What is the secret to performing teams?
What are the key ingredients to a successful team…in professional sports, organisations of all kinds, and even families?
We are often asked this question in our practice.
The short answer is, lots of factors! Otherwise, everyone would attain elusive results.
Almost like a golf swing, numerous little things go into achieving excellence.
For context, we believe values form the building blocks of organisational culture. Clearly defined behaviours and adherence to them is fundamental to nurturing the desired culture.
In this article, we focus on the six core values or behaviours that must be practiced for any team to perform.
Values themselves can be broadly grouped into three: Goodness, Core and Organisational.
By goodness values, we refer to those ethical and moral standards that we consider a minimum for the pursuit of goodness. In other words what we generally expect from good human beings. Integrity, truthfulness, good manners, work ethic, fairness, justice…values that our parents and grandparents thought us to live by, or promulgated by most faith systems and religions.
In days past this would have been a given. Sadly, they no longer are. Just read today’s financial papers to see examples of bad behaviour, selfishness, corruption, duplicity and the like. In recent years, entire industries (e.g. banking) have been found universally wanting. Not a few organisations but entire industries – especially ones where the onus to act with goodness and integrity is paramount – have been found guilty of misconduct.
Assuming, we have attracted and kept good human beings with a generally accepted level of decency in our organisations, the next layer is what we call core values, which we shall discuss in greater detail shortly.
Finally, there are Organisational values. These are specific to the organisation and vary based on mission and purpose: what it does and how it goes about doing it. Fortescue (ASX: FMG), for example, has safety as its foremost value. Above all, it prioritises the safety of its people – no injuries or lives lost. It is only after this, that it seeks to be a low-cost and profitable mining company.
Core Values of Successful Teams
Over the last two decades of working with various organisations, we have consistently found six core values that separate performing teams from the rest.
They seem to exist in three pairs juxtaposing each other yet working in harmony.
• Trust & Vulnerability
• Commitment & Accountability
• Candour & Communication
Like muscles in our core, they are integral in the strength, conditioning and ultimately performance of the body – team or organisation.
The non-negotiable six-pack must be exercised constantly, practised almost reverentially, and never compromised.
These core values form the operating system on which the paradigm of ‘maximising strengths’ functions. For any team to perform optimally there must be a maximising of every individual’s strengths and the minimising of their weaknesses. This is premised on identifying and exploiting each person’s strengths, but a commitment for members of the team to support and compliment their correlating weaknesses.
Trust & Vulnerability
Trust – we call this the foundation value – without which there can be no working relationship between humans. There is often a mistaken drive for people in an organisation to get along, perhaps even for respect. Whilst these values are ‘nice to have, trust is mandatory. The level of trust must be of such a standard that individuals can be vulnerable to each other about their weaknesses. To be ‘trusting’ and not have their openness be misused.
Vulnerability is about identifying and communicating the areas of support required by an individual to the rest of the team. The higher the level of trust, the more vulnerable individuals can be to each other. This virtuous cycle of “I’ve got your back” when routinely practised can make teams indomitable.
Commitment & Accountability
Commitment implies putting the team’s needs above the wants of the individual. It mandates the contribution of one’s strengths to support the weaknesses of others. Selflessness is imperative. Commitment answers the question: are we all in? As well as if each individual is ‘all in’ – fully committed or not!
Accountability requires that all individuals accept the objective truth about their actions and behaviours – acknowledging areas of improvement and a commitment to change. It incorporates giving and receiving authentic feedback for accomplishments. Accountability works to calibrate commitment levels within the team. It ensures there are no passengers, dissenters, weak links, leaks, or breakdowns.
Candour & Communication
Intrinsic to every team is the need to communicate with truth, good manners, optimal frequency, timing, context and modality. No less is the requirement to address conflicts as and when necessary whilst always ensuring a mindset of authentic inquiry – to seek first to understand.
Many well-intentioned teams and organisations seek to avoid conflict. Whilst seeking out conflict, for the sake of it, is unhealthy, an aversion to addressing dissonance is far more dangerous. All of us, even the conscientious, regularly divert from the desired path – it’s part of our human nature. It is incumbent, therefore, on team members to hold themselves and each other accountable. This can only be achieved through candour coupled with authentic inquiry – understanding intentions over actions. Whilst this takes time and energy – it is an essential ritual that must be practised regularly.
Incorporating and practising these six core values in teams and organisations is extremely difficult. In our experience, many organisations regardless of their size and motivation – simply give up.
Introduction and induction can be disruptive and initially unrewarding. Returns and benefits can be prolonged…like pounding a rock.
Adherence can also be exhausting. Yet, for those that unwaveringly commit, the results are self-evident.
Teams Case Study
Whilst having tested this model in organisations, the ability to trial it in a professional sporting team was a rare opportunity that presented itself more than a decade ago. The ‘values’ introduced were a hybrid of Decency and Core. Over eight years, they were further calibrated to suit the changing environment – with different coaches and players. Consistent during this time was the over-layering of Organisational Values (owned and practised by the team) – which also changed with each season.
The results were remarkable and unprecedented.
Since then, we have further refined the model to suit both professional teams and organisations – profit, non-profit, and even government.
More recently, we have developed tools to embed this framework and manage its ongoing implementation.
If you are interested in introducing this to your organisation, do reach out. We’d love to be involved.
Nick Marvin served as managing director/CEO of three professional sporting franchises as well as chairman/CEO of two national/international sporting leagues over 13 years. He has since returned to practice as a management consultant.