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Is Your Team Locked In?

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The camaraderie among "Team USA" tennis players serves up three lessons for corporate leaders.

Right from the start, the Australian Tennis Open has been captivating. And it’s not solely about the tennis. In fact, you’ve probably seen the headlines (including from the likes of Reuters) declaring that Team USA is “locked in”.

Tennis is not routinely considered to be a team sport, especially for Grand Slam tournaments like the Australian Open. Individuals (and pairs) qualify for the tournament on their own merits, irrespective of the country they represent. And players from the same country compete head-to-head for the title.

Nevertheless, this collection of American players—dubbed Team USA in the headlines—served up three lessons for leaders:

1. High-performing teams elevate performance for everyone.

Collectively, the Americans defied expectations all over the court. Unseeded, inexperienced players overturned the tournament’s top-seeds. They disrupted the competitive landscape, thus requiring new strategies from all players. Leaders set the stage for high performance teams to flourish in their organizations.

• In what ways do you ensure the team’s timely access to relevant information and resources to do their best work?

• How do you actively foster broader adoption of learning or new practices developed by the team?

• What actions do you take habitually to help your team to refresh and regroup?

2. Adopting a shared mantra adds value—and fun.

Leaders guide their teams to establish a shared sense of purpose. A collection of individual contributors, Team USA was nevertheless united around a common mantra and behavior. Being “locked in” for every match heightened the energy and focused attention. Injecting a bit of fun (by drawing a lock icon on television camera lenses following their matches), Team USA reinforced their commitment. Morale stems from pride and satisfaction that comes from a sense of belonging to the team and accomplishing its work. Team members see the experience as fun – even when the work is hard.

• In what ways do your current practices strengthen commitment to success and each other?

• To what extent does your shared purpose energize or exhaust your team?

3. Teams can be found in unusual places.

Functions, lines of business, organization charts and reporting lines often define teams. Stepping well beyond rankings and ratings, Team USA tapped qualifiers, seeded players and past finalists to reset the expected trajectory. Leaders nurture high performing teams by encouraging the use of the varied skills of team members, including those outside the scope of the team’s work. They focus on the desired outcomes and secure the capabilities they need to manage the team’s work, irrespective of where they sit.

• To what extent do you look beyond the star performers and traditional hierarchies to foster high-performing teams?

• How do your leadership practices ensure the team’s value is greater than the sum of its parts?

The executives I advise know that high performing teams routinely transform solid execution into extraordinary performance. Working together in a more advanced way, such teams embrace more ambitious objectives, and inspire a deeper sense of mutual accountability. CEOs and executives that learn to recognize and create high performance teams repeatedly, unlock a super-power for their organization.


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