How to Create A Loyalist Team

loyalist team

The Magic of a Great Team


Great teams feel almost magical.

These rare teams build with care and intention. They operate at an incredibly high level of productivity and achieve extraordinary results.

Dysfunctional teams are unproductive, draining, and stressful. You’re always watching your back, focused on managing up, and fighting outside your silo.

Linda Adams, Abby Curnow-Chavez, Audrey Epstein, and Rebecca Teasdale honed their expertise inside some of the largest and most powerful businesses operating today. The four authors have led the human resources, talent management, leadership development, and organizational effectiveness functions of multiple Fortune 500 companies including Ford Motor Company, Pepsi, and Target. Currently, the four comprise the TriSpective Group, catering to companies like PetSmart, Kaiser, Orbitz, and others.


The best teams perform so well it appears they are one single organism.


Their book, The Loyalist Team: How Trust, Candor and Authenticity Create Great Organizations, tackles the difficult subject of teams. Their work on creating high-performance teams has yielded expertise and results for all of us to learn from. I recently asked them to share some of their research.

Loyalist Team Group Shot

What are some of the characteristics of a great team?

We studied thousands of teams in dozens of industries and found that the highest-performers had the same set of traits and characteristics. On these teams, individuals trust each other without reservation and assume positive intent, put the team agenda ahead of any personal agenda and hold each other accountable. We call them Loyalist Teams because they are loyal to one another, to the team, and to the organization as a whole.


Study: high performing teams put the team agenda ahead of personal agendas.


You outline four different types of teams in this book. If you’re the new leader, how do you know your team’s persona?

A new leader can use one of our team assessments, including the Loyalist Team Snapshot that’s available for free on our website. We also suggest learning about the characteristics of Loyalist Teams and looking for them on the new team.

Leaders can ask themselves a series of questions including: Are there only pockets of trust on my team or do all team members trust one another? Do team members believe that “We only win together,” or are they more likely to think, “I look better if you lose”? How often and how well do team members put the real issues on the table and discuss them candidly and productively?

If trust is consistent across the team, individuals know their success is tied together, and they readily discuss even the tough issues, then the new leader is starting in a great place. If those elements are missing, we suggest the leader learn more about the less effective team types and determine actions to take to move the team along the spectrum to becoming a Loyalist Team.


Team is not a destination you permanently reach, but more a way of working together.


Characteristics of a Toxic Team

On the other side of the equation are the toxic, dysfunctional teams. What characterizes them?

We call the least effective teams Saboteur Teams because on these teams, someone is always trying to sabotage someone else’s effort. Team members spend as much time watching their back as doing their own work. There’s a “Get them before they get me” mentality, and people often dread going into work. Bad behavior and poor performance go unchecked, and there is an overall sense that nothing will change.


What most contrasts a Saboteur Team with a Loyalist Team?

Loyalist Teams face winning and losing together. When the heat is on and the team is under pressure, Loyalist Teams find ways to come together and prevail. They learn from mistakes and losses, adjust and move on. Saboteur teams, already splintered, disintegrate into heated factions and waste time assigning and avoiding blame during the toughest times. While individual team members focus on self-preservation at all costs, the team’s performance spirals out of control.


Leadership Tip: Consistent trust allows team members to discuss the tough issues.

Become a Master Coach

Unlock the Talent in Your Team

When I think about a great leader, I inevitably think about someone who is a great coach, understanding my weaknesses, but helping me play to my strengths. From John Wooden to my favorite manager, a coach is someone who unlocks talent.

Gregg Thompson wants to help leaders throughout organizations become great coaches. THE MASTER COACH:  Leading with Character, Building Connections, and Engaging in Extraordinary Conversations is his new book, written to help make coaching the part of your culture. He’s the President of Bluepoint Leadership Development and has coached senior leaders in many Fortune 100 companies. I recently talked with Gregg about becoming a master coach.


Share with us the Gregg Thompson definition of a master coach.

A Master Coach is someone who, through their conversations, helps others accelerate their learning and increase their performance. The Master Coach is not an advisor but, rather, a catalyst for sustained personal change in individuals. The Master Coach is a positive and creative force that challenges the person being coached to move from intention to action and holds the person accountable to do that. The Master Coach has highly-tuned interpersonal skills but is much more recognizable by who they are rather than what they do. They are men and women of exceptional integrity, sincere humility, noble intention, and a high degree of emotional intelligence. They take people into uncharted territories, challenge them to consider new perspectives, and help them plot significantly more fruitful paths forward.


“The Master Coach is a catalyst for sustained personal change in individuals.” -Gregg Thompson


Become a Great Coach

What do people get wrong when they think of a great coach?

People often think of the great coach as someone with the expertise and experience to provide great advice and sage wisdom. While occasionally coaches will have valuable perspectives and insights to share with those they coach, this is not their prime role. Their prime role is to help others find their best answers, solutions, and action plans. Some people also make the assumption that a coach is a counselor. Coaching and counseling, both powerful processes that can help to improve lives, are deeply different. Coaching is dedicating time and attention to help the person being coached to be the best version of themselves going forward while counseling usually involves resolving past difficulties and issues.


“The primary role of a coach is to help others find their best answers, solutions, and action plans.” -Gregg Thompson


What’s the difference between a coach and a mentor? 

A mentor can function in a coach-like manner, but their role is more of a career advisor than a coach. The mentor is usually someone with deep knowledge and expertise in a particular field and uses this to help more junior individuals accelerate their development and career growth.  Coaching, on the other hand, requires no expertise in the discipline of the person being coached. In short, anyone can coach anyone.


“Leadership happens one conversation at a time.” -Gregg Thompson


7 Characteristics of a Coaching Culture

The Power of Executive Candor

Recently, I spoke with L. J. Rittenhouse, president of Rittenhouse Rankings Inc., a strategic investor relations and coaching company. When I heard about her recent book Investing Between the Lines: How to Make Smarter Decisions by Decoding CEO Communications, I was intrigued by this idea that decoding executive communications can help me pick better investments.

After reading this book I realized that her research and findings go beyond investing.  Rittenhouse’s research introduces new, important ideas about strategy, culture, communications, values, and trustworthy leadership.  Not long ago, I asked L.J. about how philosophy and research are supported by her work with CEOs and investors.

The Power of Words and Corporate Culture

You have said frequently that, “Words matter as much as numbers in determining the investment potential.”  That’s not something I typically hear on Wall Street.

Candor is the domain of leaders. -LJ Rittenhouse

I’m sure you’ve heard lots of pundits boldly predict the future by looking at past historical trends.  How many of these predictions came true?  Not many.  In fact, Warren Buffett has observed that if the future resembled the past, then the Forbes 500 list of wealthiest people would include a number of librarians.

COVER - Investing Between the Lines

My research shows that while no one can predict the future, we can create the future through our communications.  We do this when we choose words that inspire others to imagine new opportunities – and let go of the status quo.  This is a critical competency in today’s world.  Standing still is not a viable option.

One of the great delusions in business is the idea that words don’t matter.  They do. When my clients choose candor over obfuscation, they build reservoirs of trust.  In fact, the words a CEO chooses will reveal the trustworthiness of the corporate accounting.  This becomes obvious when you understand how financial statements are created.

It starts with company employees who decide how much cash to recognize during a reporting period, and when and where to report it as earnings. These judgments may be conservative, like ones you’d expect at a Berkshire Hathaway company, or they may be aggressive, like Enron’s accounting.

CEOs who rely on jargon, clichés, and confusing statements to explain their strategies will weaken trust and create cultures of fear.  Employees will be discouraged from speaking truth to power. Rather than attend to the needs of customers, colleagues, owners and other stakeholders, they will look out for themselves. This increases enterprise risk and destabilizes earnings.

We create the future when we choose words that empower and energize others. -LJ Rittenhouse

On the other hand, CEOs who adopt a candor standard and choose authentic, relevant words will create high performance cultures.  Striving to meet the needs of the company’s stakeholders, these CEOs and employees will execute clearly defined strategies.

Candor as a Competitive Advantage

Let’s go back to Warren Buffett. He’s a master communicator. Many people who don’t even invest in his company read his shareholder letters.  Since you’ve studied them at a level most don’t, tell us what characteristics make them exemplary.

Buffett’s letters stand out because: 1) he writes them himself and imagines an audience; 2) they reveal his investor partnership philosophy; and 3) he’s never afraid to say, “I was wrong.”