Team-Building / Leadership / Millennials

After the Draft: Building Your Team

You’ve hired your employees; now it’s time to make them a team.

Erik Drost, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

If you’re any kind of an NFL fan, you know the draft is almost upon us. Every fan is waiting with bated breath to see if their teams’ picks can fill that critical position to take them to the Super Bowl.

Pro football teams hold the combine, which is a little bit like a job fair. They do their homework, analyze the statistics, and then in April, make their picks. It’s the NFL draft. Then the hard work starts. That’s when they bring the players together and try to build a team to win football games.

What you do isn’t really that much different in principle except you don’t have nearly as much hard data as they do. You don’t have 40-yard dash times, the Wonderlic, number of passes caught or touchdowns scored. Nope, what you have is much, much less and the mission you have is much, much harder.

Great teams come together in such a way that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. I’ve heard that expression my whole life and knew instinctively it to be true but always struggled to explain it except by example. The power of the team is in their relationships with one another. How do you build these relationships? Communication, Accountability, Respect, and Trust.

Communication is a skill which can be learned and practiced. It’s the first critical piece of the team-building process and it’s also never-ending. Poor communication causes misunderstandings and frustration. On the field, it means a blown coverage and giving up a touchdown. On your field, it results in wasted resources like time, money, and effort.

To do it right, a team must communicate up and down, left and right. Perhaps most importantly, each vector must go two-ways. One time my boss came rushing by my desk and told me to do something. I started to ask for some additional guidance but he said he was too busy, just get it done. I learned much later how I should have responded. I should have asked him, “sir, do you have time for me to do it twice?” Because that’s what happened. I didn’t have a clear understanding of what he wanted.

Accountability is what you communicate. If you don’t clearly communicate what needs to be done, then you’re going to have great difficulty holding people accountable. By the way, where does accountability start? With whom? Anyone? That’s right — it starts with you.

If you don’t hold yourself accountable, then you’re going to have lots of credibility problems. Why? Because people who only hold other people accountable (but not themselves) are called hypocrites. Last time I checked, no one really likes a hypocrite.

Respect is how you communicate. It’s how you treat people. What are some ways we demonstrate respect for people at work? Not interrupting; respecting their space; don’t eat their lunch out of the office refrigerator. Don’t make people the butt of your jokes.

Trust happens when you communicate, create accountability and respect others. It results from the application of the first three. Read The Speed of Trust by Stephen M. R. Covey for a great laydown on building trust. It’s one of the top three leadership books I’ve ever read.

Purpose x 2

One of the first things a leader must ensure is that your new players know the purpose of your team. For a football team, this is pretty easy, right? Win football games. But for your company, I suggest it’s a little more difficult.

First and foremost, obviously, you exist to make money. And of course, there’s nothing wrong with that. But for these young players out in the world today, that’s not enough. Young players want to be part of something bigger than simply making money. They want and need more meaning than that. That brings us to what I call Purpose x 2.

Now I love a good session of bashing Millennials as much as anyone. But really, it’s almost too easy and we need to move beyond that. When you think about work, we spend anywhere from 40 to . . . well, let’s just say way more than 40 hours a week. A week has 168 hours in it so we’re asking a full-time employee to give us just shy of one-fourth of their life. Doesn’t it make sense they’d want that 24% of their life to stand for something besides just a paycheck? Sure anyone would except people over 40 usually don’t think of it in those terms. Millennials do.

That’s the first purpose you need to provide. Essentially, you’re answering the question of how this company / organization serves society. Every business, every single business, should be able to answer that and most importantly, communicate it to its employees.

If you can’t right off, that’s okay. Put some thought into it and I’m sure you’ll come up with a sound, valid message. If you still struggle with it after contemplating, give me a call. I’ll be glad to help you.

This first purpose is what gives rise to meaningful work. Now just about any work can be meaningful if the larger purpose is understood and framed properly. Framing is a psychological term which means people will react differently to the same situation depending on how it’s presented. Most of us are familiar with people who choose to use the word challenge instead of problem. See, a challenge is a positive thing, something to rise to. A problem represents pain, costs, or at a minimum, inconvenience.

Back to that first purpose. Millennials see the world differently than those of us over forty. It’s not better or worse — just different. Understanding that is key to stoking the fires of motivation for them. When people believe in what they’re doing, they motivate themselves. It’s not about the Benjamins or other perks. Don’t believe me? Go visit with people who work at non-profits. Volunteers and low paychecks, yet those people bust their butts . . .

What’s another route to lighting the fire inside of others? That brings us to the second purpose. The second purpose is the specific individual’s role within the company. What is the purpose of that person’s position? Who do they rely on and who relies on them? Sounds an awful lot like teamwork, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, this seems to have been lost somewhere and people now need this explained to them.

Did it start with participation trophies? I don’t know. I don’t know the genius who decided kids should get an award for showing up but I know who didn’t think of it — the kids. Us old people love to sit around and cry about how this generation won’t work and they’re spoiled rotten and so on and so forth. How did they get that way? Oh right, we raised them that way!

So when my father was a boy, in the late ’30s or so, my grandfather would say, “Jim, go bring in some firewood.” My father would immediately drop whatever he was doing, respond, “Yes, sir,” and go get a big ‘ole armful of firewood. When I was a boy, my father would say, “Mark, go bring in some firewood.” I’d respond, “Okay Dad, just a minute,” finish what I was doing, and then go get the firewood. Now I tell one of my sons, “Stephen, go bring in some firewood,” and he doesn’t respond. He’s up to his eyeballs in a videogame. I say it again a little more loudly. Then I reach out and touch him to get his attention and he looks up at me, and says, “Why, Dad?”

“Well son, we want to initiate an exothermic process wherein heat results in excess to the point our home becomes warmer than the external ambient air temperature.” Arrgh!

But you know what? Once he understands the why, he knocks it out.

Helping everyone on the team understand how they rely on one another is motivating. In post-combat surveys of soldiers, time and time again, whether it’s the Civil War, World War, Vietnam, on down to Iraq and Afghanistan, soldiers say the same thing when asked why they fight. It’s not for love of country or even family or faith. Those all play into it for sure, but the primary reason they do unnatural things (and getting up to move in a firefight is not your first impulse) is for their buddies to the left and right. Their teammates.

While the stakes aren’t as high in sports, you’ll often hear athletes from all levels talk about how they didn’t want to let their teammates down. They knew the other players were counting on them, or everyone else was doing their part and I had to do mine — those comments speak to the strength of motivation brought forth in teams. That same spark can be used to light the fire for your employees and it starts with them having a clear understanding of how they fit into the big picture.

This purpose times two is what you need to have ready as you bring the new players on to your team. Realize they may be used to running a different offensive or defensive set, but now you need to bring them on board to your team and help them learn your offense or defense.

Some people say the best way to learn is by doing. That might be true but it’s an awfully expensive way to learn. Most of the folks in the NFL agree with me as well. How many rookies start their first year? I looked it up. The numbers for 2016 were the clearest I could find. In Week 1, there were 44 rookies listed as starters across 32 teams. Five of those were punters, kickers, or long snappers. So, counting 22 starters for each team plus a kicker, punter, and long snappers, there are 832 starting positions. That works out to about 5% rookie starts. LESSON: Don’t play the rookie right off the bat.

The purpose times two is not just for the rookies. The reality is that all your employees need it, even the men and women who’ve been there a while. It must become embedded in your corporate ethos.

Teams that communicate well, hold one another accountable, and respect one another create trust. And trust is what makes an organization go! Building trust is one of those things which isn’t hard to understand but if you’re not careful, you’ll muddle around and never achieve the levels of trust necessary to achieve excellence. And that’s where not only you make money, but you make a difference!

Retired Army officer with two tours in Baghdad, taught at West Point, married with four kids. Proud West Virginian and West Point grad. Amazon pubs.

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