Book excerpt: Positive teams are always striving to get better
In an extract from his new book, Jon Gordon talks about the dynamics of high functioning teams in business.
Positive teams don’t just have fun together. They pursue greatness together. They believe the best is yet to come so they give their best to create the best outcome. A team that cares does more than commit to each other. They also commit to getting better for each other.
From 431 to 371 BC, the Spartans were the premier fighting force in Greece and perhaps the world. Despite the fact that they existed almost 2,500 years ago, they are still wildly popular in our culture and we see them on TV and in movies all the time.
Why were they so great? Former Navy SEAL Nick Hays said, “It’s because their culture valued the tactics and mindset necessary to fight together as a single-minded unit. The Greek hoplite phalanx was a battle formation made up of heavily armed foot soldiers who moved in very tight ranks.
Soldiers using this strategy relied on the strength of the shields of the men to their left and right. The individual warrior saw it as his job to keep his shield up and to stay alive so that he could stay in the fight. Staying in the fight meant that he could do his job and enable his team members to do their jobs.”
A team that cares is made up of people who do their job to be the best they can be for themselves and their team. They pursue excellence and are always looking for ways they can learn, improve, and grow. They are humble and hungry and willing to be uncomfortable. They don’t settle. Instead they always challenge the status quo and chase greatness.
A team that cares is made up of people who do their job to be the best they can be for themselves and their team. They pursue excellence and are always looking for ways they can learn, improve, and grow.
Great teams aren’t born. They are made up of individuals who are always striving to get better, who pursue excellence and make their team members better.
The 1% rule
It’s a simple rule I share with teams to help them create excellence. The rule says to give 1% more time, energy, effort, focus, and care today than you gave yesterday. Each day, give more than you did the day before.
Obviously you can’t calculate one percent, but you can push yourself more today than you did yesterday. You can improve and get better today. You can strive for excellence and work to become your best. You can tune out distractions and focus even more on what matters most.
I worked with a college women’s lacrosse team of 35 players who were all implementing the one percent rule. They said if each person gives one percent more each day that’s 35% daily and, over time, this extra percent will produce big results. It did. They had incredible growth by pursuing both individual and team excellence.
Own the boat
My friend Marilyn Krichko helps hundreds of teams of all types each year through her rowing team-building programs. She gets a team together in a boat on the water, and they have to learn to row together.
One of Marilyn’s key tenets is “Everyone on the team owns the boat and is responsible for what happens.” It is each member’s responsibility to take action to improve the performance of the team.
I love the visual of a crew in a boat all rowing in unison together. It’s a great metaphor for all teams. Each person must row to the best of their ability but they must also row in unison with their team and make the team better in the process. Each person must do their job and excel at their role, and when they do that, they improve the performance of the team.
Positive teams in their quest for growth and excellence have positive discontent. This means that whether they succeed or fail, they are always looking to get better.
As you strive to be your best, you bring out the best in your team. One person in pursuit of excellence raises the standards and performance of everyone around them. And when you have a team all doing their job, excelling in their roles and pursuing excellence together, the sky is the limit.
Elite of the elite
I met a leader of Special Forces for the United States and he told me about the selection process for SEAL Team Six. While Navy SEALs are considered to be elite members of Special Forces, they have to try out to be members of the elite SEAL Team Six unit.
He said that while prospects are trying out, the current members of SEAL Team Six look for certain characteristics. If during the try out a prospect doesn’t fit their criteria, SEAL Team Six says, “Thank you very much, but you’re not the right fit.”
“What’s the right fit?” I asked.
He said, “What we are looking for is not just someone who performs at the highest level but who, while performing at the highest level, also looks out for his team members, making them better in the process.”
It occurred to me that if you want to be elite, you can be a high performer, but if you want be the elite of the elite, you have to be a transformational positive team member—someone who makes others better in the process. To be a great team, you not only want to do your job well, but also help your team members do their jobs better.
Positive teams in their quest for growth and excellence have positive discontent. This means that whether they succeed or fail, they are always looking to get better. Even if they win the account or meet their deadline or win an award or the big game, great teams ask, 'What can we do better? How can we improve?'
They are never satisfied because they know improvement is always possible. They also have a healthy perspective when they fail, lose, or experience a rejection. They don’t get discouraged. They get better. They don’t get down. They lift up and identify ways they can improve individually and collectively.
This is an edited extract from The Power of a Positive Team: Proven Principles and Practices that Make Great Teams Great, by Jon Gordon (Wiley, 2018).
About the author:
Jon Gordon is a graduate of Cornell University and holds a Masters in Teaching from Emory University. He is the author of 15 books including five best-sellers: “The Energy Bus,” “The Carpenter,” “Training Camp,” “You Win in the Locker Room First”, “The Power of Positive Leadership” and, most recently, “The Power of a Positive Team”.
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