16 Things High-Performing Organizations Do Differently

What Great Teams Do Differently

Don Yaeger is an expert on what it takes to cultivate a champion mindset. He was associate editor of Sports Illustrated for over a decade; he has made guest appearances on every show from Oprah to Good Morning America, and he’s also authored more than two dozen books. Now a public speaker, he shares stories from the greatest winners of our generation.

So when his new book, Great Teams: 16 Things High Performing Organizations Do Differently, arrived on my desk, I couldn’t wait to read it.

I wasn’t disappointed. Don’s insight on high-performance is evident on every single page. I recently had the opportunity to talk with him about his research into what makes a team great.

 

“Great teams are connected to a greater purpose.” -Don Yaeger

 

Use Your Why to Motivate

Don, you’ve seen the inside of great teams in the sports and the business worlds. Your new book focuses on 16 characteristics of great teams. Let’s talk about a few of them.

 Your first point is that great teams understand their why. Purpose motivates both individuals and teams. How does the personal “why” interact with the team “why”? Do they ever conflict?

In the business world, a “why” is often misunderstood as a company mission statement or code of ethics—which couldn’t be further from the truth. Author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek has described a company’s corporate “why” as “always disconnected from the product, service, or the act you’re performing.” If an organization desires to become a Great Team in the business world, then it must understand how to utilize the “why” properly in order to galvanize support from its professional ranks. “When an organization lays out its cause, how it does so matters,” explained Sinek. “It’s not an argument to be made, but a context to be provided. An organization’s ‘why’ literally has to come first—before anything else.”

 

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” -Simon Sinek

 

 

Companies that understand the purpose and philosophy behind the “why” are usually astute, high-performing organizations that tap directly into the pulse of those they benefit the most. When utilized correctly, this understanding can create a powerful sense of duty and purpose for business teams because the employees know exactly whom they are working for and to what end.

 

“Great teams build a deep bench at all levels of the organization.” -Don Yaeger

 

Let Culture Shape Recruiting

You talk about letting culture shape recruiting. In a large company, how do you make this a reality so that every single hiring manager is thinking about culture and not just reviewing a resume?

Purpose and leadership are essential to building a team culture. Once an organization determines its “why” and aligns its leadership style with the needs of its members, it is on the right path to becoming a Great Team. But culture building doesn’t stop there. A team must also recruit the right talent. If done well, recruiting will result in a highly competitive team that is consistently motivated to seek and claim success.

Great Teams recruit players who fit—who will thrive within the established team culture and add value to it. The talent of the employee or teammate is important, but fit trumps all. These organizations understand that Great Team culture establishes an environment conducive to success, but that success ultimately depends on the right kind of personnel.

In today’s marketplace, it is very easy to be wowed by decorated resumes. When the “ideal” candidate—the one with the outstanding CV—arrives, many leaders incorrectly believe that including that person will automatically better the team. A Great Team, however, understands that fit is more important than credentials. Someone who might be perfect for one environment—or might have been great while working for a competitor—will not be a guaranteed fit for another. That’s something hiring managers should keep in mind as they build their teams.

 

“Great teams realize that fit is more important than credentials.” -Don Yaeger

 

Successful Huddles Are Crucial

What makes a successful huddle? 

Successful huddles are all about open and consistent communication. Under head coach Bill Walsh, the San Francisco 49ers placed such importance on the art of the meeting that he had specific rules and procedures regarding how each one should run. Walsh analyzed and even recorded meetings to spot potential lulls and weaknesses in their process. He wanted to make sure his assistant coaches—who would sometimes change from year to year—were teaching his team in a consistent fashion.

Quarterback Joe Montana, who came on board right after Walsh did, shared Walsh’s high opinion of meetings. This legendary team leader—who won four Super Bowl championships and is tied for the most titles among all quarterbacks—was known in and around the NFL as “Joe Cool.” He had an uncanny knack for seeing all aspects of the game from his position on the field and was seemingly unflappable in the most pressurized situations. And there was a reason for Montana’s demeanor: like Walsh, he believed in a very diligent, orderly meeting process as a means of keeping players engaged. For Montana, the huddle was a sacred place and the ultimate comfort zone. There were rules to be followed when Montana was giving out information for the next play. If those rules weren’t adhered to, Montana told his teammates to take the issue somewhere else. The huddle was a place where everyone needed to be engaged and headed in the same direction.

Great Teams in businesses can take a page from Walsh’s and Montana’s playbook and conduct orderly, disciplined meetings. Such order makes a bigger difference than many leaders want to admit. A successful meeting revolves around clear communication. It can be pivotal to achieving greatness because it explains precise strategy and opens the door to new ideas. An efficient meeting allows an organization to remain one step ahead of the competition and forces it to remain consistent with any existing strategies. But these ideas must be streamlined by a process and guided by a leader who can filter out the good ideas from the bad.

 

16 Things High-Performing Organizations Do Differently

  1. Great teams understand their why.
  2. Great teams have and develop great leaders.
  3. Great teams allow culture to shape recruiting.
  4. Great teams create and maintain depth.
  5. Great teams have a road map.
  6. Great teams promote camaraderie and a sense of collective direction.
  7. Great teams manage dysfunction, friction, and strong personalities.
  8. Great teams build a mentoring culture.
  9. Great teams adjust quickly to leadership transitions.
  10. Great teams adapt and embrace change.
  11. Great teams run successful huddles.
  12. Great teams improve through scouting.
  13. Great teams see value others miss.
  14. Great teams win in critical situations.
  15. Great teams speak a different language.
  16. Great teams avoid the pitfalls of success.

 

Would you share an example of where one team missed “value” and another team spotted it and capitalized on it? 

Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe

 

It All Starts With Safety

Author and speaker Simon Sinek is a gifted storyteller. In this talk, Simon zeroes in on an often overlooked aspect of leadership: safety.

Simon recounts the story of an ambush and its powerful lesson. When Army Captain William Swenson and his men were under heavy fire in Afghanistan, it was all caught on camera. As Swenson is seen helping an injured soldier onto a helicopter, you see Swenson lean over and kiss the injured soldier’s forehead before running back into a battle.

 

“Leadership is a choice. It is not a rank.” –Simon Sinek

 

Build a Culture That Encourages Selflessness

Why did he do this? Sinek’s first hypothesis was that the military somehow attracted selfless people. After further investigation, Sinek concluded it was the environment that elevated behavior. The culture and values of the organization were strong enough to encourage selflessness.

We will put our lives at risk to save others because of trust. That means that trust increases safety. When we feel safe, we are empowered. When we are not acting under threat, we are able to give our best, to be more creative, to be more productive. More trust = more safety = more productivity and creativity. It’s a formula that all leaders should study.

Trust and safety may be difficult to measure, but they are essential for optimal performance.

 

“Good leaders make you feel safe.” –Simon Sinek

 

Without safety, instead of focusing on outside threats, we are turned inside. When we feel safe, we are able to work together for a common cause and fulfill the leader’s vision.

How Great Leaders Inspire Action

Start With Why

Millions of people have seen him speak or read his book Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. Simon Sinek’s message is both thought provoking and insightful. But it’s not only for corporate leaders. It’s for anyone who wants to inspire and lead others.

 

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” -Simon Sinek

 

The most inspiring leaders of the world tap into the innermost part of the brain, where we think in images rather than words. Gut feelings aren’t actually from the gut, but from the core of our brain.

Simon’s examples make his concept come alive. For example, other people tried to fly before the Wright Brothers. Some were well funded, educated and well connected. They wanted to become rich and famous. But the Wright Brothers, who had little education or money, were successful because they believed they could change the course of the world. The “why” behind their actions was the power that inspired the world.

Similarly, Simon explains why Apple is uniquely positioned. Apple marketed themselves and their computers with the belief that the brand was changing the status quo and the world. Apple’s message was, “We believe in thinking differently, and, oh yeah, we make computers.” Apple competitors may be equally qualified, but it is Apple who has led the way in sales.

 

“What you do simply serves as the proof of what you believe.” -Simon Sinek

 

Your Why

  • What is your why?
  • What’s driving your behavior?
  • Why do people follow you?

As you look at your life, your career, your purpose, think about Simon’s powerful message. What’s the why behind your actions. If you’re working simply for a paycheck, you aren’t tapping into your potential. It’s the why that matters. The why pushes you forward. The why drives commitment when things are tough. If you aspire to be a great leader, it’s not the product or the company. It’s your why. That’s what distinguishes the most influential leaders.

 

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Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever

Master the Coaching Habit

Michael Bungay Stanier is the founder of Box of Crayons, a company that helps organizations do great work. His latest book, The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever, landed on my desk and intrigued me because coaching is a skill all great leaders must master. I followed up and asked him to share more about his work in this area.

 

“The essence of coaching lies in helping others unlock their potential.” -Michael Bungay Stanier

 

Stay Curious Longer

What is a coaching habit, and why is it essential to good leadership?

You may know Daniel Goleman as the man who popularized the concept of emotional intelligence. He has written widely on the topic of leadership; in his Harvard Business Review article “Leadership That Gets Results,” he notes that there are six styles of leadership, all of them useful at one time or another and all of them with pros and cons.

Coaching is one of those six styles. It is the most powerful style for employee engagement and impact on culture, and it contributes to the bottom line. It is also the least-utilized leadership style. We need to change that.

We don’t want to turn busy managers and leaders into coaches. But we do want them to be more coach-like. What that means, at its heart, is staying curious a little longer, and rushing to advice-giving and action-taking a little more slowly. That’s easy to say —but hard to do—and it’s what we’re tackling in my new book, The Coaching Habit. The coaching part is straightforward: seven essential questions that every busy manager and leader can use. We then help you put those questions into action with the New Habit Formula, a simple but powerful tool to help you change your behavior by building new habits.

 

“Saying Yes more slowly means being willing to stay curious before committing.” -Michael Bungay Stanier

 

Know the Difference Between Being Helpful & Coaching

What’s the difference between being helpful and being a coach?

The Coaching HabitWe all aspire to be helpful. Because you’re reading Skip’s blog, I’m certain you actually care about the people you lead and the difference you and they are making for your organization. You want to encourage great work: work that has more impact, and work that has more meaning.

However, in The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever we show how your good intentions often end up having the opposite effect:

If you have a tendency to jump in, fix things, take things on, rescue people . . . that’s not helpful.

If you, 20 seconds into a conversation, already have the answer and are just waiting for the other person to stop talking . . . that’s not helpful.

If you and your team are great at being tactical and getting everything done, but not that great at being strategic and figuring out the right things to get done . . . that’s not helpful.

If you are so busy helping everyone else that you don’t have the time to do what Cal Newport would call the Deep Work that your own projects require . . . that’s not helpful.

In short, if you recognize any of the three vicious cycles the busy manager faces — an over-dependent team, a sense of being overwhelmed, and a sense of disconnect from the work that matters — it could be that you’re guilty of being “helpful.”

Being more coach-like isn’t the only way to change this, but it certainly is one of the simplest and fastest ways. As I’ve said, at its essence, being more coach-like means staying curious a little longer and rushing to advice and action a little more slowly.

 

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” -Ernest Hemingway

 

Become a Better Listener

What techniques work for those who want to be better listeners?

Almost everyone knows the basics of active listening. The problem is that this has given rise to FAL: fake active listening. That’s when you put your head to the side, nod occasionally, look concerned, and make small “nonverbal” noises of encouragement — all the time while thinking of something else completely.

In The Coaching Habit we offer eight “masterclasses” on how to ask a question well, and the notion of listening well is woven through all of them. I suggest that these are the four best places to start:

  1. Ask one question only. It’s all too easy to end up asking three questions plus a few variations, which only leaves the other person confused.
  2. Start to notice how quickly you want to jump in and share a thought, give an idea, offer up advice. See if you can wait another minute before you actually do.
  3. Go deeper by asking the AWE question (more on that below).
  4. “Listen” and stay curious on all channels. You may be able to listen even harder and ask questions better when you’re emailing and IM-ing. That is, these skills aren’t just in play when you’re talking to someone face to face.

 

Ask the Best Coaching Question in the World

Would you explain for our readers the concept of AWE and how it can transform conversations?

Ah — you’ve picked up on the best coaching question in the world. And what’s perfect is that its acronym is AWE — so it’s literally an awesome question.

AWE is short for “And what else?”

And if this feels a little anticlimactic after the claim that this is the best coaching question in the world, let me explain the two reasons why it is.

To start, AWE supercharges every other question you have. I can promise you that the first answer someone gives you is never their only answer, and it is rarely their best answer. AWE helps mine what is there.

And then, AWE is a powerful self-management tool. You’ve picked up by now that my goal is for you to stay curious a little longer and to rush to advice and action a little more slowly. That’s harder to do than you’d think, because you’ve got a lifetime’s experience of jumping in. “And what else?” is the simplest question to ask to keep you curious. And if you’re asking the question, you’re not giving the answer.

 

Don’t Start With Why

You take on Peter Senge and Simon Sinek, saying to ignore both authors and not start a question with “Why?” I can’t resist: Why?Michael-Bungay-Stanier

Ha! I see what you’re doing here, Skip. Look, questions that begin with “why” can be very powerful, as both Senge and Sinek show. But for most busy managers, Why questions have two particular dangers.

First, you have to get the tone exactly right or your question will come across more as accusatory than simply curious. It can sound like, “Why the heck did you do that?”

Second, why questions are often about getting more details of the story — “Give me the background.” And you want the background information so that you are able to offer some really good advice. But here’s the thing: I want our leaders to be offering up a little less advice. So if you realize that it’s not your job to give advice (or at least, it is much less often than you think) but rather to help people figure things out for themselves, then you’ll also realize that you don’t need to know the details — so you don’t need to ask, “Why?”

 

“To be on a quest is nothing more or less than to become an asker of questions.” -Sam Keen

 

Be Comfortable With Silence

Silence is not something most of us are comfortable with. I’ve watched people fill in the empty space in every way possible. Why is it important to be comfortable with silence?

It’s true, isn’t it? One, two seconds of silence happen, and then the words rush in to fill the gap. Becoming comfortable with silence is an extremely powerful tool for a couple of reasons.

One, silence allows those who need a little more time to think things through to do just that. Susan Cain in her book Quiet has really helped wave the flag for the needs of the introvert. So follow the advice in the book’s title: be quiet and allow people to think.

And two, silence is a self-management tool. If you can get comfortable with silence, you’ve found a way to stop yourself from rushing in to fix things, solve things, make things better. The other person will fill that space for you.

 

“Silence is often a measure of success.” -Michael Bungay Stanier

 

Saying No is A Leadership Skill