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Building High Performance Teams

This article was contributed by Marty Abbott.

Professional sports teams know that having the right team to accomplish the job is critical to reaching their ultimate goal each season. Furthermore, they understand that the right team today might not be the right team for next season; rookie players enter the sport stronger and faster than ever before, offensive strategies and needs change, injuries plague certain players and salary caps create a pressure on the total value of talent that can exist within the team in any year.

Managing team skill sets and skill levels in professional sports is a constant job requiring the upgrading of talent, moving personnel to different positions, management of depth/bench strength, selection of team captains, recruiting new talent and coaching individual high performance players.

Imagine a coach or general manager faced with the difficult task of needing to bring in a new player at a high salary to fill a specific weakness in his or her team. That coach is likely already at or near the team’s salary cap. The choices are to remove an existing player, renegotiate one or more players’ salaries to make room for the new player’s salary, or to not hire the necessary player into the critical position. What do you think would happen to the coach who decides to take no action and not hire the new player? If his owners find out, they would likely remove him, and if they didn’t find out sooner or later the team would atrophy and consistently turn out substandard seasons resulting in lower ticket sales and unhappy owners.

Our jobs as managers and executives are really no different. Our salary caps are akin to the budget approved by the executive management team and reviewed and approved by the board of directors. In order to ensure that we are cost effectively doing our jobs with the highest possible throughout and an appropriate level of quality we too must constantly look for the best talent available at the right price. Yet most of us don’t actively manage the skills, people and composition of our teams, which in turn means that we aren’t doing the right thing for our company and shareholders.

What about a coach who refused to spend time improving his players? Can you imagine such a coach keeping his or her job? Similarly, can you imagine walking into your next board of directors meeting and stating that part of your job is NOT to grow and maintain the best team possible?

The parallels in professional sports to the responsibilities of team building for corporate executives are clear, but often under appreciated and all too commonly ignored. To get our jobs done, we must have the best talent possible for our salary caps – or in our world, our board authorized budgets. We must constantly evaluate and coach our team to ensure that each member is adding value appropriate to his level of compensation, find new and higher performing talent, and coach the great talent that we have to even higher levels of performance.

In an upcoming article, I’ll talk about some techniques for actively managing your team.