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The Impossible Dream: Building High-Performing Teams

The last team to make the 2022 MLB playoff roster was the Philadelphia Phillies. They were struggling for the first third of the season under coach Joe Girardi. Despite having the talent to crush the competition, things were not working well. A change in the manager spot (Thank you, Rob Thomson) and a revitalization based upon skill alignment and contribution pushed this team into a win streak. They were working as a team – a healthy, functioning team. And now, they are in the World Series. This is an impossibility; yet, the team was able to rise beyond the doubt and the negativity.

Wouldn’t it be great if your team could function as well? Maybe they do. Let’s start there, then.

One of the more common truths about great teams is that attention isn’t paid enough to the why. When things aren’t troublesome and no one is complaining, we likely fall into the Ilsa-themed tune of “Let It Go.” The adage of If it ain’tbroke, don’t fix it does not mean don’t pay attention to it. Be a thoughtful observer as to why things are working well. Measure what you can measure – sentiment, collaboration, productivity, innovation – and track it over time.

Stagnancy is the biggest threat to healthy teams. That same old, same old feeling can sweep in like a Nor’easter and cool everything down quickly. When the true north guidance that metrics can bring is unattended, opinions come on strong and personal preferences rule. Know why what works is working. Measure it, share it and encourage it regularly. The magic isn’t in the calculation, but in the affirmation. Bring people along using enthusiasm and vibrancy around the truth of what is working well.

But, if you find yourself on the other side of a healthy team (we call that an unhealthy team, FYI), then measuring what’s not working is only going to deepen the frustration. Instead, work on the easiest fix first. What is a quick win that can be enacted to shake up the team’s perspective? Without pouring tons of effort into the biggest issue, you can begin to show investment by that first quick win. And what often happens is that the second win is easier to accomplish. There’s more of a willingness, even if it’s onlyby a couple of people on the team, to assist. They’ve seen your willingness to invest and are more likely to participate in change in the next area.

Once a few wins are under the belt, the bigger boulders become more apparent. Naming them is easier because more of the team will hear it from a better perspective. Defensiveness subsides (it’s not gone so don’t yet expect it) and that allows for healthier dialogue and willingness to own the problem and participate in the correction.

This happens for work teams just as much as it happens for baseball teams. The one secret ingredient is that you need one or two champions on the inside. Take the time to figure out who can catch a vision for what you are wanting to fix. Then encourage them to be a leader in the process. Leader does not mean you dump all the work and messaging on that person. Instead, it means that the person will help to promote and champion all that’s going on. That person believes in what you are doing. It may be a foreign concept for you based on your experiences, but the truth of it exists. It can be done. Find one or two and run fast with them.

Listen, even if the Phillies don’t win the World Series (that is so tough for me to even type!), it would not diminish how they’ve put the work into building a great team. Success is not only found in winning the championship, but mostly in being able to function as a championship team.

(Let’s go, Phillies!)


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