How to Build a Winning Team

By Jack; Welch, Suzy | Newsweek, July 18, 2011 | Go to article overview
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How to Build a Winning Team

Jack, Welch, Suzy, Newsweek

If you travel around the how-to-succeed-in-business lecture circuit enough, which we both happen to do, you end up hearing a lot of interesting stuff about competitive strategy, disruptive technologies, resource allocation, asset management, and the like.

Interesting--and sort of beside the point. Because when it's all said and done, winning teams win because they have the best players and a coach who knows how to make the sum greater than the parts.

It's as simple and as complicated as that. Simple because as soon as people hear that dictum, they typically mutter, "Oh, yeah." It's hardly a controversial notion that great players plus a great coach equal great performance.

Complicated, though, because actually doing it is so damn hard. We get distracted. The board wants a presentation, or a customer is getting pesky. Or we lose our nerve. Or we get tired. Whatever: something, anything, makes us forget that winning is about leading your people. And about leading them in four very specific ways.

FIRST, the leaders of winning teams always--always--let their people know where they stand.

We're not talking about "Good job, Sally," or "Thanks for your hard work, Tom." Effective leaders let their people know whether they are star performers without whom the organization would writhe in agony or whether they should be thinking seriously about finding another job.

Amazingly--to us, at least--the habit of continuously evaluating each team member is a rare and wondrous thing. Sure, leaders evaluate their people all the time--but they too seldom share those observations with the team members themselves. In the silence, stars become disaffected and leave seeking more appreciation, either in the soul or the wallet, or both. Meanwhile, the solid center wanders around in undirected ignorance, and the real underperformers drive their teammates crazy because others must carry their load (and no one upstairs ever seems to do anything about it).

By contrast, on winning teams, leaders spend the vast majority of their time lavishing love on top performers. Yes, love: rewarding them for every contribution, building their self-confidence so they have the guts to take on even greater challenges, and holding them up as a role model for others on the team. Similarly, on winning teams, leaders devote a lot of energy to middling performers, relentlessly coaching. And as for the do-nothings: leaders face into these individuals with a sense of reality, spending only the time to help them put together a resume and find a job where they will be more successful.

Unfortunately, in most organizations, managers spend an inordinate amount of time working around their worst people, counseling their aggrieved co-workers and rearranging work to accommodate their incompetence. They also spend a lot of hours fretting over how they can possibly break it to their underperformers that they're terrible at their jobs without hurting their feelings. It's all backward. Rather than hurting their feelings, you're doing your underperformers a favor if you let them know they need to go, and the sooner the better, before they have to look for work in a recession. After all, who were the first employees to be cut in 2008 or 2009? You guessed it: mainly those who should have been set out on new paths years earlier.

SECOND, winning teams know the game plan.

There's never been a Super Bowl team that charged the field thinking, We'll figure this out as it goes along and see what happens. And there will never be a winning business team that lacks a clear sense of how the competition thinks and fights--and how it's going to think and fight better. Nor has there ever been a winning team that didn't believe that winning would make life much, much better in very real ways.

Don't get us wrong. We're not huge fans of strategic planning as it is commonly taught in business school, nor as it is practiced in too many companies.

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