Build an Extreme Team
It seems easy enough. Hire talented people who are motivated to achieve something and together the team is formed.
What could go wrong?
Most of us who have been in leadership positions realize that building a team is far more difficult than hiring talented individuals.
It’s a process. From understanding individual styles to improving communication, it’s a constant effort.
That’s why nearly every leader I know is constantly working on the team.
One of the experts I follow is Robert Bruce Shaw. He’s a management consultant focused on leadership effectiveness. He has a doctorate in organizational behavior from Yale University and has written numerous books and articles.
He’s also an expert on teams and has a new book out: Extreme Teams: Why Pixar, Airbnb, and Other Cutting-Edge Companies Succeed Where Most Fail. After I read his new book, I asked him to share some of his research with us on teams.
“Extreme teams realize that tension and conflict are essential to achieving their goals.” -Robert Bruce Shaw
Elements of a Highly Successful Team
What are some of the elements of a highly successful team?
I assess a team’s success on two dimensions. First, does the team deliver the results expected of it by its customers and stakeholders (in most cases, more senior levels of management within a company). Does it deliver results in a manner that builds its capabilities in order to deliver results as well into the future? Second, does the team build positive relationships among its members as well as with other groups? This is required to sustain the trust needed for a team to work in a productive manner over time. These are the two team imperatives: deliver results and build relationships.
What’s an extreme team?
Teams that continually push for better results and relationships are what I call extreme teams. Most teams work in a manner that emphasizes either results or relationships – and fail to develop each as an important outcome. In addition, some teams settle for easy compromises in each area in striving to avoid the risk and conflict that can come when pushing hard in either area. For example, a team that pushes hard on results can strain relationships. Or, a team that values only relationships can erode its ability to deliver results. Extreme Teams push results and relationships to the edge of being dysfunctional – and then effectively manage the challenge of doing so.
Foster An Extreme Team Culture
How do leaders help foster a culture where extreme teams thrive?
My book examines five practices of cutting-edge firms that support extreme teams. These firms are unique in how they operate but do share some common practices. I will mention three of these success practices:
1) They have a purpose that results in highly engaged team members. This purpose involves the work itself but also includes having a positive impact on society. Pixar, for example, attracts people who are passionate about making animated films that emotionally touch people. Patagonia attracts people who love the outdoors and want to do everything they can to protect the environment.
2) They select and promote people who embody their core values. Cultural fit becomes more important than an impressive resume. Alibaba looks for people who fit its highly entrepreneurial culture. The firm’s founder, Jack Ma, describes this as finding the right people not the best people.
3) They create a “hard/soft” culture that works against complacency. In extreme teams, people realize that they need to be uncomfortable at times if they are to produce the best results. This need is balanced against the need for people to feel they are part of community that supports them and their success. Each firm I profile in the book does this to a different degree and with different practices. Each, however, is more transparent and direct than conventional teams.
“Cutting edge firms have a critical mass of obsessive people and teams.” -Robert Bruce Shaw