Power of Teams & Creating Your A-Team

With the Stanley Cup playoffs well underway, it got me thinking about the similarities and differences between people managers and the coaches of sports teams.

Why don’t we hold people managers accountable for team performance the same way we hold the coaches of our favorite sports teams accountable?

Should we hold managers accountable for team performance the same way we do NHL coaches?

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Both are responsible for creating high performance teams – inspiring every player to reach their goals and using individual team members’ strengths to their advantage. Yet it seems we treat people managers differently than we do coaches when things don’t go as planned.

Let’s take a look at how.

Scenario 1: your average organizational department/team

  • 1 manager
  • A bunch of eager employees who are paid well to perform and achieve goals

The team works hard to achieve its goals, but for a whole variety of factors, is unsuccessful. The manager (and the organization) sees the employees’ performance as reason for the failure. Sometimes underperforming employees are “released” or the manager finds other ways to rebuild the team.

Scenario 2: your favorite sports team

  • 1 manager/coach (and perhaps an assistant coach or two)
  • A bunch of professional athletes who are paid a lot of money to perform and win

We’ve all been there… Your favorite team suffers another disappointing loss and is cut from the playoffs. Then what happens? An announcement that the coach has been fired/replaced. But what about the players who suited up every game and didn’t produce the necessary results?

The reality in sports is that the coach has very little impact on improving the performance of the professional/star athletes on the team.

Would you teach Wayne Gretzky how to pass a different way? Or attempt to teach Michael Jordan how to dunk differently?

Ah, but people managers? There is a lot they can do to improve team performance.

How people managers can inspire high performance

The key trait great leaders share is an ability to motivate others to perform. Before pointing the finger at underperforming employees for not achieving the goals set for them, you might want to ask:

  • Are you clear about goals and expectations?
  • Do you regularly recognize, reward and appreciate high performance?
  • Do your provide opportunities for growth and development?
  • Do you regularly share performance feedback (constructive and positive) with employees?
  • Do you ask employees for feedback on your own performance?
  • Do you work with low performers to create a plan to close skill gaps?

If you find yourself responding “no” to a lot of these questions, it might be time to rethink who’s really to blame for your team’s low performance.

It’s also worth noting that HR also plays an integral role in helping people managers become effective coaches. HR should provide managers with the tools and training needed to develop these skills so they know how to create their high performing teams. The key, however, is to ensure managers actually use them.

Like many professional athletes, the average employee will have many different managers across the span of their career. And they’ll always remember the coach or manager that pushed them to excel.

Are you the kind of manager your employees will remember as a dud leader or as a leader who inspired them to greatness?


1.       Be Aware of How You Work

As the leader of the team, you must be extremely aware of your leadership style and techniques.   Are they as effective as you think?  How well are they accepted by the team you are attempting to  lead?  Evaluate yourself and be critical about where you can improve, especially in areas that will benefit those whom you are a leading.

Though you may be in-charge, how you work may not be appreciated by those who work for you.   You may have  good intentions, but make sure you hold yourself accountable to course-correct and modify your approach if necessary to assure that you’re leading from a position of strength and respectability.

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Be your own boss.  Be flexible.  Know who you are as a leader.

2.       Get to Know the Rest of the Team

Much like you need to hold yourself accountable for your actions to assure you maximize performance and results, you must make the time to get to know your team and encourage camaraderie.   In my “emotional intelligence blog,” I discuss the importance of caring, understanding the needs of your team and embracing differences and helping your colleagues experience their significance.  In this case, gathering intelligence means learning what defines the strengths and capabilities of your team –  the real assets that each member brings to the table, those they leave behind and those  yet to be developed.

All great leaders know exactly what buttons to push and when to push them.  They are experts at activating the talent that surrounds them.  They are equally as effective at matching unique areas of subject matter expertise and / or competencies to solve  problems and seek new solutions.

Fully knowing your team means that you have invested the time to understand how they are wired to think and what is required to motivate them to excel beyond what is expected from them.

3.       Clearly Define Roles & Responsibilities

When you successfully complete step 2, you can then more effectively and clearly define the roles and responsibilities of those on your team.  Now, don’t assume this is an easy step;  in fact, you’ll often find that people’s ideal roles  lie outside their job descriptions.

Each of your team member’s responsibilities must be interconnected and dependent upon one another.    This is not unlike team sports, where some players are known as “system players” – meaning that, although they may not be the most talented person on the team,  they know how to work best within the “system.”    This is why you must have a keen eye for talent that can evaluate people not  only on their ability to play a particular role – but even more so on whether they fit the workplace culture (the system) and  will be a team player.

For example, I once inherited an employee who wasn’t very good at his specific job.  Instead of firing him, I took the time to get to know him and utilized his natural talents as a strategic facilitator who could keep all of the moving parts within the department in proper alignment and in lock-step communication.   This person helped our team operate more efficiently and saved the company money by avoiding the bad decisions they previously made because of miscommunications.  He was eventually promoted into a special projects manager role.

A team should operate as a mosaic whose unique strengths and differences convert into a powerful united force.

4.       Be Proactive with Feedback

Feedback is the key to assuring any team is staying on track, but more importantly that it is improving each day.   Feedback should be proa

Feedback is simply the art of great communication.  It should be something that is part of one’s natural dialogue.  Feedback can be both formal and informal.    In fact, if it becomes too structured and stiff, it becomes difficult for the feedback to be authentic and impactful.

Remember that every team is different, with its own unique nuances and dynamics.  Treat them as such.  No cookie-cutter approach is allowed.   Allow proactive feedback to serve as your team’s greatest enabler for continuous improvement.

Take the time to remind someone of how and what they can be doing better.  Learn from them. Don’t complicate the process of constructive feedback.  Feedback is two-way communication.

5.       Acknowledge and Reward

With proactive feedback comes acknowledgement and reward.  People love recognition, but are most appreciative of respect.   Take the time to give your teammates the proper accolades they have earned and deserve.   I have seen too many leaders take performance for granted because they don’t believe that one should be rewarded for “doing their job.”

At a time when people want to feel as if they are making a difference, be a thoughtful leader and reassure your team that you are paying attention to their efforts.   Being genuine in your recognition and respect goes a long way towards building loyalty and trust.  It organically ignites extra effort!

When people are acknowledged, their work brings them greater satisfaction and becomes more purposeful. 

6.       Always Celebrate Success

At a time when uncertainty is being dealt with each day, you must take the time to celebrate success.    This goes beyond acknowledgment – this is about taking a step-back and reflecting on what you have accomplished and what you have learned throughout the journey.

In today’s fast-paced, rapidly changing world of work, people are not taking enough time to understand why they were successful and how their success reverberated and positively impacted those around them.    I have seen leaders fall into the trap of self-aggrandizement – because of what their teams accomplished – rather than celebrating the success stories that in many cases required tremendous effort,  sacrifice and perseverance.

Celebration is a short-lived activity.  Don’t ignore it.  Take the time to live in the moment and remember what allowed you to cross the finish line.

Leaders are only as successful as their teams and the great ones know  that with the right team dynamics, decisions and diverse personalities, everyone wins in the end.

reach me at:

twitter @cc_wahome .

Charles Wahome |LinkedIn

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I welcome your thoughts. Author: Charles Wahome Chambers | Google+

Product Management Consultant


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