. Organizations that can ask demanding questions during challenging times and expect high standards sustain growth. They bring out the best in their peers and are almost twice as likely to deliver above average financial performance.

Are you taking seriously what is getting in the way of your team’s performance? Assess what drives open and equitable communication and prioritize those interactions. That which is felt is remembered.

Are you sacrificing the “how” for the “what”?

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