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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Championship Team Building

Former Boston Celtics basketball Coach Red Auerbach once remarked “Some people believe you win with the five best players, but I found out that you win with the five who fit together best.” Like championship sports teams, successful businesses must have employees who work well together to achieve a common goal. While talent is definitely important to be successful, the business with the most talent does not always make the most profits.

Talent without teamwork is trouble. There are too many businesses who had highly talented individuals, yet were unable to perform to their potential because of selfishness, jealousies, conflict, and people who were unable to accept their roles. Likewise, there are teams with solid but not superior talent that rise to a championship level because of teamwork. Thus, teamwork becomes a sort of “wild card” factor whether you have great or average talent.

From experience there are seven important factors that distinguish winning teams. As you read the description of the Seven “C’s” of Championship Team Building, take a moment to assess how well your business team is doing on each of the characteristics.

1. Common goal

Championship teams have a singular, common focus. Obviously, for many organizations the common goal is to serve the consumer, maximise profits, and become the dominant leader in the industry. These are the company’s primary, specified, overt goals and all other goals revolve around them. The goals are firmly embraced by all members of the team, from the CEO to the interns. Everyone understands the direction and destination that the company is moving toward. The employees understand that their individuals goals must fit within the framework and mission of the company

“A true vision gives the team more than just a target to shoot for; it gives the team a mission, a sense of purpose to get excited about.” Pat Williams, Senior Executive Vice President, Orlando Magic

2. Commitment

While some seasons may start with the entire team focused on a common goal, rarely do they end up that way. Commitment is probably the single most important factor that differentiates championship teams, coaches, athletes, businesses, schools, marriages (you name it) from the mediocre. It is much too easy to say you want to win the championship and it is a whole other thing to put in the blood, sweat, and tears necessary to pursue a championship - especially when obstacles and adversity strike. Continual commitment to the team’s common goal is one of the toughest areas of team building.

Championship teams buy into the mission at every level and make the mission their own. The players and coaches work hard and pay their dues because they want to, not because they have to. In addition to their commitment, the team members feel a sense of personal and group accountability. The players have a clear understanding of how their individual choices and decisions influence the collective psyche and success of the team. There is a true sense that if an player is slacking off, she is not just hurting herself but her entire team. The players feel a sense of responsibility and obligation to give it their best.

“Individual commitment to a group effort - that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” Vince Lombardi, Green Bay Packers

3. Complementary Roles

Championship teams are comprised of several individuals who willingly take pride in a playing a variety of roles. These roles, when played in concert and harmony lead to team success. Thus, each player is assigned specific positions and responsibilities that help determine the entire team’s success. While individually they are not solely responsible for the team’s success or failure, collectively each role forms a synergistic whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

The major difficulties in developing complementary roles is that some roles get more attention and praise thereby making them seem more important. Championship teams however realize that all roles are critical to the overall team’s success and willingly accept and value their individual roles.

“I knew that the only way to win consistently was to give everybody - from the stars to the number 12 player on the bench - a vital role on the team.” Phil Jackson, Los Angeles Lakers

4. Clear Communication

A fourth characteristic of championship teams is clear communication. Successful teams communicate successfully both on and off the field. The on field communication helps them perform more efficiently and effectively. Players must communicate a wide variety of messages on the field to perform successfully. Off the field, players need to continually monitor the team’s effectiveness, modify things when necessary, and celebrate successes.

“You can only succeed when people are communicating, not just from the top down but in complete interchange.”
Bill Walsh, San Francisco 49ers

5. Constructive Conflict

Along with effective communication, championship teams have the ability to keep conflict under control. Often, coaches and players are able to use conflict constructively to further develop and strengthen the team. It is not that championship teams never experience conflict, because this is impossible. Instead they are able to handle the conflict they experience and do not let it interfere with the team’s common goal. Championship coaches and players make sure that their common goal always takes precedence over any conflict.

“My job is to avoid or resolve conflict if possible, because our mission is to win.” Chuck Daly, USA Basketball

6. Cohesion

A sixth characteristic shared by many championship teams is that they genuinely like and respect each other. The players like to spend time with each other outside of scheduled practice and game times. They find reasons to stay together like going to the movies, studying, hanging out, etc. This is not to say that every single player is a part of the group, but that a majority of players tend to socialize together. While it is not absolutely necessary, cohesion is a factor that often will help your team perform at a higher level.

“Respect is essential to building group cohesion... You don’t have to like each other. But you do have to respect your colleagues’ opinions and decsions, because your personal success depends on commitment to the overall plan and doing your part to make it work." Pat Summitt, Tennessee Women’s Basketball

7. Credible Coaching

Finally, it takes a credible coach to develop, orchestrate, and monitor all the other “C’s” of Championship Team Building. You as a coach play a critical role in helping the team arrive at a common goal, monitoring and maintaining your players’ commitment, assigning and appreciating roles, communicating with the team, keeping conflict under control, and promoting your team’s chemistry and cohesion. The team must have a leader who they believe in and has the skills necessary to get the most from the team. A credible coach creates an effective environment that allows the team to perform to their full potential.

“It doesn’t matter whether you are in football, real estate, or electronics, the people who work for you will be happier and more productive if they feel they have value to you beyond what they can do for you on the job. They want to feel that they are important on a personal level.” Marty Schottenheimer, San Diego Chargers

Championship team building is a complex process which must be continually monitored and improved. Regardless of your talent level, invest some time and tap into the power of teamwork to help your team perform at a higher level. By recognizing and working on the Seven “C’s” of Championship Team Building you can create a more motivated, committed, and cohesive team.

Being A Team Captain

What do you get when you combine amazing athleticism, killer competitiveness, an undying work ethic, a clutch-performer, a team-first attitude, a sweet and humble personality, a highly coachable person, and a passionate, vocal leader? A coach's dream named Candice Wiggins.

Candice Wiggins was the starting shooting guard for Stanford University women's basketball team. Wiggins is the all-time leading scorer in Stanford women's basketball history and in the Pac-10 Conference women's basketball history. She was selected 3rd overall by the Minnesota Lynx in the 2008 WNBA Draft.

In this interview, Candice shares her insights on what it takes to be a successful leader for a team.

Q: As you think about a leader for a team, what do you think are some of the most important skills or qualities that that leader has to have?

CW: I think that a leader on the team needs to have passion, first of all, for what they're doing. And it has to be a genuine passion. They have to be interested in it and I think that that's probably the first step to really becoming a leader. Whatever you're doing you have to love to do it every single day and you're committed. I think that obviously a leader works hard and things like that, but it really just makes the experience fun and special for everyone.

Q: How would you differentiate a leader by example versus a vocal leader and which one of those would you say you are?

CW: Well, I think a leader by example is somebody who just does it. They can talk or not, but they're just someone who comes in every day and just does it and sets a standard for how things should be done. I think a vocal leader is different. A vocal leader is always talking, always encouraging. In terms of myself, I try to do both. You know, obviously it's really hard to lead by example and to be the one talking. It's a lot of energy, but I still try to do that as much as I can. I think that there needs to be a balance though between how much you talk and what you actually do.

CW: Talk a little bit about when you came to Stanford as a freshman, and obviously you were a highly regarded player... How did you feel out what your leadership role was? And did you feel like you could say things even though were juniors and seniors ahead of you?

CW: Well, that was a very interesting experience coming into my freshman year. It was probably the first time where... Well, we had 16 people on the roster and it was a senior driven team - players I had seen since I was really young playing. And I think it was really overwhelming for me to come in and just sort of feel like I could just say just anything I wanted to when I didn't even know what I was doing. But I just think that that year, there were so many great leaders on the team that I didn't really have to step in and become this leader by example or vocal leader because we had so many on the team. I think that I learned a lot about what it means to be a leader. Even like little things in the weight room. I still remember the seniors and they would come in and I looked up to them so much and everything they did and how much they worked. I think that from my experience I didn't really feel like I was necessarily a leader but again, like I said, I just learned so much about how to be a good leader that year.

Q: Good. When did start finding your voice then as a leader, and feel more comfortable to step into that role?

CW: Well, I think that towards the end of the season my freshman year, I had a lot of the seniors that I was playing with at the time telling me that this is how we feel about you. We think that we're going to go as far as you lead and take us. And I think that's when I started to realize that "Hey, I'm the youngest player here, but these people, they actually look up to me," and I really learned that. And then after they all graduated, all the seniors, and there were only a few people with game experience and just had the same experience I did, I knew that right away that my sophomore year was going to be one of those years where I had to be a leader.

Q: Okay, let's talk then about some of the toughest challenges you've faced as a leader and how did you try to overcome them?

CW: I think a big challenge in being a leader is definitely a lot of pressure. And I think that dealing with pressure in terms of, every day coming out and making sure that you're the best that you can be. And also, just having that responsibility that wherever the team goes, it's your responsibility. I think in terms of me dealing with that. It hasn't been very hard because I've had such great teammates that are willing to take some of that pressure away and take leadership roles from time to time. I don't have to score all the points, or even be the scoring leader every game, someone's going to step up and take the role. We had vocal leaders in the past. I just think that it is very challenging. Another thing is that if you make a mistake, you're looked at. It is just really important that day in and day out that you're setting a good example and that you try your best to just be as good of a leader as you can.

Q: How does a leader need to work between teammates and the coaching staff and to kind of bridge the gap between those two groups?

CW: Well, I think it's very important for the leader to be the one who takes the initiative to show how the player-coach relationship should be. How their actions are with the coaches is how everyone is going to sort of follow. So, I think it was really important for me how I responded to criticism, how I responded to things not going my way is the most important. It's something that nobody who's in that position wants to have to deal with often, but it's really important. It sets the tone for how others perceive the team relationship. I think it's also important for the players to make sure that the coaches and players are all sort of on the same page. I think it gets hard when one doesn't understand the other's situation. So I work hard to try to vocalize that.

Is Management for Me?

FedEx is a company that prides itself on breakthrough thinking and crisp execution. Founder and CEO Fred Smith didn't just start a company in 1973; he invented an industry. The company now handles nearly 3 million packages a day and remains the undisputed leader of the overnight-delivery business.

One reason why FedEx is a corporate leader is that it is an organisation filled with individual leaders. Indeed, the company has designed the process by which it turns rank-and-file employees into middle managers (and then senior leaders) with as much creativity and attention to detail as the process by which it sorts packages in its Memphis hub. Want to know what kinds of people make good leaders at FedEx?

According to FedEx, its best leaders share nine personal attributes - which the company defines with remarkable specificity. FedEx also has a system for rating aspiring leaders on whether they possess these attributes.

How do you rate? Judge yourself against these edited descriptions of the nine faces of leadership at FedEx.


Instills faith, respect, and trust. Has a special gift of seeing what others need to consider. Conveys a strong sense of mission.

Individual consideration

Coaches, advises, and teaches people who need it. Actively listens and gives indications of listening. Gives newcomers a lot of help.

Intellectual stimulation

Gets others to use reasoning and evidence, rather than unsupported opinion. Enables others to think about old problems in new ways. Communicates in a way that forces others to rethink ideas that they had never questioned before.


Willing to stand up for ideas even if they are unpopular. Does not give in to pressure or to others' opinions in order to avoid confrontation. Will do what's right for the company and for employees even if it causes personal hardship.


Follows through and keeps commitments. Takes responsibility for actions and accepts responsibility for mistakes. Works well independently of the boss.


Functions effectively in changing environments. When a lot of issues hit at once, handles more than one problem at a time. Changes course when the situation warrants it.


Does what is morally and ethically right. Does not abuse management privileges. Is a consistent role model


Reaches sound and objective evaluations of alternative courses of action through logic, analysis, and comparison. Puts facts together rationally and realistically. Uses past experience and information to bring perspective to present decisions.

Respect for others

Honors and does not belittle the opinions or work of other people, regardless of their status or position.

Eat Mor Chickin! A Recipe for Great Leadership

What a great pleasure it is to hear the story of US based fast food company, Chick-fil-A . They are going out of their way to make a difference in the lives of their employees, customers and anyone with whom they come into contact.

It’s a pretty tall order for a fast-food restaurant…but this is clearly a fast-food restaurant like no other!

We Care About You…

The company's President and COO, Dan Cathy begins a speech by saying, “the first thing I want you to know is that we genuinely care about you personally.” This is most likely not what you might expect from a fast-food executive. Instead, you might expect a history of the company, possibly some ups-and-downs, how they prevailed in the end. Well, that is not their story. In fact, their stories relate more to their family and how they value their relationships. Sure, they are a very successful company, but it is clear that their definition of success does not revolve around amassing a financial fortune.

When the leadership team of Chick-fil-A says they care about you, they’re serious. And they’re not just saying it, they’re doing it. Yes, they’re putting their philosophy into action. By saying that they “care,” they are taking action to influence and impact people’s lives in positive ways. The areas that they have identified as most important are: Live, Love and Lead. Here’s what they say about each of these areas


An important indicator of health is your energy level. It ensures you have the ability to do what you want to do, when you want to do it. The key: incorporating healthy habits into your day that will help you maintain the energy level you need to be successful.

To support the “Live” initiative, Chick-fil-A employs a full-time Wellness Director. They have a belief that in order to be the best version of yourself, you have to be “Fit to Lead.”


Our marriages and families are incredibly important to us. But between the hectic pace of our lives and the constant demands on our time, we can risk neglecting what is most to us. The key: slow down and refocus on the significant relationships in your life.

Chick-fil-A was founded by Truett and Jeannette Cathy. Today, they have been married for more than 60 years, and their children, who currently lead Chick-fil-A, have been raised to value marriage and family. They clearly support the belief that happy marriages are the foundation to so many other successes, including business success.


At Chick-fil-A, they believe leadership is endemic to each of us. We all lead someone or something in our lives. Their leadership training is obviously building the right culture into their staff, refining their skills and teaching them how to provide the best service possible. Cathy shares his audience the basis of that training – it comes from scripture: If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. (Matthew 5:41) From that, they launched their training program, “Making the Second Mile Second Nature.” It is no wonder you get great customer service there! Talk about going above and beyond!

Dan’s Passion

Dan Cathy has been the President and COO of Chick-fil-A since 2001. He spends most of his time on the road, visiting store locations and interacting with his team. He is an engaged and caring leader, whose desire to build into his team is evident in both what he says and does.

U-M Executive Education and the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship Aim to Build Positive Leadership Through New Webinar Series

U-M Executive Education and the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship Aim to Build Positive Leadership Through New Webinar Series

The Lesson of Lehman: Do the Opposite

In a fascinating article in Forbes recently, Harvard Business School Professor Michael Beer sets out his answer as to why Lehman Brothers collapsed into bankruptcy a year ago just now. Beer believes that the senior leaders at Lehmans, and the other financial institutions which crashed last year, made a series of choices about how to build their firms that contravened crucial principles concerning purpose, strategy, risk, motivation and truth.

Purpose: They Failed to Establish It
Strategy: They Failed to Stay on a Path
Risk: They Didn't Limit It, Financially or Culturally
Motivation: They Weren't Playing for a Team
Truth: They Didn't Let It Speak to Power.

Many of the financial services firms that succumbed in 2008 were old, revered and proud, and their leaders thought they were presiding over healthy, enduring institutions. Yet few of those leaders understood what a truly healthy institution looked like, let alone the leadership principles for building one.

According to Beer, the lesson from Lehman is that it is vital that the leaders of companies coming out of the recovery--especially of those with the greatest power in the global economy--understand the five critical choices about higher purpose, strategic focus, limiting risk, motivating through team values and enabling truth to speak to power. Those choices need to be a standard by which we judge our corporate leaders, so we can spend the nation's next 232 years looking forward, not backward.