I am writing right before the 58th Super Bowl game between Kansas City and San Francisco. For those of us who are fans of team sports, isn’t it exciting to see our favorite teams blend their individual talents and abilities and achieve success as a unified team? The good news is that our teams in the business world can also achieve success – and the key to making that happen is teamwork. What is teamwork? I like Andrew Carnegie’s definition: “Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.”

Twelve Principles to Build High-Performance Teamwork

1. Make a Commitment to Pursue and Model Teamwork. There is a temptation for us in leadership roles to charge ahead based on our individual talents and abilities. But these quotes from two successful CEOs give sound advice. Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn) counseled, “No matter how brilliant your mind or strategy, if you’re playing a solo game, you’ll always lose out to a team.” Steve Jobs (Apple) said, “Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.” And Helen Keller once said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

2. Create a Psychologically Safe Learning Environment. Amy Edmondson of Harvard is the world's leading expert on psychological safety. She explains that team psychological safety is a shared belief held by team members that it is OK to take risks, to express their ideas and concerns, to speak up with questions, and to admit mistakes – all without fear of negative consequences.

3. Build Trust with Integrity. As a leader of a team, we need to walk with integrity and build trust for us – and build trust among all team members. Building trust comes down to being a person of good character. Author Marsha Sinetar said it well: “Trust is not a matter of technique, but of character. We are trusted because of our way of being, not because of our polished exteriors or our expertly crafted communications.” We model integrity and build trust as we walk our talk, listen to others, always be honest – and be humble enough to admit our mistakes and ask for forgiveness when needed.

4. Put the Team First. In the middle of a very high-performance team is a common purpose – a sense of vision and mission that unites and inspires each individual team member. Make sure you ask for participation from the team when developing the common purpose, remembering the principle that “change imposed is change opposed” and Ken Blanchard’s quote that “none of us is as smart as all of us.”

Alexander Graham Bell summarizes well when he said, “All winning teams are goal oriented. Teams like this win consistently because everyone connected with them concentrates on specific objectives. They go about their business with blinders on; nothing will distract them from achieving their aims.”

5. Communicate Openly and Candidly. High-performing teams are empowered teams, and information is a major source of power. Sharing the team’s key performance metrics and indicators and ongoing status is crucial. Ask yourself, “What do team members need to know on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis to manage performance?” Tools such as balanced scorecards, dashboards, teamwork review meetings, and 1-1 coaching sessions can be helpful.

6. Be Part of the Solution, Not the Problem. There is no substitute for personal ownership, responsibility, and self-control. These are traits that we can model – and intentionally encourage in our team members. Also, recognize that problems will arise – and they may be blessings in disguise if we learn and grow from them. Mark Victor Hansen encouraged us with “Problems are good, not bad. Welcome them and become the solution.” Rene Descartes reminded us: “Each problem that I solved became a rule which served afterwards to solve other problems.”

7. Commit to Excellence. One of my sayings is that “we can choose to be mediocre – or we can choose to strive for excellence. The choice is ours.” The reality is that if we do not intentionally choose to strive for excellence the default choice is to settle for being mediocre. I resonate with Mario Andretti when he says, “Desire is the key to motivation, but its determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal – a commitment to excellence – that will enable you to attain the success you seek.”

8. Promote an Atmosphere of Respect. One way to show we really respect someone is to actively listen to them and then respond appropriately. Socrates once said, “You have two ears and one mouth. Use them appropriately.” James O’Toole explains a benefit of active listening when he said, “Almost all employees, if they see that they will be listened to, and they have adequate information, will be able to find ways to improve their own performance and the performance of their work group.”

Showing respect also includes positive encouragement and expressing our appreciation and approval. I like Charles Schwab’s quote, “I have never seen a man who could do real work except under the stimulus of encouragement and enthusiasm and the approval of the people for whom he was working.”

9. Ask and Encourage the Right Questions. The art of questioning is an important management skill. It is a “pulling” technique – challenging people to think, to probe, to investigate, to challenge assumptions and, to seek answers. John Chancellor illustrated the importance of this skill when he said, “If you take a close look at the most successful people in life, you’ll find that their strength is not in having the right answers, but in asking the right questions.”

10. Use a Rational Problem-Solving Process. Albert Einstein supports the need for rational and thoughtful problem-solving processes when he said, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”

There are several rational problem-solving processes to choose from. One such approach is to follow these steps:

1. Gather data.

2. Review facts.

3. Define the problem and desired end-state.

4. Ask questions and identify alternative solutions.

5. Evaluate each alternative.

6. Select “best” alternative.

7. Implement chosen alternative.

8. Evaluate after the fact effectiveness of solution; make changes if necessary.

11. Promote Interdependent Thinking. The key here is to promote “we” thinking – not “me” thinking. Vince Lombardi encouraged us to “Build for your team a feeling of oneness, of dependence on one another and of strength to be derived by unity.” Having talented team members and encouraging development of individuals is important – but Michael Jordan puts it into perspective when he said, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” Phil Jackson added, “The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.”

12. Pull the Weeds. Most people on a team are willing and able to “play by the rules” and be a value-added member of a successful team. But the reality is that sometimes we may have a team member that is either not capable or is not willing to meet expectations – even after we have tried to remedy the situation. We are then faced with the choice of allowing the “weed” to remain and hold back the team’s success, or to remove the weed so the rest of the team can grow. Voltaire said, “we must cultivate our garden” and that applies to the teams we lead.

Let me close with a quote from Mother Teresa: “I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot, together we can do great things.” Teamwork truly helps make the dream work of an even more successful team!

Wes Friesen is a proven leader and developer of high performing teams and has extensive experience in both the corporate and non-profit worlds. He is also an award winning university instructor and speaker, and is the President of Solomon Training and Development, which provides leadership, management and team building training. He serves as the Industry Co-Chair of the Greater Portland PCC. His book, Your Team Can Soar! has 42 valuable lessons that will inspire you, and give you practical pointers to help you — and your team — soar to new heights of performance. Your Team Can Soar! can be ordered from Xulonpress.com/bookstore or wesfriesen.com (under Book) or an online retailer. Wes can be contacted at wesmfriesen@gmail.com or at 971-806-0812.

This article originally appeared in the March/April, 2024 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.