Kick Ass Teams

Matthew Sweet
Jul 6, 2015 · 3 min read

One of the most crucial decisions you’re ever going to make is who’s team you belong to. Who you choose to spend time with, learn from, associate with, and commit to. For most of us, this choice is most heavily illustrated by where we work.

Last week, I was going through my notes on teams and organisations. Below are the notes that jumped out at me. They will either help you to build a great team, or find and join a great one.


- In The Fighter’s Mind, we learn that “the only reliable indicator of future success in MMA has always been the quality of training partners.” The observation holds true for any organisation. The caliber of the individuals on the staff, and of the people they work with is going to diffuse to you. The first thing you should ask is how good are the people I’m going to be surrounded by?

- In the same book, Frank Shamrock tells us about three people your team must have. Someone better than you. Someone equal to you. Someone worse than you. Being exposed to this spectrum of ability teaches you three things. Humility, respect and generosity.

- Steven Pressfield’s novel, Tides Of War, contains this gem: “Shit rolls downhill, soldiers say, but so does confidence. You could see it down to the runtiest corporal.” If as the leader, you are timid and indecisive, how do you think your team is going to act?

- Which brings me to my next point. Standards and expectations. The leader must have a clear conception of what they are, and he must embody (and exceed) them in his own conduct. Standards should be high and consistently achieved. And the expectation should be to surpass the standards you set. Your standards are not the pinnacle of your achievements. They are the platform from which you begin to climb and ascend even higher.

- Standards and expectations are typically inferred from a team’s philosophy and values. Your values and philosophy is not something to be simply summarised. It is reflected by your behavior. Your values are the result of your experiences, triumphs, failures and reflections. They are not found in a mission statement, a manifesto, or a catchy phrase. They remain implicit. They remain unspoken. But to those you associate and work with, they are understood.

- “Pick the right maverick and get out of the way” says Seth Godin in Purple Cow. When it comes to team members you do four things. 1) cover their subsistence. 2) provide the tools they need. 3) make your expectations of them known. 4) give them the freedom to get it done.

- In a team, strength comes from differences not commonalities. It may be that one single thread unites you; an idea, a cause, a belief. But it is the differences, and more importantly, how they complement and integrate with each other, that will make or break you. Similarities unite. Differences strengthen.

- As a leader, a boss or as a teacher, you have to connect with the student. You make the connection with trust and belief. You trust their integrity and that the decisions they make are the best they could of made. And you believe in their ability to succeed, to overcome, to adapt, to grow, to learn, to recover and to be really fucking good. And this trust and belief must be sincere. It cannot be faked.

- “Know how to really challenge your subordinates. An opportune challenge has turned many into fully rounded individuals, just as nearly drowning creates good swimmers.” This comes from Baltasar Gracian’s The Pocket Oracle. By shielding individuals from adversity, hardship and difficulty, you do them a disservice. If they are never challenged, they can never rise above and surpass themselves.

- Two key systems every team must have: 1) a system for external intelligence gathering that collects observations of trends and changes in your industry, of your reputation, of newcomers and threats to your operation. 2) an internal system of communication which allows information from the previous system to circulate quickly, and allows your team to remain a close, responsive and cohesive unit.

- Finally. One thing you must be. One thing you must have. One thing you must do:

1) You must be composed of a small core, a small collection of highly capable individuals.
2) You must have a small downside. This makes you more resilient in times of struggle, and more able to seize opportunities in times of abundance.
3) You must practice periodically detaching yourself from your situation, both individually, and collectively. This means removing yourself from the environment. Objectively assessing your efforts and where you stand. Asking those hard questions and giving the answers that we all need, but hate to hear.

Matthew Sweet

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