Teamwork, it’s not all about winning the game

An athlete’s mindset is focused on mastering skills so each performance is better than the day before. How do they know what to improve? It starts with clarity of the goal. It’s not just to ‘win the game’ - that’s too vague. Their goals are specific and detailed. For example: by 30 April 2019, run 400m in one minute. This specificity creates clarity of what skills to develop and improve.

The next step is to know if your actions are succeeding. This requires feedback after every performance. Athletes review and determine what to keep doing and what to change.

I was asked to help a CEO and his leadership team. They’d had fast growth and, with this success, many changes. While their results were exciting, they were struggling with the pressures faced by many SMEs: high growth and limited resources. But beyond the monthly numbers, they hadn’t been taking advantage of specific feedback. The numbers only tell you a number on the ‘scoreboard’, a moment in time - it doesn’t tell you what to change or how. Time to hold up the mirror and see what they hadn’t noticed before and reveal their performance blind spots.

In our work together, we utilised business management expert Patrick Lencioni’s ‘Advantage’ - starting with the first foundation: strengthening trust within the team. This is based on the principle of being vulnerable, acknowledging failures, weaknesses and fears to peers. Just as in a sports team, if players aren’t comfortable facing their weaknesses it impacts the capability and potential of the whole team.

Many workplace teams have a false camaraderie, an artificial harmony, blind to the fact there is low trust. It’s not always comfortable learning about your blind spots and requires emotional resilience. Members of this team are developing the discipline and skills of giving and receiving feedback, committing to it becoming a regular and continuous process. Without trust, feedback is likely to be dismissed, with blame apportioned elsewhere and low accountability. This keeps the person blind and ignorant, and they’ll never know what they could have achieved.

This team has held up the mirror; they are developing the mindset of an athlete, recognising that the only way to improve starts with feedback and trust.

Jennifer Baker is a professionally trained executive coach with a strategic business background