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In America, less than 1 percent of the population serves in the Armed Forces.

Of this relatively small group of heroic men and women, even fewer qualify to join the ranks of Special Forces groups such as the Navy SEALS, the Army Rangers, the Marine Raider Regiment and Air Force Special Operations teams.

While I’m part of the 99 percent who have never served in the U.S. Military, I’ve always had a deep respect for those who do. And more recently, I’ve become particularly fascinated by the military elite.

I’ve found that the elite, the best of the best, are different. They think differently. They act differently. They achieve different results.

And having coached sales professionals for nearly two decades and interviewed hundreds of high-performing sales leaders, I started to see connections between the elite of the sales and military worlds.

As I dug further, I realized that becoming one of the elite is largely about the decisions you make every day. And while the majority of my research focused on how sales professionals could apply these lessons, I believe any business leader can take a few tips from the military elite.

Here’s how you can develop the mindsets and habits of our military heroes and become a White Collar Warrior.

The Mindset of the Elite

Army Ranger Captain Chad Fleming (retired) has faced fear head-on.

Early in his first deployment to Iraq, his unit was attacked with a barrage of grenades, and he suffered injuries that eventually led to the loss of one of his legs.

“When the grenade detonated one foot away from me and I sustained major damage to my leg, my only thought was, ‘Am I going to die?’” he recalls.

To keep himself alive during the attack, Chad relied on his training and his commitment to not let his fellow soldiers down. He went on to do five more deployments with one leg missing, earning two Bronze Stars and three Purple Hearts.

Chad has learned that fear can cause a physical shutdown — vision narrows, the heart races, and you lose all rational thought processes — or you can learn to channel it and focus it in the right direction.

“Lives depend on your leadership in these moments,” he says. “Fear can be the ultimate smack in the face.”

Like Captain Chad Fleming, the military elite are masters of harnessing their fear, failure and motivation and using them to achieve the results they want.

These warriors know fear is an essential and useful part of their job — one that can either paralyze them or propel them forward. They see failure as an opportunity to reevaluate and grow. They’re driven by something bigger than themselves, and it motivates them to keep going through tough times.

Sales professionals face a variety of challenges in the field, whether it’s losing a deal or a referral relationship, encountering objections, going through dry spells or dealing with the fear of rejection. But White Collar Warriors know how to harness their fear, failure and motivation to develop the right mindset for growth.

You can take the following steps to start mastering your mindset today.

‣ Tackle your fear head-on: Fear isn’t the enemy — it’s a friend. By learning to work through your fear, you can unlock your potential and learn to work calmly and courageously through even the most difficult circumstances. Take a moment to recall how you’ve overcome fears in the past. What takeaways from those experiences can you apply to the fears you’re facing in your work? Consider the best-case and worst-case scenarios that could play out if you were to face your fears head-on. What’s the most likely outcome, and how could you bounce back from the worst-case scenario?

‣ Hold a mission debriefing: No one sets out to fail, but failure comes with the territory, and the best of the best learn from failure and use it to fuel future growth. In the military, they hold a mission debriefing, or after-action review, after each mission to determine what went right, what went wrong and where improvements can be made. You can mimic this process after each “mission” you tackle, such as a prospecting phone call or a new strategy to expand your market share. On a sheet of paper, reflect on the goal of your mission, summarize how it went down — the good and the bad — and consider what you can improve and what you can’t control. Write down what you learned and what systems you’d like to implement next time to achieve a successful outcome.

‣ Know your “why”: When you know why you do what you do, motivation comes naturally. It drives you on in spite of resistance, and it equips you to fight for yourself and those you care about most. If you want to stay motivated through the good days and the bad days, you need a Life Plan and a Business Vision to clarify your purpose and make sure it connects to your actions. Having a clear picture of the future you want will help you push through your struggles today. So schedule a day to craft your Life Plan and Business Vision.

The Habits of the Elite

For more than fifteen years, the best and the brightest analytical and military minds searched for Osama bin Laden.

They turned over every stone until they tracked him down. When they found out where he was hiding, they didn’t rush in. They took their time. They gathered intelligence about his habits, his schedule, his routine, and his surroundings.

They created a mock-up of his compound and rehearsed the takedown until it became second nature. They had backups and contingency plans should something go awry.

When the time came to execute the mission, its success was a foregone conclusion, because they had prepared for every eventuality.

The military elite don’t achieve success overnight. They put themselves through rigorous training. They implement daily disciplines to push toward the results they want. They create a well-defined plan to position themselves for mission success.

Many leaders say they want success, but few are willing to do commit the training, planning and discipline to make it happen.

The reality is that if you’re not moving forward in your business, then you’re regressing. By implementing some key habits of the military elite, you can ensure that you’re moving forward and getting closer to your goals.

Here are a few actions you can take to develop the right habits to move your business forward.

‣ Pursue training opportunities: For the military elite, what separates success from failure is training. Day in and day out, that’s what they do. And so it must be with you. Take some time to think about what situations you tend to avoid. Likely, you’re avoiding them because of a lack of training. So what professional training options could you pursue to develop your skills in those areas? Could you read a book, take a class or hire a coach? Schedule time in your calendar this week to research training options, and then commit to at least one of them.

‣ Establish a morning routine: Every successful professional I know has a morning routine. It’s like a signal to your brain that lets it know it’s time to begin. You could start your day with meditation, reading, journaling, exercise, a healthy breakfast or time with your family — whatever it is that helps you set your day up for success for the rest of the day. The important thing is to find a morning routine that works for you and stick with it.

‣ Create a Simple Business Plan: Whatever your mission, it’s doomed to fail without a plan. So commit to spending an afternoon sketching out a plan for your business. With a simple, visual reminder of your desired outcomes, your deadlines and the daily disciplines that will get you there, you’ll be better equipped to stay focused on the big picture and stay out of the weeds. Use the Simple Business Plan guide to get started.

Become the Elite in Your Industry

You know what it takes to become a White Collar Warrior.

You’ve discovered that it means embracing fear, pushing past failure and finding a sense of purpose that will keep you going no matter what.

You’ve learned that it requires tireless training, a well-defined plan and the discipline to get it done.

Now, it’s time to conquer your fear, capture your potential and become the elite in your industry.

You have what it takes to succeed. So lean in and get started today.

Learn More About ‘White Collar Warrior’

Coach Bill Hart’s first book, “White Collar Warrior: Lessons for Sales Professionals from America’s Military Elite,” is out now.

Drawing on exclusive interviews with former members of the U.S. Special Forces and leading sales professionals from a variety of industries, “White Collar Warrior” will show you how to conquer fear, capture potential and become a sales warrior.

Learn more about “White Collar Warrior.”

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One of the hardest parts of managing others is confronting people in difficult situations.

In fact, HR departments and leadership teams have devised a variety of structures to cope with the pandemic of leaders who are afraid to confront their subordinates, according to Robert Walsh, Founder of Be a Better Boss.

However, Walsh explains that none of these structures can compensate for someone who is too intimidated to address issues with the people he or she is supposed to be leading.

If you want to succeed as a leader, you must overcome your fear of confrontation. You have to be prepared to give feedback constructively and even address difficult issues with team members you may otherwise be fond of.

Here are four helpful ways to overcome your fear of confrontation.

See from Their Perspective

The best way to prepare to deliver difficult feedback is to try to see the situation from the employee’s perspective.

Chances are, the person you need to confront is mostly unaware there is a problem in the first place. By keeping this in mind, you are in a better position to engage in a discussion that doesn’t stem from anger or resentment; but rather, from a place of genuinely desiring improvement.


Consider Your Goals

Confronting tough issues can be challenging, but not as difficult as allowing underperforming team members to hinder you from achieving your goals and mission.

It’s important to work with a team of people who are aligned with your objectives and capable of pushing your vision forward. So if you stay focused on achieving your goals, it’s much easier to follow through on the more uncomfortable aspects of leadership, like confronting an underperformer.

Utilize Your Mentor

Leadership can be lonely, so when you’re facing challenging situations, it’s important to reach out to a mentor to discuss the situation and navigate your fears.

Whether you talk to a friend or family member or utilize a business coach, gaining outside insight into a situation can help mitigate your anxiety around the confrontation.

Use the Feedback Model

Regardless of how negative a given situation might be, it’s important to use the classic feedback model when engaging in tough conversations.

Walsh outlines a handful of key steps for delivering negative feedback effectively:

  • Ask for the person’s own perspective on his or her own performance.
  • Be honest, kind and understanding, no matter how negative the situation is.
  • Be specific and focus on exemplified behaviors.
  • Give constructive suggestions for improvement.
  • Don’t overload the person with too much commentary. Be concise and stick to the point.
  • Invite response and listen intently.

If you can’t engage in tough conversations, then you won’t be able to achieve your goals and lead people well.

But by using a few simple tactics, you’ll be prepared to confront these challenging situations head-on and become the leader you want to be.

This is an updated version of an earlier post, originally published December 18, 2015.

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About six years ago, I was having coffee with my friend and colleague Daniel Harkavy when the conversation turned to my longtime dream of writing a book.

Knowing I hadn’t settled on a topic yet, Daniel listened to my lack of clarity on the project and then encouraged me to write about three of my passions — honoring members of the U.S. military, coaching high-performing sales leaders and interviewing top-producing sales professionals.

On the drive home, I turned the idea over in my head and the title hit me between the eyes: “White Collar Warrior.” The book would offer lessons for sales professionals from America’s military elite.

With the topic in mind, I was excited to start interviewing former members of the U.S. Special Forces and sales leaders. I couldn’t wait to share their expertise.

But then distraction hit. My coaching career started picking up steam, and I took on additional leadership roles and speaking engagements.

I became so busy working “in” my business that I didn’t have time for anything else.

The book took a backseat.

Moving from Intention to Execution

As a coach, I regularly encourage my clients to take their goals from intention to execution. But a few years ago, I realized that when it came to my goal of writing a book, I wasn’t taking my own advice.

By continually putting off my writing goals, I was creating incongruity — like a doctor who tells patients to make healthy choices but spends his breaks smoking in the parking lot.

So I made a plan to follow through — not only to achieve my goal, but to be a better coach to my clients.

Here’s how I did it, and the steps you can take to tackle the goals looming on your long-term list.

Make a Commitment and Go Public

When you have a lot on your plate, it’s easy to put off your long-term goals — especially the goals that no one knows about.

You can let yourself off the hook and tell yourself that you’ll get to it later, even though you probably never will.

But it’s much more difficult to put off goals when you get other people involved. You realize there are other eyes on you, other minds tracking your progress and other people encouraging you and looking forward to watching you cross the finish line.

That’s why in February 2017, after years of wandering through this writing (and not writing) process, I stood up in front of a room of several dozen mortgage leaders and shared my plans.

I told them that if I didn’t have the book done by the end of the year, they shouldn’t let me back into our group — and I was in charge of the group, so this was a big commitment.

Making that public pronouncement public filled me with eustress — the positive form of stress. I felt energized, invigorated and nervous in the best way.

It gave me the momentum I needed to keep my book moving forward.

Gather the Resources and Team to Make It Happen

As I picked up speed, I started working with my team at Building Champions to focus my ideas for the book. They also helped me land on a coauthor: Bill Blankschaen.

In regular calls with my team, Bill helped me sharpen my ideas and processes. He even flew out to spend a day “vacuuming” my brain to get my thoughts out of my head and onto the page.

So often, we make the mistake of trying to achieve our goals on our own. But no matter what your pride, fear or sense of independence might tell you, getting the right team around you is key to reaching your goals.

Your team can encourage you, hold you accountable and help you brainstorm ideas when you think you’ve hit a wall.

I’d spent years trying to tackle this goal on my own — and I had very little to show for it. But once I got my team around me, things started coming together quickly.

Create a Schedule and Do the Work

I used to build my work schedule around golfing every Friday.

I would spend the first half of the week super busy with coaching calls, and then I’d kick off my three-day weekend at the golf course. This schedule allowed me to maintain my current clients, but it didn’t give me any room to work toward my professional goals.

I was improving my handicap, but the book wasn’t getting written. I was stealing my better future one round of golf at a time.

We do this to ourselves all the time. There’s nothing innately wrong with golf, television, social media or other forms of entertainment. But if you allow them to take priority over your long-term goals, then you’re missing out.

Achieving your goals may take hours of hard work, but it’s the only way to discover the satisfaction and success that can come from achieving what you really want in life. You’ve got to do more than commit to making it happen; you’ve got to make room in your schedule to get it done.

For me, this meant that instead of golfing on Fridays, I started focusing on “White Collar Warrior.”

I would sit down, put on noise-canceling headphones, turn on Baroque music to help myself focus and disable all my social media notifications so I wouldn’t get pulled away every time a little red dot popped up on my screen.

Then, I would force myself to go into thinking mode. I did this over and over — and with the help of my team and my coauthor, it got me there.

It’s Time to Take Action

Since “White Collar Warrior” has been living in my head for years, it’s hard for me to believe that I’ll be able to hold a physical copy in my hands when it releases in May.

This book will help sales professionals develop the mindset, habits and disciplines to elevate their performance. It will show them how to overcome fear and channel it into productivity, and how to leverage failures for personal growth.

None of this would have been possible if I hadn’t taken the steps to make it happen.

I know it’s easy to let your long-term goals fall by the wayside. And I know that tackling them might sound like a ton of work. But if I can do it, so can you.

Take your plan public, gather your team and do the work to get it done. Your better future is waiting.

Learn More About ‘White Collar Warrior’

To be the best, you must learn from the best.

Become an elite sales professional by learning proven lessons from the warriors who set the global standard for operational excellence: the American military elite.

Drawing on exclusive interviews with former members of the U.S. Special Forces and leading sales professionals from a variety of industries, “White Collar Warrior” will show you how to elevate your sales performance and become the elite of your industry.

Learn more about “White Collar Warrior.”

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It’s frustrating when our team is not engaged or on the same page. It saps our energy.

The harsh reality is that as leaders, we all too often assume that our people are committed long before they’re ready.

We assume they’re committed to a specific plan, an initiative, or even to our vision. We expect them to own their responsibilities, and we try to hold them accountable — and then we wonder why we get the “deer-in-the-headlights” look when we challenge them.

Accountability doesn’t work unless someone has personally made a commitment first. As leaders, we can’t hold team members accountable unless they have clearly said “yes, this is something I want to do.” So how do we engage our people to higher levels of commitment and avoid this critical disconnect?

A Solution for Engagement

Prior to joining Building Champions, I was an executive at a large forest products producer in Canada. An operations consultant introduced us to a model called E.A.C. — Enrollment, Alignment and Commitment. It was a game-changer for the company.

We eventually used E.A.C. for everything from major projects like acquisitions, all the way down to tactical decisions at the plants.

Here’s how it works. We can’t expect people to be fully and personally committed to something until they understand the details of a particular plan or decision — and are aligned behind those details. And we can’t expect them to be aligned until they are first enrolled in the idea that this project or plan is important in the first place.

Ensure Enrollment

The first step is to get people enrolled — and “on board,” as it were — in just the same way someone enrolls in college. These people have decided they are in but don’t necessarily know all the details of what they are committing to. To get your team enrolled, you need to explain why a particular vision or project is important, convey how it is going to help move everything forward and answer their questions so they can see the big picture context.

Then you need to test for enrollment. Having spent an appropriate amount of time explaining the idea (and obviously that could vary a lot depending on the complexity) you can ask a question like “On a scale of 1-10, how enrolled are you in this particular project?”  If anyone is less than an 8 out of 10, ask “What is it going to take to get you to an 8 or above?”  That way you can understand the concerns that cause the gap, discuss them and work through them until you get the enrollment you need.

Pursue Alignment

Once they are enrolled, it’s time to develop the details of the plan. People can’t get aligned behind something unless they see and understand the details, and ideally have a hand in creating them. As author Patrick Lencioni says, “If people don’t weigh in, they can’t buy in.”

This will normally be the longest part of this process, but if you don’t take the time here to make sure the team really understands the required level of detail, you will lose a lot more time in the future. It’s key to then test again for their alignment using the 1-to-10 scale, ensuring that all are at least an 8 or above before moving to the commitment stage.

Specify Commitment

Having aligned the team members behind a plan, they need to understand what role they will play in making it happen. What are they individually responsible for? What is it they are committing to? Do they know what it’s going to take in terms of time and effort? And what are they going to have to say “no” to in order to say “yes” to this?

Testing again for their commitment with the 1-to-10 scale really helps uncover doubts and concerns, and when objections or obstacles are removed, the team member is fully committed to doing their part to make the project successful.

Put it to Work

Investing the time to follow this process can save you from a lot of wasted time and energy later. And it definitely ensures higher levels of team engagement as well as individual commitment. Then you can hold people accountable, which is always key to performance.

Just being intentional about where people are in the hierarchy of commitment makes a huge difference in delivering success with your desired outcomes. Try it and see for yourself.

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This is part of an ongoing series on teams. If you’re looking to elevate your team this year, check out our new event, The Team Experience, to help your team achieve greater alignment, engagement and results.

Most organizations today have technology solutions available to systematize every process they can think of.

We automate everything from calendars to surveys, all in the promise of making things better. And yet we still have gaps in our systems. Big gaps. How is this possible?

There is an unintended consequence of automating some systems. In our attempt to design a process to make everything more efficient, we lose the leadership skill of active listening.

An Exercise in Listening

As Irish Playwright George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

As an Executive Coach, one of the exercises I’ve enjoyed facilitating in workshops with leaders and teams involves developing the skill of active listening.

In the exercise, a group of participants are told to listen to simple instructions from the presenter and to draw exactly what they hear. But by the end of the exercise, the group typically ends up with several different variations, each drawn from the directions everyone heard from the same presenter at the same time.

The facilitator then allows everyone to compare drawings and encourages the group to start asking clarifying questions.

As the room starts exchanging more information, the group slowly comes to a more common agreement about the task at hand. Next, the facilitator asks them all to take one more shot at drawing what they hear but applying all of the new information.

Guess what happens? Most — if not all — of the group participants draw the same thing this time. The reason is simple: once the participants had the opportunity to ask better questions, they could complete the task with better alignment, both with the facilitator and with their peers.

The key ingredient to this shift in productivity was the presence of active listening.

Active Listening Builds Trust

In most organizations, employees can only follow a good process when they have a culture of trust on their team and in the company. Trust allows a leader to consistently deliver what is expected, and to get team members to affirm what is heard, what is understood and what is acknowledged.

Without trust in a leader, there is often confusion, if not chaos, in the company culture.

So why don’t more leaders embrace active listening?

By default, most leaders tend to listen competitively or passively. Active listening is more than just focusing on what you hear; it involves observing the speaker’s body language, energy level, pace, and even tone.

The use of clarifying questions helps the listener get to the heart of what the person speaking is trying to communicate. And this is when leaders can really make the shift with their teams — by asking better questions.

The Bottom Line

Leading your teams to develop a system or follow a process will be far easier for a leader who can create an atmosphere where active listening is encouraged and modeled.

When active listening is present in a team environment, teammates will have more opportunities to build trust with one another.

Active listening also allows leaders to establish empathy with their teams. Once those fundamentals exist, teams can follow a process with less confusion.

Strengthen Your Team’s Communication

If you’re looking for an opportunity to better connect, collaborate and communicate with your team this year, join us for The Team Experience this September in Sunriver, Oregon.

With private team coaching, world-class speakers and opportunities to glean best practices from other accomplished teams, The Team Experience will drive your team to greater alignment, engagement and results.

Learn more about The Team Experience.

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This is part of an ongoing series on teams. If you’re looking to elevate your team this year, check out our new event, The Team Experience, to help your team achieve greater alignment, engagement and results.

When the front lines of HR are reviewing job applications, they’re likely scanning for experience and education. But for executives charged with unifying and leading teams, making a great hire requires something else as well: cohesion.

A team that shares a common vision and works toward it with shared values can move mountains. On the other hand, anyone who has been stuck on a disconnected or disjointed team knows that even the most talented team members can’t make much of a difference in moving the group forward.

Some leaders rely on cultural fit to determine how their teams are built. But cultural fit is no recipe for easy cohesion. In fact, studies have shown that using “fit” to guide team creation can actually leave you with a group that’s less creative and innovative.

Culture Fit and Cohesion

Business execs who trumpet the power of cultural fit can be forgiven for thinking it’s a cure-all for team troubles. Studies have shown that how well a candidate fits in with the office culture and other coworkers can impact everything from collaboration and idea generation to productivity and morale. That explains why 80 percent of employers identified cultural fit as a top priority, according to a recent survey by Cubiks. Research also shows that it’s incredibly common for teammates who share backgrounds or social identities (such as Red Sox fans or avid runners) to form closer bonds when working together.

Yet cultural fit and cohesion are not synonymous, though they might be used interchangeably. In fact, cultural fit is now more focused on “snap judgments” based on who managers would rather be around every day in the office, according to an op-ed from Lauren Rivera, a management professor at Northwestern University, in The New York Times.

Hiring managers might use culture fit as the reason to hire someone over an equally qualified candidate because they happen to be from the same hometown or because they chanced into an animated conversation about their shared love of craft beer. And while it’s true that small talk can make the time pass by faster at work, it’s not an accurate gauge of how well those teams will actually perform or how cohesive they’ll be.

Strength in Differences

Savvy business leaders know that cohesive teams aren’t built from members who mirror one another superficially, whether that means shared hobbies or similar alumna maters. The strongest and most cohesive teams share something much deeper: core values that align with the company’s culture. For instance, everyone on the team has a creative streak and favors rapid iteration, or they all work best through constant dialogue and open brainstorming. Those are deep personality traits, not superficial signifiers.

Researchers have actually shown that in terms of things like background, race and interests, the more diverse the group, the more cohesive it will be. One study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that groups with at least one “socially distinct” new member of the group performed significantly better than homogenous groups.

Team members who share common backgrounds and interests tend to feel comfortable and relaxed around one another, the lead author notes. But in more diverse groups, coworkers are nudged out of their comfort zones a bit and seem more able to tackle complex problems.

In other words, teams with a common culture might enjoy hanging out after work together the most. But in the workplace, it’s the diverse, different teams that actually cohere the best and outperform the others.

Unify Your Team

If you’re looking for an opportunity to better connect, collaborate and communicate with your team this year, join us at The Team Experience this September in Sunriver, Oregon.

With private team coaching, world-class speakers and opportunities to glean best practices from other accomplished teams, The Team Experience will drive your team to greater alignment, engagement and results.

Learn more about The Team Experience.

This is an updated version of an earlier post, originally published Aug. 20, 2015. 

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This is part of an ongoing series on teams. If you’re looking to elevate your team this year, check out our new event, The Team Experience, to lead your team to greater alignment, engagement and results.

A lot of things in life are simpler than we think, Jeff Gibson says. Leading a team is one of them.

As President of Table Group Consulting, Gibson works with CEOs and executive teams to strengthen team and organizational health. The Table Group is known for founder Patrick Lencioni’s books, including The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, The Advantage, The Ideal Team Player and Death By Meeting.

In more than 20 years of consulting, Gibson has seen how a healthy team can foster fulfillment and success, and how an unhealthy team can derail performance, retention and results.

Just as a fad diet is no replacement for healthy nutrition, exercise and sleep habits, there’s no one-time, quick fix for the challenges teams face. Instead, it’s about taking simple actions to build connection, communication and trust long-term.

“It’s the leaders that can stick to those simple disciplines — and not get bored or overcomplicate it — who are going to be truly successful at the end of the day,” he says.

We recently sat down with Gibson to learn more about what makes a healthy team. Here are six simple takeaways to help you and your team work better together.

1. Meetings are a Window into Team Health

Teams can take assessments to get a read on their health, but Gibson says the most common signs of dysfunction can be spotted in the conference room.

“The simplest thing we can do to evaluate an organization’s health and a team’s health is to watch how they interact in a meeting,” he says.

A high-functioning team will have honest interchanges with one another and unfiltered debate, he says. They get closure around decisions so that they can walk out of the room aligned.

A dysfunctional team, on the other hand, will often fall into issues like backchannel conversations.

“We call it a ‘conversation-after-the-conversation,’” Gibson says. “A team has a meeting and they think they’ve made a decision, and then right after the meeting, two or three people get together in somebody’s office to continue the conversation or take it off in a different direction. For some reason, they weren’t comfortable having that conversation as a whole, so they needed to go have it separately.”

Another sign of poor team health is triangulation — when team members go to their boss about peer-to-peer issues rather than confronting one another directly.

“When we can’t be direct with each other, when we’re positioning, when we’re more focused on our own stuff and when we’re not getting closure at the end of the meeting around what priorities are, we’re not a cohesive team,” Gibson says.

2. Healthy Teams Get Results

Results are the number one indicator of a team’s health.

“The ultimate measure of a great team is that they actually get a lot of stuff done, and they achieve what they say they’re going to achieve,” Gibson says. “If you love each other and you’re not getting stuff done, you’re not a great team.”

That being said, teams who produce results but don’t function well together are missing out on opportunities to maximize their potential across the board.

“If you hate each other and you get stuff done, you’re not a great team,” Gibson says.

3. Not Every Group Needs to be a Team

When you’re talking about a group of people at work, it can be easy to refer to them as a “team,” but Gibson says this can cause unnecessary confusion.

Not every group needs to be a team, and that’s okay — because being a team comes at a cost.

“It takes more time, it takes more effort, it takes more resources and it takes giving up control to really be a team,” he says. “The outcome at the end of the day is going to be greater as a result of investing all that. But if you don’t need to invest all that to achieve the outcome you need, then you probably shouldn’t, because it just confuses people.”

Overusing the word “team” can dilute its meaning, Gibson says — so it’s important that leaders understand the difference between a team and a group.

4. Teams Need to Slow Down to Go Fast

No matter how healthy your team is, don’t underestimate the benefits of getting away from the office together on a regular basis.

“The phrase that we use to describe it is something that comes from NASCAR: ‘You need to slow down before you can go fast,’” Gibson says. “In NASCAR, you slow down heading into the turn so that you can accelerate through it and coming out of it, and the same thing is true for a team.”

He recommends scheduling a few days every quarter to evaluate how you’re doing as an organization and as a team. Getting away from the day-to-day hustle of the office allows you to take a closer look at your company culture, check your progress on goals and strategies and develop stronger relationships with one another than you ever could in and average workday.

Slowing down might cost you a few days of work, but Gibson says that refusing to slow down can be even more costly.

“So many companies are just caught up in the craziness and energy of doing work that they don’t think they can actually take a breath and look around,” Gibson says. “When you don’t, there’s no way you’re going to be as effective as you could be.”

 

5. Fulfillment Starts with Team Health

In his consulting work, Gibson has seen how unhealthy leadership teams can wreak havoc on employees’ professional and personal lives.

“There are too many people in too many jobs who are miserable doing what they do,” he says.

On the flipside, he says, healthy teams who have clarity around their purpose, goals, roles and strategies develop more fulfilled team members.

These employees enjoy their work more, make better decisions, go home with more energy and positively impact their friends, family members and community because they have the benefit of working well with their team.

 

6. The World Needs More Great Teams (And It Always Will)

Most of us can recall the excitement of being part of a great team at some point in our lives — and unfortunately, many of us can relate to the struggles of being part of a dysfunctional team, too.

Even as technology advances and organizations become more digital, teams will never lose the need to work better together.

“Artificial intelligence is never going to replace a team of people sitting around a table making difficult decisions using their intuition and their logic and their emotion,” Gibson says. “There’s a core need as a human to be in community with others. Why would we go to work and avoid that opportunity when we can reinforce it in a way that’s meaningful?”

Build a Healthier Team

Want to hear more from Jeff Gibson? Join us at The Team Experience this September in Sunriver, Oregon, where he’ll be breaking down The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

The Team Experience is an opportunity for you to connect, collaborate and communicate with your team. With private team coaching, world-class speakers and opportunities to glean best practices from other accomplished teams, this event will drive your team to greater alignment, engagement and results.

Learn more about The Team Experience.

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This is part of an ongoing series on teams. If you’re looking to elevate your team this year, check out our new event, The Team Experience, to help your team achieve greater alignment, engagement and results.

Running a great meeting is an essential skill for any leader.

But all too often, leaders fail to approach their meetings with any kind of structure. They create their agenda the night before, or not at all. And when they inevitably lose control of the meeting, attendees take over and use the time for their own personal platform.

Having a simple framework to follow and prepare for is the key to success. Here’s a simple agenda you and your team can use for all regularly scheduled meetings.

1. Connect with your Team

Before you jump into business, take a few minutes to do an icebreaker or get-to-know-you exercise with your team.

This allows people to connect with one another on a personal level and perhaps learn something new about each other. I recommend spending 10 minutes on this segment.

2. Celebrate Successes

After breaking the ice, take time to recognize individuals and the entire team for their production, or for the ways you’ve seen them living out the values or convictions of your organization.

Remember that everyone has a desire to be recognized for their efforts in making your team a success. Don’t forget to acknowledge the efforts of those in administration and other departments not tied to actual production or revenue generation. I recommend allotting 10-15 minutes for this piece.

3. Equip Your People

As a leader, you need to demonstrate your knowledge and competence by keeping up with your industry and the latest developments that are impacting your team.

Come to the meeting ready to equip your team with a specific tool, training or industry update to help them be more successful both personally and professionally. You might consider bringing in an industry expert or a top producer train to your team as well. I recommend spending 20-30 minutes on this segment.

4. Commit to Specific Actions

Have your teammates commit to action items they will implement based on what they have learned in your meeting.

A great exercise to get the thought process going is called a “Keep, Start, Stop.”

In this exercise, individuals ask, “What should I keep, start and stop doing to improve my individual performance in the weeks ahead?” Go around the room and ask people to share. Use these action items in your one-on-one meetings with your team as well. I recommend dedicating 10-15 minutes to this piece.

Try it Today

This simple framework allows you to conduct a focused and structured team meeting in under an hour.

If your team needs additional time to discuss issues or have questions answered, require them to submit those to you 24 hours prior to the meeting so you can build additional time into the agenda for a Q&A session at the end.

I like to have this session be at the end so that if there is an issue that does not impact everyone, then the rest of the team can excuse themselves from the meeting.

Take Your Team to the Next Level

If you’re looking for an opportunity to better connect, collaborate and communicate with your team this year, join us at The Team Experience this September in Sunriver, Oregon.

With private team coaching, world-class speakers and opportunities to glean best practices from other accomplished teams, The Team Experience will drive your team to greater alignment, engagement and results.

Learn more about The Team Experience.

This is an updated version of an earlier post, originally published Jan. 10, 2015. 

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This is part of an ongoing series on teams. If you’re looking to elevate your team this year, check out our new event, The Team Experience, to help your team achieve greater alignment, engagement and results.

Imagine for a minute that you’re sitting in an MBA class; your professor has just assigned you a group project with four strangers. Each group member will be scored individually, based on the quality of his or her contribution, rather than on the project as a whole.

In this scenario, what are the chances that you’ll help the rest of your group with their sections? You might be willing to sacrifice your time to make sure the entire project is the best that it can be — but more likely, you’re going to finish your piece and leave the rest of the group to fend for themselves.

You may be part of a group, but you’re not on a team.

Four Critical Differences

Groups come together, but they don’t work together — at least, not for long. In groups, projects fall prey to politics and competing interests; people fight for scarce resources and chase success based on individual performance.

Teams, on the other hand, are built on trust and common direction. Teammates support one another and give each other the benefit of the doubt in times of conflict.

Teams outperform groups every time.

So how do you know if you and your peers are functioning as a group or a team? Consider these four fundamental qualities; a group might have some of them, but a team has them all.

Shared Purpose

Teams know why they exist — they’re united by a common purpose.

When teammates have clarity on how their roles fit into the team’s greater purpose, they want to pull together to see that purpose fulfilled.

Teammates recognize that each person is essential to the organization’s purpose, so they respect one another’s roles and look for ways to help each other achieve the purpose they’re all striving toward.

 

Shared Goals

A team’s performance is typically judged on both individual and collective work. In a group, each individual is judged by his or her performance results — so it’s no surprise that group members tend to focus on their own goals rather than the goals of the organization.

At work, group members are more likely to withhold knowledge and resources from other departments or groups, forming organizational silos and hindering overall progress.

Teams, on the other hand, see their goals and the organization’s goals as one in the same. As a result, they’re more willing to pick up the slack for one another so that they can achieve these shared goals.

 

Peer-to-Peer Accountability

Because everyone on a team is working toward shared goals and a shared purpose, teammates aren’t afraid to call each other out if they notice one person is sabotaging their progress.

A healthy level of communication and conflict allows teams to avoid the pitfalls of office politics. Teammates can count on their peers to hold them accountable to fulfilling their unique roles and building up the organization.

 

Genuine Connection and Care

Teams do more than work together — they invest in deepening their connections. They make time to get to know each other and understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses so that they can bring out the best in one another.

While groups can fall apart in times of stress or conflict, teammates trust that they have each other’s back.

Teams are in it together, and they know it.

Elevate Your Team

If you’re looking for an opportunity to better connect, collaborate and communicate with your team, join us for The Team Experience this September in Sunriver, Oregon.

With private team coaching, world-class speakers and opportunities to glean best practices from other accomplished teams, The Team Experience will drive your team to greater alignment, engagement and results.

Learn More

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How does your team work together and with you? Can they improve how they operate as a unit? My experience has been that teams can always get better at working together.

In today’s increasingly competitive marketplace, the health of your team is especially important. With the added pressure of a more intense and stressful workplace, teams who can work better together and handle the demands of their jobs more easily will almost always come out on top.

As a leader, there are many things you can do to improve the way your team interacts with one another and with you, and to make sure all are working at optimum levels and moving in a common direction.

How often are you asking individuals and the team about what’s getting in the way of their success? What about how they’re doing personally, or what more you can do to help? I have said many times that one of the important roles of a leader is to get up and get out and see what’s really going on inside the organization — not only with key leaders but with everyone.

If you want to really get at the issues that will improve your team’s health, I recommend you try an important assessment called “Keep, Start, Stop.”

Keep, Start, Stop — or KSS for short — is a really a simple and highly effective leadership tool. The process involves asking key questions about what behaviors and actions each team member should keep doing, start doing and stop doing to most effectively contribute to the team.

You’ll need to be willing and prepared to be vulnerable and listen to your team and to each other. That doesn’t mean you’ll have to follow everything you hear, but listening will give you the needed insights to improve your team’s health and overall performance. And any differences in opinion need to be aired. How you react to what is shared is up to you.

The Assessment Process

You can access the Keep, Start, Stop Assessment here. For maximum benefit, have all your direct reports do an assessment for each other, in addition to doing one for you.

Take 15 minutes or so and have each direct report list the top three to five actions, in priority, that they believe each person should keep doing, start doing, and stop doing. If there are 6 people, it could take an hour to an hour and a half to do this part of the assessment process.

I recommend the leader goes first by allowing each person to go through the top three to five things they believe the leader should keep doing and then letting each person provide input. Next, tackle what the leader should start doing and then move to what they should stop doing.

This last one is often the hardest for a leader to hear; it’s easy to become defensive and you may be tempted to justify your actions. You may not agree with what is said, and you may know the background or history of some issues that others don’t. But during this initial process, don’t get defensive. Let the comments sink in and thank everyone for their candid feedback. Deciding what to do with the feedback comes later.

If you want the full impact, do this same process for everyone on the leadership team.

What to Keep Doing

Finding out what you should keep doing is an important first step in this process. It’s also a good way to focus on the most important items. There is often too much to do and this will help to really define what the team believes is the most important.

What to Start Doing

This could be a real difference-maker that could benefit not just your team, but the whole organization. When you know what new things the team can get excited about, together you can move forward to implement as a team, which can have a huge impact.

What to Stop Doing

This part of the process may or may not reveal anything new, but airing the subject and discussing the differences is worth any anxiety you may feel about this aspect of KSS. As the leader, this exercise will help you better understand what some or all of the team is uncertain about. Focusing on what needs more clarity can have a positive impact on the team. And, don’t miss the opportunity to be transparent and vulnerable. This is great leadership for the rest of the team.

Get Your Tool

Keep, Start, Stop is a simple, but highly effective, assessment process. I recommend giving it a try with your team — you won’t be sorry.

Click here to download your KSS tool today.

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