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February 1, 2013
Do You Have a Team Worthy of the Super Bowl?
Football has always been my favorite sport, and this year is no exception: my lifelong team, the San Francisco 49ers, is headed to the New Orleans in its quest for six Super Bowl titles (Go Niners!). But I digress.

The one thing that continues to bother me about the sport, however, is the media’s relentless focus on the Quarterback. In most cases he’s the one receiving the credit or the blame for the outcome of the game. Entire teams are often referred to as “his,” on air, online, or in print. According to The Bleacher Report, 10 of the 15 most marketable NFL players in 2012 were Quarterbacks. Over half of the past Super Bowl MVPs were Quarterbacks (25 in all; the next highest number is Running Backs at 7; in case you were wondering, the 49ers had two Quarterbacks and one Wide Receiver).

I’m not saying a stellar Quarterback isn’t critical to winning, but last I checked, there’s an entire team of people who are critical to the success of a football team. There are Coaches who strategize and teach, Running Backs who run, Wide Receivers who catch, Offensive Linemen who block, and Defensive Linemen who attempt to plow through them. There are even the guys on the sidelines who squirt water into the mouths of tired players to keep them hydrated.

My point being: everyone contributes. Everyone must contribute if a team is going to function effectively.

Happily, that’s applied to most of the teams on which I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked. These are some of the key traits that made us successful:
  • Mutual Respect and Appreciation. Be open-minded enough to both understand as well as leverage colleagues’ differences, to work with one another rather than against each other.
  • Open Communication and Collaboration. The clearer and more frequent the communication, the more ideas and successes shared, the stronger the output of your team will be.
  • Accountability. Get things done when you say you’ll get them done and own up to it when you don’t. It’s productive and builds trust and respect. Without that faith in others, there is no team.
  • Leadership. No, not just the person at the top of the Organizational Chart. Everyone. Why is the Director providing big, bold ideas? Encourage concepts and ambition at all levels to make a team stronger and cohesive.
  • Pride. Not for oneself, but for others around you. Applaud success, be happy for your colleagues, and above all, support them.
  • A shared enemy. Little brings people closer than their desire to overcome (what they perceive to be) evil.
  • A shared work ethic. Exceptionally capable people work well with others who are exceptionally capable. They may take different approaches, work different hours, but what they all share is a desire to get a job completed well.
  • A thick skin. The ability to take criticism is an art, but it’s critical to fixing what might be broken or simply improving on what’s already successful.
  • Intolerance. Don’t put up with incompetence or dishonesty, whether it comes from others or yourself.
Is your team like this? Hopefully, yes. But perhaps it’s not; perhaps the team possesses some of these traits or worse, none of them. That’s understandable: responsibilities evolve, new hires come on board, existing employees leave, team dynamics shift. Here are some paths to consider if your team isn’t working:
  • Training. What’s lacking and what do you need to succeed? If you’re not sure, ask questions; performance reviews / 360s should be conducted and analyzed. Learn more in order to start teaching what’s critical to improve your team.
  • Team Building. Tons of exercises are out there; think about common threads amongst your team as a starting point. Then explore some activities that may create cohesiveness.
  • Job descriptions. Do you know what’s critically required to succeed? Not just on any given role, but within the team? Read, adjust if necessary, and know what’s needed before you seek out new talent.
  • Interviewing and Hiring. What are you as a team asking in interviews? What are you conveying to candidates? How are you collectively onboarding a new team member? If you’re not aligned on the communication and actions, it’s time to get there.
  • Accountability. Hold yourself and everyone accountable for being a leader. Support and contribute to tasks getting accomplished.  Without all parts working in rhythm, less will be achieved.
​If the above solutions are ineffective, perhaps it’s time to make some staffing changes. Because you don’t have a team; you have a group of people not working effectively together, which gets virtually nothing accomplished.

Success and happiness are about more than one player: they’re about a team.  Sure, a great leader can bring out wonderful things in individuals. A team of leaders, however, can achieve amazing things.

Speaking of which:  GO NINERS!

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Christine Stack joined the media agency MEC in 2011 as Senior Partner, Director-Talent Acquisition; in that role, she is responsible for the creation, development, and delivery of strategies to attract and retain senior-level talent at the agency across North America. She is also a key member of MEC’s Talent executive committee. 
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