This first appeared in the May 30th issue of PRNews.

The best sports teams in the world are continually obsessed with recruiting the right team members, building a team that will have the right chemistry to win and then retaining those same people after they have achieved some level of success.

If the top teams in the world have trouble getting this exactly right with nearly endless resources, we can all see this as a dose of reality.  Building best teams is hard work!

I’ve had the benefit of watching amazing leaders build teams in Fortune 500 companies and we do this ourselves at our firm.  If I think back over 30 years and imagine what the key learning’s are, here is what comes to mind:

Recruiting Team Members

#1 – The balance of capability and curiosity – many are capable, but few are curious.  When you have both, you have a person who has the hunger to learn and the ability to do something about it.  It’s what we often refer to as the fire in the belly.  The difference is you have to have the talent and the fire to do really well.

#2 – Diversity of thinking – great teams often say one very important thing.  They will talk about how there are so many people smarter than they are in certain areas at this firm that they can benefit from and they love it.  They realize that they have to think effectively and differently and be willing to accept the views of others to achieve excellence.  When you know you can learn more by staying, you often do, so diversity of thinking and retention go hand in hand.

Building Teams

#3 – Avoid the “box-in” and focus on the “unlock” instead – sometimes, in an effort to show great clarity at the time of a hire, the new hire’s responsibilities are so clear that there appears to be no room to evolve the role.  When you do this across an organization, it works great if you are in the military.  It is terrible if you are encouraging innovation and freedom of thinking.  Great leaders have the ability to give guidance on what you should do and then watch you, shape you and help you unlock.

#4 – Coach managers on how to manage – no matter how many teams we may have managed, we’re all always learning how to deal with new personalities, new issues and new marketplace realities.  We need to conversationally coach managers so they can see what they need to do and then do it in the way that works for them.  Just like we should not box in a person, we also shouldn’t micro-manage when we coach.  Help people discover what to do. It’s more powerful and long-lasting.

Retaining Talent & Teams

#5 – Focus on intellectually scalable models – it’s a reality that talent will come and go.  So, leaders must focus on building intellectually scalable models that outline how to work, how to achieve results, which processes to follow and what great results look like.  High performance teams, in turn, will define these models to meet their team’s skills.  And when one team member drops out and another comes in, the team can continue to excel.   If you establish clarity in how you achieve success together, you can build teams that do well in a sustainable fashion.  Each team will make the models better for the next team.

#6 – Retain team members who remain hungry and focused – we should never be worried that someone will leave.  Rather, we should be focused on helping those who are eager to succeed do exactly that.  If we keep our focus on those team members who are positive, forward-thinking, client-focused and who bleed the company’s vision, you’re in good shape.  If you find your time being dominated by the unhappy few who often are also the ones with the largest egos, then you are spending your time unwisely.  As Jack Welch said a long time ago, don’t focus on the type IV’s, get rid of them.  Type IV’s, in his model, were capable of high performance, but they worked against the social fabric of the company.  Just being smart isn’t enough.  You have to be smart, high performance and a cultural fit.

Overall, the biggest learning that I’ve had is the most simple and it is really a series of insights that I’ve learned by watching my favorite team, the New York Yankees, over the years.

Great chemistry and talent can lead to being the best in your business.  Talent is easy to spot.  Chemistry is a process of getting the right people together, giving them the right amount of space, the right amount of coaching and supporting them with the right resources.  Chemistry is super hard.

It’s really a never-ending formula that we will tweak for the rest of our careers. We’ll win some championships and we’ll lose some as well.  That we can count on.

What matters is what we choose to do tomorrow and for every day thereafter.

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