Building an effective team with your organization comes in two parts, one obvious and other less so. The first is in doing what it takes to build the team. The second is taking advantage of that small window of opportunity when the team is at its peak performance and is functioning at its highest level.
First, you have to learn the techniques of building a high performance team. For the last 18 years it’s been my professional passion to build effective teams. I live for those moments when you just know your team is hitting on all cylinders, each person knowing their role and having complete trust that their team mates know theirs as well.
I’ve been fortunate to have my fair share of these moments, whether it was as an athlete, as a soldier, or in the corporate world. The circumstances and the goals for these teams couldn’t have been more different, but they all shared two critical elements. Great effort went into selecting the right mix of talent, experience, and then training and finding the right motivation to take them over the top.
Second, and maybe less intuitively obvious, these teams and their performance peak was temporary. Yes, temporary. Not to say brief, although in some cases that was true, but definitely a transitional and non-permanent state. I have come to believe that this is an incredibly important concept for leaders to come to terms with and to use to their advantage. While volumes have been written about how to transform your team or organization into a well-oiled machine, crushing every goal put before them; you won’t find as much mind share available on what happens next.
Perhaps the industry that most clearly exemplifies this effect is professional football (that’s American football for all my international friends). How many times do we see the triumphant champions lifting the Lombardi trophy and assume that this unstoppable team will be the favorite to repeat the following year? And how many times do we see that same organization experience setbacks the next year and a new champion crowned? In the NFL, this is understood. The experts will question if a team’s “window” is closing. Stars of the team may be close to retiring. Previously unknown contributors may get lured away by big pay days with other teams. Or sometimes the drive to stay on top just isn’t as powerful as the drive to get there.
Your corporate team faces these same challenges. Your time together is temporary. Great success will lead to much deserved new opportunities likely in different roles, organizations or even companies. Lack of success or simply the passage of time can also have a diffusion effect with less fanfare. While measures can be taken to keep the team together, I submit that you should recognize the natural cycle for what it is and focus your efforts on maximizing the impact of the peak performance period, however long it might last. Once you’ve guided your team through the Storming, Norming and Forming phases the time is right for bold action. This is the time to tackle that BHAG, to take calculated risks, to push the envelope. Do not delay, or spend time congratulating yourself on your roster because whether you seize the moment or not, the performance phase will erode and the cycle will begin again.
Coming to grips that the team you have built and cared for can’t and won’t last can be hard. I have always felt disappointment when it happens. However, recognizing this and even sharing this fact with your team can serve as a powerful source of motivation. Everyone wants to win, to be the champion. Knowing that the clock is running on a specific opportunity can bring the team together and inspire great results.
As they say back where I’m from, “Make hay while the sun shines”. Or perhaps more eloquently as a friend and mentor of mine used to sign off her emails to the team, “Carpe Diem”.
Rich Robinson is VP/CIO of SunPower Corporation and has a wide range of experiences in team effectiveness, from high tech companies to the US military.
Follow Rich @richrobinson3