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  • Writer's pictureMike Ayers

What Comes First in Building a Great Team

Many have claimed that the 1985 Chicago Bears was the best team in NFL history. With an 18-1 record, steamrolling over everyone in the playoffs, possessing historic players like Walter Peyton and Mike Singletary, beating the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl by a score of 46 to 10... all these and many other factors bolster the assertion that they were the best.

Upon the occasion of the team’s 25th anniversary, I happened to watch an ESPN special documenting their dominance. When their former head coach Mike Ditka was asked what made the team so successful he replied, “They worked harder than any team that I had ever coached and they loved each other.”

And with that statement Ditka summarized what is at the heart of every effective team whether it be in sports, non-profits or businesses. High performing teams embrace both a task orientation and a relationship orientation. In other words, great teams focus on the tasks before them as well as the people performing those tasks. They don’t just do something together. They become something together.

People will endure a team to achieve a task; but they will enjoy a team when relationships are strong.

Moving teams in the workplace from merely achieving tasks to some level of relational health is not easy. There are many dynamics to consider, but none are more important than the matter of team purpose. People on a team may learn to tolerate each other without purpose, but they will never experience unity. Tolerance in the workplace is non-negotiable, but there is a difference between it and unity. Tolerance is a passive dynamic and simply means that people put up with each other. Unity, on the other hand, is an active force characterized by mutual respect, care and concern, and even love. Unity does not mean uniformity (where all look the same, talk the same, think the same, etc.). Unity does not mean unanimity (where everyone always agrees with each other). Unity means the state of being one in spirit and purpose.

Here are three things a team must do in the area of purpose in order to become unified and highly effective:

1. The team must define its purpose. You might think it ridiculous to even state this, but many teams never clearly define the reason they exist in the first place. Even if they have defined it, it is often laid aside and forgotten.

Go to the individuals on your team and ask each member: “Why do we exist as a team?” You might be surprised at the various answers you’ll get. Leaders often assume team members know the team’s purpose because the leader knows the team’s purpose. This is a bad assumption to make.

Diagnostic question: Has the team defined the reason it exists and what it will work toward?

2. Team members must commit to the team’s purpose. Just because a team has a purpose, does not mean everyone ascribes to it and are willing to commit to it. In order for a team to be unified, it must be comprised of people who actually believe in its purpose and are motivated to work toward it.

Diagnostic question: Do those on the team agree with and consent to its purpose?

3. The team’s purpose must be stated in a clear, concise and compelling way. People forget why they’re doing what they are doing because team purposes are too large, too long and too boring. Almost every team’s mission, not matter how big its scope or how tedious its tasks, can be translated into a more simple, short and inspiring form.

Diagnostic question: Is the team’s purpose stated in a clear, concise and compelling way?

Teams will never reach their full potential without a well-defined, well-stated purpose to which all team members fully commit. If you’re a leader of a team, work on purpose first and foremost. Get this right and it sets your team up for effectiveness and unity. You can do a lot after clarifying and communicating team purpose; you should do nothing before.


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