I looked at my email inbox one morning, and there was an email with the title, “Team Building,” from Mark, the Chief Operating Officer of the company I was working at.
I opened the email, looked at the content, and I groaned my disapproval. The team building exercise Mark wanted a limited group of senior managers to do was to go to an indoor rock-climbing facility.
How a bunch of out of shape, 40 somethings were going to bond and become better teammates going rock climbing was pure insanity, I thought to myself. I laughed, and said to myself, “I hope the company has good insurance.”
A week later, we all assembled at the rock-climbing facility, and we went through the team building exercises that were prepared for us. Some people participated, and some people did the minimum possible.
Team building exercises aren’t likely to fix your team’s poor performance.
The end result was predictable: Nothing changed.
I asked Mark why he thought team building was needed. “’Bob’ (the company’s CEO) felt the team was underperforming, so he suggested the idea.”
I laughed. “And going rock climbing is going to improve performance? You’ve gotta be kidding.”
I had been at the company for a few months when this happened, and I knew why my team was underperforming. And rock-climbing wasn’t going to help.
The solution to improving the performance of your team rests with you, the CEO.
As in most things in business, the solution to improving your team’s performance is a simple, in principle, problem to fix. It usually comes down to three possibilities:
A. You’re not doing a good job managing your team
B. You’re team is made up of weak and mediocre people
C. All of the above
In my case, I had inherited a weak team that was poorly managed. Turning the division’s fortunes around was really straightforward.
The best team building initiative you have is hiring great people and treating them with respect.
So, I did what I needed to do. I replaced most of the team I inherited with a new team that had the characteristics we needed.
The leader sets the culture for the company, division, or group. There’s an old saying: the fish stinks from the head down. Simply put, a bad leader sets a bad culture, and a good leader sets a good culture.
A leader can have whatever culture he or she wants in mind. However, it is the people the leader surrounds herself or himself with that helps determine the culture.
In other words, you cannot just decree a culture. You hire (and fire) a culture.
What should you look for in the people you hire, and what should you look for in the team you are about to join? Here are the four things I always look for:
Need we go any further? Why would you ever hire someone if they don’t have integrity? Actually, I think we do need to go a little further.
Everyone — everyone — is occasionally faced with the dilemma that arises when you’re interviewing a clearly talented individual who seems a bit ethically iffy. Don’t hire them. Ever. No amount of ability makes up for a lack of integrity.
We want people that are very smart. Who doesn’t, right? Well, it’s surprising how often I see people who only hire those who clearly aren’t as smart as they are.
Don’t be intimidated by those who might have something you don’t. Be grateful you can add them to your team.
I don’t care how much intelligence and integrity an employee has. They will not work out if they are not passionate about what they do. They also won’t work out if they’re not passionate about what you do.
When I interview, I always look for people who are committed enough to my cause to have done their research and found out as much as possible about my company.
D. Cultural fit.
People frequently overlook the importance of cultural fit. Desiring cultural fit does not mean that we want people that are clones of each other.
Diversity is vital, but diverse employees better mesh well with each other. Throw a bunch of diverse ingredients that don’t go together into a pot, and you have a horrible meal. Throw the right stuff into that pot, and you’ve got gourmet cuisine. Aim for a five-star group of employees.
It was only several months into the turnaround that the great teammates became clear:
Great teammates do great work, day in and day out for the long haul, and…
Great teammates always have integrity, and…
Great teammates always work smart, and…
Great teammates always have passion, and…
Great teammates always fit in the company culture.
Everyone should experience once in their career what it is like to work with a great team. You will never accept working in any other environment once you do.