Without team synergy, even a group of high performers will produce mediocre outcomes.
Elite sports teams all have one thing in common: they dedicate immense effort to building high-functioning teams and sub-teams. They face the challenge of managing a multitude of highly skilled team members, in some cases a group of those at the top of their field. Each of these high performers has unique skills and abilities, many of which on their own are highly impressive. However, each of those players alone will not produce a win, because one person alone will not defeat the synergy and coordination of a high-performing group. Think of a three-legged race. If only the fastest person is moving, you still won’t get very far.
To win, the team must win together. To win together, the team must work together, effectively. Whether in business or sports, individual training yields individual skill improvement. To win as a team, a team must train as a team. Synergy is not innate; it is learned.
Benchmark Player Performance
The first step in this team-building process is identifying the capabilities of existing team members. Whether football, hockey, or baseball, coaching specialists tirelessly evaluate the skills of current players. Team members are tested for play knowledge, physical capability, game skills, stamina, unique attributes, leadership qualities, and potential. These facets of performance are tested, retested, and documented to create competency matrices that will inform player line-ups and game plans. Knowledge is power when it comes to strategic planning and tactical execution, and sports teams have elevated the bar when it comes to player data and performance insight.
As a leader, when developing a high-performance team, it is imperative that you invest heavily in analyzing and documenting the current skill set of your players. Figure out where they are strong and where improvement is needed. Invest in skill development to up-skill where needed, or replace personnel that don’t have the skills needed to advance the interests of the team. Remember, the goal is to win, and you need the right mix of individual capabilities to successfully compete in your industry space.
Augment the Deficient
All teams have weaknesses. In sports, some teams lack leadership, some lack speed, and others lack accuracy. Weaknesses in sports team skills will cost you a game; weaknesses in business skills will cost you contracts. Beyond benchmarking individual skills, it is imperative that you augment where deficiencies do exist. This augmentation may occur through recruitment or training. Minimize your weaknesses in whatever way possible so that you don’t lose the game before you even start playing.
Whether in sports or in business, engaging in a game or in the market means that you have to create value to win. Value goes beyond individual talent. To create real value, the team has to maneuver well. They must have an overall plan to perform at peak, thereby maximizing their collective effort. Synergy is critical to success. If team members are running into each other, performance will falter.
A team of highly skilled performers, that can work effectively together, will usually always win out against an individual. Watch any hockey team play a game of keep-away. A group of four players pass the puck seamlessly between each other while even the most talented solo player skates hard, helplessly trying to gain control of the puck. Even if those four players are not the fastest skaters, or the most accurate shots, they will outperform that individual for hours by using their skills in synchronization. The same is true if they focus their effort on scoring goals. 1 on 1, a goalie has a great chance of stopping a puck. Ask any goalie what their odds of stopping 4 pucks shot at the same time are. Trust me, they aren’t good.
Win Together; Fail Together
High-performance teams train together. They train hard, and they train often. They learn the strengths and weaknesses of other players; they assist and provide feedback to others for the betterment of the team. High-performance teams succeed because they learn how to act, react, lead, and follow each other through a variety of situations and challenges. They learn how to win together, and they learn how to fail together. But the key to their ability to analyze, adapt, and execute is that they learn together.
To facilitate more effective and engaging team learning, simulations should be leveraged wherever possible. Skills can’t be learned while listening to someone talk, and skills cannot be refined unless the team is presented with contextual situations that simulate real-world environments. Football teams don’t train by sitting in a classroom, so why would we leverage only classroom training to develop industry skills?
High-performance teams must develop the ability to translate theory to practice, and they must learn this skill by being able to try, and fail, in a safe environment. Teams cannot be expected to succeed on every engagement without proper training, and so that training should be focused on working out the deficiencies in the interaction between team members in scenarios where there is nothing at stake.
In many industries, we fail to provide the level of simulation needed for groups to try, win, and fail as teams. We send employees to classroom courses to gain knowledge on a topic and expect them to deploy that knowledge on projects where there is a great deal at stake: safety of personnel, financial performance, and schedule. Without simulations, our employees are hesitant to try; they become afraid to fail.
Simulations enable the removal of fear for teams as they work through problems together. When they need to deploy those skills in real-life situations, they have the capability and the confidence to do so. That confidence often means the difference between success and failure.
Individual skills are important, but alone they usually fail to produce wins in elite sports leagues or in the business environment. A high-performing team will outperform a high performing individual in almost every scenario. Therefore, to win as a team, teams must train as a team.
As industry leaders, we find ways to leverage individual skills in ways that maximize collective effort. We must build team confidence and camaraderie, and deplete the fear of failure through confidence-building simulations. The best sports teams in the world don’t learn how to work together in a classroom; why do we expect high-performing industry teams to learn that way?