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May 06, 2024 Leslie Beale, PCC, JD

Built to Win: Creating a Culture of Team Excellence

Kate was nervous.  

Still in the first week of her role as VP of Client Relations, her boss, Amy, had sent her an email asking her to stop by. She couldn’t imagine that anything was wrong, but felt apprehensive nonetheless. As Kate was ushered into Amy’s office, her fears dissipated as the company CEO smiled and welcomed her in. 

“Kate, hi! I haven’t had the chance to see you since you came on board,” said Amy. “I’ve been looking forward to talking with you.” She walked her new hire to the small conference table in the corner of her office. “Are you liking it here? And how’s it going with the team?”  

Kate’s anxiousness returned, and she debated whether to put a rosy spin on the situation or to simply be transparent. “Well… ,” she began, “the truth is, the team needs some work. There is a lot of potential, but overall they seem to be stuck in a ‘good enough’ mentality. Honestly, Amy, I think we should be expecting more from them.” 

“I’m thrilled to hear you say that,” said Amy. “Part of the reason we hired you for this position was to help build this team into something truly excellent. Would you mind if I shared with you what I’ve learned over the years about what it will take to get there?” 

Appreciative of Amy’s support, Kate opened her folio to take notes.

Excellence Starts at the Top

Amy began describing how, while the specifics of a culture of team excellence may differ from company to company, the bottom line is this: exceptional teams greet each day, initiative, and one another with a collaborative, cohesive, and enthusiastic attitude. If mistakes are made—and they often are when healthy growth and innovation are taking place—they are remedied quickly and efficiently. And thanks to their above-average communication abilities, these skillful groups consistently achieve transformative results--and have fun in the process. 

Many employees possess the potential for this type of excellence, but, like an untapped gold mine, it’s often hidden under the surface. Every organization, through its leaders, has the ability to reveal the true value of its human capital. As Kate learned, it was up to her to set the team’s vision, clarify the roles of her staff, encourage accountability, and build her group’s resiliency while modeling the expectation of excellence that would lead their organization to places they’d never thought possible. 

Achieving Mission and Vision Clarity

The most successful teams are crystal clear on their company’s mission and use it as their compass on a daily basis. But that mission and vision is demonstrated from the top down, so it’s crucial that the leader be in alignment. The State of Leadership Development in 2020 report by Leadership IQ revealed a startling statistic: 29% of employees did not think that their leader’s vision was in sync with that of the organization.  

A fuzzy vision of success creates fuzzy results, and if a team is overwhelmed with ambiguous strategic priorities, they will struggle to do any of them well. Leaders should know the company’s mission and vision inside and out. Explaining that vision clearly, they break it down into the department’s role, and further into the employee’s role. They should then be able to communicate the steps needed for making that vision a reality.

Identifying Roles and Responsibilities

Recent research by Film Forward revealed that only half of surveyed employees understood their job expectations and how to fulfill them. In the absence of role clarity, miscommunication runs rampant, decision-making is delayed, and the possibility of burnout increases. To streamline the effectiveness of their teams, leaders must maximize the potential of employees by establishing, contextualizing, and championing the specific role each plays within the organization.

Expecting Excellence, Not Perfection

All too often, teams get caught up in fire-fighting mode--addressing unexpected issues,  pivoting with little notice, and adjusting to shifts in the environment that are outside their control. While these occurrences often can’t be helped, they also can distract from the larger mission and kill creativity.  

Leaders should empower their staff to resolve their own problems and innovate when necessary. Thorough work should always be prerequisite. To keep forward momentum and a high morale, however, reasonable working hours spent on projects should be established and encouraged as time and bandwidth allow.

Bolstering Resilience

Every organization faces challenges, setbacks, and problems, but excellent teams know how to refocus on the fly. Resilience is a core component of that response, and leaders can help boost it among their direct reports.  

Good leaders face into the headwinds, taking the brunt of the disruption so their staff can stay focused and engaged. Their priority becomes reiterating the vision, clarifying where it needs to be shifted or modified, and supporting their workers as they refocus. In doing this, teams can quickly realign their activities to meet their goals in the face of new circumstances.

A New Outlook on Excellence

According to a study by the Arbinger Institute, 46% of all leaders and decision-makers reported that employee productivity, retention, engagement, and other areas crucial to organizational growth are driven by improvements in company culture. And, as Amy aptly described to Kate, positive cultural changes start with an organization’s leadership. 

By the time her CEO finished, Kate remembered why she had been so fired up about this position. Amy was illustrating each technique she had mentioned. And her newest VP, armed with a renewed sense of confidence, was ready to turn her high-potential team into a powerhouse.  

When it comes to modeling team excellence, how do your leaders measure up? If you think your top managers could use some help, give us a call.


Published by Leslie Beale, PCC, JD May 6, 2024
Leslie Beale, PCC, JD