“We train for war and fight to win.” -US Navy SEAL Creed
Your aim as a leader in engaging your team members to ‘go the extra mile’ is to work together with a common commitment to achieve optimum outcomes for everyone involved. By doing so, you achieve common objectives that directly benefit your organisation, you and your team members.
In a single word, the first key to such a winning team is leadership. A strong leader is one that demonstrates integrity and competence. He or she is someone that people trust. Strong leaders also have developed the communication skills to enrol and inspire others to understand and embrace their vision.
Assuming that you, as a leader, possess those qualities, let us discuss how you should go about building a winning culture.
Key # 1 - Common goal
To win the game as a team, it is essential for everyone to share a clearly defined target and it is your responsibility as the leader to effectively communicate that goal to the team.
Your next logical question is, “Where are we going?” You must not forget that great goals are ‘smart’ (meaning specific, measurable, achievable, results oriented and have time frame). A smart goal has the ability to focus the team on a specific, defined outcome. It needs to be believable and direct the team toward the ultimate vision of the organisation.
Many leaders hesitate to set powerful, challenging goals because of a fear of failure. This fear is based on the false belief that the team will be disappointed if a goal is not completely realized by the allotted time frame.
If a common goal brings the team together, gets the team focused and improves overall performance and team spirit, then why should the team choose disappointment just because they fall short of complete attainment of the goal by a certain deadline?
The focus should be the progress and the learning and adjustments that need to be made based on the current results. Bigger dreams and goals create better questions, which lead to superior decisions, actions and results.
Key # 2 - Rules of the game
Can you imagine trying to win a game if you didn’t know the rules? Do your team members know the organisation’s core values? Have you invested time in defining core values and communicating the company culture to every team member?
As a strong leader, you have earned the respect of the team and you have a common goal to shoot for. Then it is time to define the playing field.
If you put rules in the context of a game, they take on a correct perspective. The rules in a game define how you play, how you use your skills and communicate the appropriate relationship between the team members - their roles and functions defined.
For a winning team to embrace and respect the rules, you must correctly communicate the function of the rules. It is not to crush creativity or to control and repress but rather to clearly define the structure and means to winning. If a player clearly knows the boundaries, then he is free to play the game. If he is unsure, he will move very slowly and tentatively.
Key # 3 - Action plan
A third key for producing a winning team is to support risk taking. For people to maximize their potential, they need to try new things, even make mistakes. The only people who don’t make mistakes are those who never try anything new. Winning teams will always be willing to stretch their limits. As long as you have defined the rules of the game, the team should be encouraged to innovate within those defined boundaries.
Procrastination is the enemy of all progress and learning and it is rooted in fear. The antidote and cure for fear is action. For the action to be most effective, it should be preceded by some organised thought and planning. Very simply stated, a great action plan has three components - who does, what and by when. That is all. If you are clear on the goal and the rules, then organise your plan into logical steps and delegate each step to the right team member. Assign an accountability and deadline and you are
ready to go.
Many meetings are de-energizing because they don’t end with an action plan. Talk and analysis with no action is really non-productive.
Key # 4 - Support risk taking
To maximize the potential of every team member, you and the organisation must support risk taking. What does that mean? It means that fear of mistakes and failure must go. It means that you always solicit and welcome multiple solutions to challenges. It means that right brain, creative thinking is encouraged and that new ideas and changes are welcomed and rewarded.
Do these concepts and ideas scare you? They don’t need to. A refusal to try new things and make mistakes is a recipe for team failure. For example, the first typical response if you fail to support risk taking is that creative, innovative team members will leave the team. Those that stay will often lose spirit and become dull and barely functional. Human beings were made to create, innovate, explore and experiment. If you refuse to support risk taking, you drain the adventure, fun and creativity out of
When the team knows the boundaries, they are free to take maximum risk and even make mistakes as long as they stay within the fence. Because risk taking and mistakes are supported within the rules, there is no fear of failure and the team can accelerate learning by taking more chances, trying more things and learning what does and does not work.
Key # 5 - 100% involvement and inclusion
Each member must know that they are accepted by the team and each member must also choose to participate 100 percent. Such participation creates powerful team synergy.
Keeping on track
One of the best ways to sustain the commitment of team members to take the actions that have been agreed is to recognise the progress they’re making and their achievements.
Keep work team members on track by:
Holding reviews at the time and date that you agreed. Put the review dates into your diary to prompt you to take the lead in organising and holding reviews.
Asking your colleague in review meetings to take the lead in describing the progress he’s made, his achievements, difficulties experienced and how he’s going to overcome them and so on.
Using your team member’s name when praising him to build his self-esteem, so that he hears success and praise associated with his name.
Constructively challenging your colleague if you think that he’s not maintaining his commitment and providing any additional support that he needs from you to succeed.
Winning cultures emerge from understanding that a team’s number one asset is its members. Great teams cultivate and develop those assets to their fullest. They challenge their members in a constructive manner and provide the necessary resources (in all forms) for them to accomplish their responsibilities. They provide conduits of communication, give timely feedback on ongoing operations and are available for questions and concerns. Winning cultures thrive on the growth and advancement of their own. They look to promote from within and encourage upward career movement, even if it’s outside of the team.
Sustaining a winning culture requires flexibility, while adhering to the original principles that helped mould the mission statement of the organisation. It goes back to selecting the right people and indoctrinating them into the way the team goes about doing its business: day to day, week to week, month to month and milestone to milestone.
(Lionel Wijesiri is a retired corporate director counting three decades of senior management experience. He is now an independent consultant and a freelance journalist. He may be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org)