“Success or failure depends more upon attitude than upon capacity. Successful [people] act as though they have accomplished or are enjoying something. Soon it becomes a reality. Act, look, and feel successful, conduct yourself accordingly, and you will be amazed at the positive results.” – William James, American philosopher.
What makes a team successful? In many ways, building a team is like constructing a building. While most of us aren’t engineers, we understand the basics of their work. We know, for example, that constructing a building requires basic resources, fasteners to hold the pieces together, protective elements, and more—but it’s all built on a foundation, proceeding from the bottom up.
A Solid Substrate
In my Christian Bible, Jesus Christ once declared to the Apostle Peter, “You are the rock upon which I will build my church.” (I’m sure you can share similar examples from your faith.) I didn’t fully understand this statement until I was in college, when I learned Jesus had a sense of humor: Peter’s Greek name would have been Petros, the Greek word for “rock.” But Christ used this statement to make the point that you must build a structure on solid ground, whether it be a church building or the team comprising the congregation. Elsewhere in the Bible, we’re warned to build our houses on rock, not shifting sands.
This advice applies to team building as well. Clearly, we’ve held this advice as part of our collective Western cultural wisdom for thousands of years; too often, however, we fail to take it into account in business. Coworkers can’t succeed as a team, much less excel, if we can’t construct a solid foundation upon which to erect the framework that supports and strengthens us, both as individuals and a group. It takes careful exploration and testing to find the solid ground upon which we can build our solid foundation.
This solid ground is cemented by the Core Values of the group, which lead to the Mission and Vision underlying everything a team or organization does, creates, or becomes. Sometimes the Core Values rot from within; when this occurs, the entire structure can suffer damage or destruction, as we’ve seen repeatedly during the turbulent years since the turn of the century.
Creating Your Foundation
Success may sometimes happen by accident, but it reaches true heights when it’s deliberately planned and structured. The largest, most successful corporations have implemented this concept quite well; their corporate cultures leave little to chance. They may go about it differently, but in each case the structure contributes to their success. McDonalds, for example, has systematized everything so well and educates new employees so thoroughly that it can turn groups of high-school students into highly efficient teams with a speedy throughput of product and cash flow.
As a knowledge worker, you’re on a different level than fast-food employees, but you do have things in common with them. The best work groups in both categories begin by establishing a solid foundation as a team. When you’ve found your solid ground and designed your structure, it’s time to get together and make plans for how you’ll mesh so that your workflow allows high performance and excellent service.
Your Core Values become critical here as anchors for your foundation and subsequent structure, but let’s face it: how often do you find a group of more than a few people with identical values? In a team, you create a slate of Core Values. You don’t just stumble over them; you have to hammer them out and agree to take them to heart. For example, as a productivity enthusiast, two of my core values are responsiveness and accountability. For our team, that shows up in the behaviors of always responding within one business day and doing what you say you’ll do.
As your new team comes together or an older team reconfigures, conduct a series of meetings to create a team philosophy and code of conduct centered around the principles you value as a team. They will differ depending on the industry and existing company culture, but some of these examples may work for you:
- “We respond with a sense of urgency.”
- “Simplicity is genius.”
- “We’ll figure it out.”
- “Focus on WHAT is right, not WHO is right.”
- “No excuses.”
- “There’s always a better way.”
- “Can’t isn’t in our vocabulary.”
- “Saying ‘that’s not my job’ is a firing offense.”
You may have seen statements similar to these used as catchphrases or slogans. Some may serve as the basis of a company’s Unique Selling Position, or USP.
The organizations that really take their philosophies to heart and follow their standards closely tend to succeed, while those that don’t are more likely to fall apart. Build a solid foundation by working out your differences and explicitly defining what you believe and how you will act. Only then can you construct a solid structure leading, ultimately, to a towering success.
© 2016 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored seven books, including Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time (January 18, 2016). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and in 2015 was inducted into its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401 or visit her website.