The very first thing you notice when you see Mark Eaton is his height. At 7’4” that’s to be expected. (That’s not a typo.)
His career in the NBA is well-known: NBA All-Star, leading the league in blocked shots in four seasons, a five-time member on the NBA all-defensive team. He has two records including the most blocked shots in one season (456) and career average blocked shots (3.5).
His career continues as a motivational speaker, entrepreneur, and now, author.
His book, The Four Commitments of a Winning Team, is a blend between his intriguing personal story and his principles for teambuilding. Even if you don’t follow professional basketball, I am certain you will enjoy it.
In our interview, you will learn:
What Wilt Chamberlin told him in five minutes that changed everything
Why he dreaded his height for much of his life
How an auto mechanic who wasn’t interested in basketball became an NBA All-Star
How the never-ending persistence of a coach changed the course of his career
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.
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.
“Results + Relationships = Team Success.” -Robert Bruce Shaw
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
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.
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
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 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
Great teams understand their why.
Great teams have and develop great leaders.
Great teams allow culture to shape recruiting.
Great teams create and maintain depth.
Great teams have a road map.
Great teams promote camaraderie and a sense of collective direction.
Great teams manage dysfunction, friction, and strong personalities.
Great teams build a mentoring culture.
Great teams adjust quickly to leadership transitions.
Great teams adapt and embrace change.
Great teams run successful huddles.
Great teams improve through scouting.
Great teams see value others miss.
Great teams win in critical situations.
Great teams speak a different language.
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?
He’s an Emmy Award winning broadcaster, a motivational speaker, and the author of Fast Forward Winner. He’s also the voice of the Atlanta Hawks. His whole professional life has been spent watching teams compete.
Who better than to ask about winning teams, about team leadership, and about winning?
“Every day your work is your performance review.” –Bob Rathbun
Bob Rathbun started broadcasting at 12. His first opportunity at the microphone started with him calling a homerun at the bottom of the seventh inning. Since that first call, Bob has crisscrossed the country, won numerous awards, and risen to the top of his profession.
And yet he humbly says that, if he could do it, you can, too. Bob wants everyone from corporate leaders to the youth groups he encourages to learn from his journey and find success.
“Make the decision to be at your best so you can give those around you your best.” –Bob Rathbun
How do you take talented individuals and turn them into a winning team?
How do you create a winning culture?
Is it possible to use adversity to your advantage?
What team is the greatest of all time?
I asked Ted Sundquist all of these questions and more.
Ted Sundquist played fullback at the U.S. Air Force Academy, winning the 1982 Hall of Fame Bowl and the 1983 Independence Bowl. He later served as a flight commander in Germany before returning to the Academy and coaching. In 1993, the Denver Broncos hired Ted as a talent scout. Ted was named General Manager of the Broncos in 2002. Today, Ted is an analyst for the NFL network, a radio personality, a commentator and a blogger. This year, he added author to that list with the publication of Taking Your Team to the Top.
Ted, you’re known for grabbing talent others passed over. How were you able to see potential where others saw problems?
I think first and foremost you have to identify the talent pool that you’re dealing with. Understand where the best and the brightest come from that can contribute to your industry. In professional football, that’s dealing with the entering college football player pool, as well as players already in the NFL, and those available on the street (free agents).
Leading a team in any capacity is not a right but rather a privilege. -Ted Sundquist
Then you have to have a VERY good understanding of what traits are necessary in these individuals in order to execute the plans & procedures required to pursue your mission. One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to football, and I’m sure that’s the case in other arenas as well. We had prioritized our requirements prior to searching for those individuals to fill our positions of need.
You must be as detailed with the back end of your prospect list as you are with the top candidates. Look for those individuals that fulfill your priorities in the Critical Factors, those traits which run “vertical” through the organization and are analogous for every person on the team, regardless of position. Know which factors are most important and which you can “live with.” Then have a thorough breakdown of the Position Specifics, those skills necessary to fulfill a specific task required of the candidate.
Ensure that the positions are evaluated from various angles within the organization and not from a single viewpoint. This eliminates personal bias and provides for a crosscheck of opinions. Mistakes made on the front end of the selection process are difficult to correct once the player is on your team.
Greeting linebacker and team captain Al Wilson after a hard fought win on the road.
If you take the time to do your homework, finding the pool of talent, identifying what’s most important to your team to accomplish the mission (Critical Factors [vertical traits] & Position Specifics [horizontal traits]), and then implementing an evaluation system from multiple angles & crosschecks . . . your chances of making mistakes are minimized and you’re more apt to find the best and the brightest talent to execute your plans towards goal achievement.
“The culture should reflect the mission.” Ted Sundquist