Building a Better Team

By Alex Vann

May, 2022

Great teams are hard to put together. To make a team you must build the team. Simply putting people together doesn’t make a team, it makes a group. A group is a loose association of members. A team is a tight. For teams to be tight, the fit must be right. If you want to find success as a team, then you must move from merely a group to a team that will go to great lengths to serve one another in pursuit of the team’s goals. As a leader, the decisions and choices you make will either build your team up or inadvertently tear your team down.

The team is always a reflection of the leader. If you want a better team, then work on becoming a better leader. The second you take your personal leadership growth for granted is the second your team starts falling apart. You can never take your team or your growth for granted. Leaders aren’t leaders without followers and followers make up the team. Many leaders complain about the quality of their team. This is a direct reflection of the leader. A complaining, selfish and whining leader will attract weak people. A humble, selfless and serving leader will attract strong people. I have a rule regarding people and that rule is “like attracts like.” People aren’t like magnet where opposites attract. This is why we have heroes and those we look up to—because people are drawn to people like them. If you allow negative people to influence your organization or if you, yourself, are negative, then that is who you will attract. But, if you get positive, stay positive and demand positivity then you will drive the negative away because they will stick out like a sore thumb. In my organization, our second Core Value is a “Positive Community.” If you can’t be positive, we promote you to customer. If you want a better team, then be a better leader.

The strongest teams have the clearest mission. Weak teams don’t know what they are doing, why they are doing it or where to start. Strong teams have clear missions. The English word mission really comes from the Spanish word “missio” and the subsequent Latin word “mittre” which meant “the sending” or “to send” as in Christianity in the sending of the Holy Spirit from God to His people. A mission has a transcendent purpose or call buried in it. This is why mission is always more powerful than a purpose or an objective. Objectives are markers on the mission’s road. It is imperative that leaders keep the mission simple and the communication clear. A mission is much more like a calling than merely picking a convenient purpose.

The best teams have the best culture. Culture is king on any successful team. The leaders of the team are the creators and carriers of culture. Without leaders, sub-cultures spawn and values are changed. Your values define your culture. If you want a new culture, then get new values. If someone wants to hijack your culture, then allow them to devalue your values and they will shortly be replaced. It is imperative to over-communicate and tie your values into everything you do on your team. Never meet, never communicate and never plan without keeping one or more of your team’s values as the driver of that objective. In recent years, my core values have become much clearer on my team. Every thing that touches a team member has one of our five core values embedded in it. Our orientation is where we discuss the values at length. Our interview guides and team member reviews all have our core values embedded in them. Former GE CEO Jack Welch simply said, “Culture drives great results.” If your culture is struggling, then you either haven’t transmitted your core values across your organization or you need new values.

Everyone on the team is replaceable. Yikes! This can feel scary and unknown and certainly there are some people that are very difficult to replace. So don’t miss this: some people are really hard to replace. But, everyone is replaceable. There is always someone else that can do the job and there is very often someone who can do the job or task better. This may not seem like this, but if we simply look at the records that exist in the world, each new generation finds a way to beat them. It may take a while and some things may have to change, but change is going to happen whether you want it to or not. There are times where we think believe that certain members of the team just can’t be replaced. But, these team members have stopped listening, aren’t coachable or have started negatively affecting the chemistry of the team.

As a member of the team, make yourself hard to replace. I don’t say irreplaceable, because everyone including the overall leader is replaceable. But work to make yourself very difficult to replace. Not because you are difficult to work with, withhold information or become obstinate, but because you are committed to personal growth and the growth over others on the team. Those who are committed to growth are hard to replace. This means always see yourself as a student. Keep learning. Stay humble and work hard to not be replaced. Recognizing that even you are able to be replaced will help you stay more humble. Team members that are hard to replace embrace the team’s values, carry the culture, work with conviction, have a growth mindset and work well with others. Team members that are easy to replace are focused primarily on one thing: themself. Being hard to replace means you focus on team goals over personal goals and others over self. It’s very difficult to replace selfless people.

Learn to replace yourself and you become hard to replace. When you learn, share. As y0u share what you learn, you are actually sharpening and strengthening those around you. Sharing is a selfless, sacrificial act. Share your best not your left overs. This means be intentional to pass on what you have learned or what you know with others. I believe God blesses this and in fact, I have seen it over and over again. As a leader who seeks to grow other leaders, I learned early on that I must share sooner what I have learned with those who are following me. There is very little I don’t share with those I am mentoring, training and teaching. Why? Because if you can learn earlier in your curve you can have longer, more sustainable success over the duration of your involvement–the growing leader can grow stronger, faster and get results earlier. Many leaders want to withhold information or knowledge because they want to be the grand dispenser of growth. Really what they want is to be in control. Leaders who learn to replace themselves are more interested in growth than control. If you want racehorses then you must expand the room they have to run. If you want mules then yoke them and hem them in, they wont go or grow very far.

Basketball Hall of Fame Coach John Wooden said, “The best way to improve your team is to improve yourself.” Improvement takes time, intention and challenge. Thinking about improvement and actually improving are two very different things. To get better people, you must become a better leader. The onus is on you, the leader, if you want to build a better team. This is a building work that is never done. There is always work to be done. Team work building never stops. The best teams are always highly committed to building a better team and continuously working on it.