Performance is a team sport

First of all, I apologize to any Michigan fans out there. I am not favoring Ohio State. The following is an illustrative story I am familiar with.

First, some facts

  • According to compilation research done by Moya Mason a number of years ago –  ~100 million businesses are started each year
  • The average age of an S&P 500 company is under 20 years, down from 60 years in the 1950s, according to Credit Suisse.
  • 440 firms that were listed in a Fortune 500 in 1955 have been replaced as of 2017.

Yet too many businesses owners continue to apply the same old rules to a new game and expect a positive result.  This parallels Einstein’s definition of insanity.

There has to be a better way.

Another fact

According to Gallup and Mayflower, more than half of our team members are disengaged, too many actively.

However, as Amy Edmondson says, “It turns out that no one wakes up in the morning, jumps out of bed and says, ‘I can’t wait to get to work today to look ignorant, incompetent, intrusive, or negative.’  On average we prefer to look smart, helpful and positive. The good news/bad news about all this is that it’s very easy to manage.  Don’t want to look ignorant, don’t ask questions.  Don’t want to look incompetent, don’t admit your weakness or mistake.  Don’t want to look intrusive, don’t offer ideas and if you don’t want to look negative, by all means, don’t criticize the status quo.”

Why do we do this? 

Because it works. 

We have been taught this from a very young age and by the time we become an adult we have perfected it. Simon Sinek calls this our second job at work.  It is the job of lying, hiding, and faking in order to feel “safe” at work.

This is killing productivity on many levels.

There has to be a better way. 

A way where your team truly acts like a team. Where everyone is willing to sacrifice individual needs for the greater good.  Where everyone trusts the others on the team to do their jobs and each has the others’ backs.  Confident that no one will directly or indirectly undermine them.

Top leaders cultivate this sense of teamwork.  Team performance almost always outweighs individual performance over the long term.  Jim Tressel did this with Ohio State at the turn of the century as its head football coach by getting his players to focus on the unit and the few things that make the team unit and its contribution great. 

Ohio Buckeyes turnaround

In the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s, the Buckeyes were a collegiate powerhouse. They were a dominant football team that won 6 national championships and numerous conference championships before a 32 year drought.  In the 1960s, they started a tradition that may have contributed heavily to their downfall. They awarded individual player performance after each game with stickers that were displayed on their helmets – the buckeye.  For many decades, they would give players who performed well a sticker if they met certain benchmarks for performance. For example, if the quarterback threw for a touchdown or if a defensive player caught an interception. After each game the coaches would hand out individual stickers to the best players on the team for that game.  But in the 1980s and 90s the team started becoming less and less successful. 

In 2000, Jim Tressel was hired as their new head coach.  He noticed a pervasive sense of individual performance and individual competition. He recognized that for the team to be successful, people needed to be willing to make sacrifices for the good of the team. They needed to step back and compromise some of their own individual success for the team as a whole to win.

He thought carefully about ways to motivate people to promote the success of the team over and above their individual performance.   He came up with an ingenious change to the existing reward structure.   After games, players were now awarded as units not as individuals.  He started giving buckeye helmet stickers to the team unit when they met certain benchmarks. For example, when the offensive unit scored touchdowns or the defensive unit recorded an interception or recorded a sack, everybody on that unit would get a sticker. The individual buckeye helmet stickers awards were replaced with team-based metrics.

Within two short years, Jim Tressel completely turned the team around and they won the national championship in 2002 and then again in 2014 under Urban Meyer who continued the team-based award system. Every year since Tressel took over, with one exception, they have been consistently among the top 5 to 10 teams in the country in one of the most competitive collegiate sports and conferences.

Football teams are very much like organizations.  They have a complex hierarchical structure.  There is a leader, a head coach, who is accountable to the athletic director and the fans.  There is a large team of assistant coaches and trainers and they’re involved in recruiting and building talent. Then, of course, there are the team members themselves. 

Top business leaders are trying to manage the same situation dynamics in modern organizations. They are tasked with thinking about how to organize and cultivate a sense of group identity and enhanced team performance – a culture of belonging and team to drive the highest level of performance.  

Performance, after all, is a team sport.

What are you doing to lead, reward and recognize true team “work”?

Be Exceptional!

Bill  – Multi-certified Growth Coach

MA COMPANIES ONLY – Ask me how your state may help pay for my leadership coaching services.  For MA companies, click here to see if you qualify for 50% (or more) off my fees and this workshop.

Published by Bill Flynn

Gazelles Member Advisor and early stage startup specialist with a proven track record with 16 Boston-based startups (9 to date with 5 successful outcomes, advisor to 7 others); SMB to Fortune 500 companies. 20+ years of Senior Sales, Marketing and GM experience in industries including mobile advertising, security, digital advertising, e-commerce and IT. Core Competencies: Player/Coach, Metrics-driven, Execution-based philosophy, Life-long learner

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