Starting, growing and scaling a business is an exciting endeavor. With so many factors playing a role in an organization’s success, however, entrepreneurs can find themselves wondering where they should focus the majority of their attention.
According to Larry Yatch, author of How Leadership (Actually) Works, the single biggest factor for a company’s success is how the team performs. Yatch is no stranger to the importance of teams. A former officer in the Navy SEALs, Yatch had a 100 percent success rate at leading and planning over 200 missions. He then parlayed the knowledge and experience he gained as a SEAL into the corporate world, co-founding the business SEAL Team Leaders.
For more than 10 years, his organization has worked with major companies like Merrill, Wells Fargo, New York Life Foundation, AdvisorNet Financial and UBS to pinpoint weaknesses in their teams, optimize their people’s performance and break through revenue ceilings.
“You have to ask yourself how well your team coordinates their action, specifically for the purpose of a different future state,” Yatch explained. “Otherwise, you’re just functioning alongside each other at best, or working against each other at worst.”
High-performing teams have alignment between the team’s purpose and each individual team member’s purpose. The first step to finding that alignment, Yatch explained, is to get clear on what, specifically, a team is. Whenever that term is used, it should point toward a coordinated effort. Yatch used the example of filling your car with gas to illustrate his point.
First, you have to team with your boss to keep your job and earn the money to buy the gas. Second, you have to team with your credit card company to create the room on your balance. Third, you have to team with the gas station attendant on what type of gas and how much. Fourth, you have to team with the cashier to transfer the funds. This doesn’t even consider the gas station’s efforts before you get there to ensure there’s gas to pump.
What’s interesting about this analogy, he said, is that “the bigger, future purpose doesn’t have to be shared. No one in this scenario directly cares whether your car has gas in it.” Your boss wants you to be able to come to work but isn’t paying you just so you can fill your tank. The gas station attendant may just want your card transaction to go smoothly so their day isn’t made difficult.
The distinction Yatch believes every business leader needs to understand here is that, “we don’t have to be invested in the same ultimate future in order to team when those futures intersect.”
Create a high-functioning team
Once you are really clear on what constitutes a true team, you’re ready for the next step. “A true master of teams identifies, influences and crafts varying futures to create a high-functioning team,” Yatch said. “It doesn’t matter whether those futures are ultimately aligned, merely intersecting or are simply intended to maintain the status quo.”
Building a high-functioning team requires a deeper level of awareness than you may have previously realized. Yatch explained, “the true master can see where varying paths are going to cross and how the individuals at the intersection of their individual purposes can contribute to the others around them.” Whether it’s the gas station attendant working with you to perform a simple transaction or your executive team coming together to move the organization forward doesn’t matter. What matters is knowing how each person’s goals intersect.
Once you know that, Yatch said, “you can find people who have a shared background of experience and a shared desired end state (at least in that moment) and bring them together to coordinate action around a common concern.” For Yatch, this is the key to success.
“Identifying intersecting futures and coordinating action that benefits all parties allows you to survive,” he said. “Being on a high-functioning team allows you to thrive.”
Create value by aligning purpose and roles
Yatch pointed out that, “high-functioning individuals and teams make big commitments and hold them consistently.” When we have access to that level of coordinated action, “success becomes easier to experience, and achievements tend to follow as well,” he said.
To create, join or be kept on a high-functioning team, Yatch explained that each team member must primarily be of value to the others. Each person must fill a role or perform an act that’s missing. The more risk and resource constraints the team feels, the less likely they’ll keep someone who isn’t carrying their own weight. Yatch explained that there’s a catch to this idea of creating value, though. Value is relative, which means we have to learn to measure it.
“The team’s purpose will point you to the contributions that they value,” he said. He suggests business leaders consider what purpose is. “It’s not your vision and isn’t to be confused with your values,” he explained. We can make decisions based on our values, but it’s our purpose that drives us into the future. To coordinate action toward a shared future, we have to understand the purpose of the team. Then we can identify the critical roles needed to fulfill that purpose. Where an individual’s purpose and role align with the team’s purpose, highly effective coordination of action is possible.
Look for where attention is placed
If you’re struggling to figure out what your team values most, Yatch has a trick that will help. “Our most valuable asset is our attention. If you want to know where and how a team assesses worth, figure out where they place their attention.”
It could be on interpersonal connection or it could be on productivity. But if one member values productivity and another team member tries to create strong interpersonal connections, they won’t assess each other’s worth on that team highly.
That’s a problem. It’s only when team purpose, individual purpose, aligned roles and assessed worth are in alignment that each teammate can consistently deliver valuable actions for the team. As you work to come into alignment and deliver value, or help another member of the team do so, Yatch said, you must keep two other principles in mind.
First, alignment of team purpose, individual purpose, aligned roles, assessed worth and valued actions is the underlying foundation of every team, personal or professional, named or ad hoc. Second, this alignment does not happen by accident. It takes care, attention and planning. Finally, remember that each of these parts are critical no matter where your role falls within organizational structures of positional authority.
Optimize the team
Whether or not you realize it, every team has a driving, overarching purpose for the missions they undertake, and every member of the team has their own purpose as well. According to Yatch, organizations experience problems when teams are not present to these purposes and do not take the time to craft powerful ones and, most importantly, align them.
“Often, teams may have a stated vision or a mission statement, but those are vague and obscure,” he said. “No one knows what they are and couldn’t tell you if you asked them.”
On a high-functioning team, though, you can ask anyone what the team purpose is and what their individual purpose is and they’ll all give you the same answer. Achieving this alignment in your own organization is key to your company’s ability to thrive.
When everyone holds a clear, functional understanding of what the team does and why, coordination of action skyrockets. If everyone on that team also understands their own purpose, as well as how their purpose nests within the team’s purpose, then coordination of action merges with an experience of success. That’s when the team becomes unstoppable.