When asked to write about executive team and communication development, my mind raced. I thought of the countless seminars I’ve conducted or attended on teambuilding and effective communication. If you search for “team development skills” on Google, you will pull up nearly 44 million sites; “communication skills” will draw 62 million choices!
Organizations that consistently achieve high performance are supported by high-performance cultures. Within that culture runs a smooth operating team. Certain characteristics distinguish these teams. It’s a product, the service, dedication and excellence that separates companies from their competition. But it's the people or a company’s high-performance teams that separates them from other companies.
It was Henry Ford who said, “Coming together is the beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” [Note: This quote has also been attributed to Edward Everett Hale (1822–1909), an American author, poet, historian, and Unitarian minister. ] It’s been my experience that the ultimate success in executive team and communication development can be found within this quote.
“Coming Together is the Beginning.”
I would call this the common purpose phase. To develop an executive team, each member must know and feel a sense of belonging or shared purpose. We all remember standing in line in grade school waiting to hear our name called. We hoped and even prayed that we wouldn’t be the last one standing. Why? Because it meant we were the least gifted, the outcast—the one they had to choose because there was no other choice.
We have a natural psychological need for inclusion. When everyone is included and made to feel a part of the process or purpose, they find common ground—the ground on which effective social and working relationships are built. This common purpose increases our comfort levels and allows us to better accept those who might be different from us. When this is understood, people take the focus off themselves and learn to appreciate and value each other. That’s a team. That’s executive team development.
Once you’ve assembled (or inherited) your team and come together for a common purpose, the question is, How do we sustain it? We move from these former silos that have become actual teams and ask, How do we fuel this high-level team performance? This takes us to the second part of Henry Ford’s quote.
“Keeping Together is Progress.”
This is the mutual commitment phase. We can create a team spirit so our people have a sense of belonging. We can give people status and even self-esteem within our teams. But how long will it last?
It was 1985, and the Chicago Bears had just won the Super Bowl. Linebacker Mike Singletary was about to be interviewed on national television and was waiting in the same room with Ara Parseghian, the legendary former Notre Dame coach. The 1985 Super Bowl MVP asked Parseghian, “How did you hold it together to achieve all those championship teams?” Mike Singletary wasn’t interested in the ticker tape parade. The captain of the most feared defense in the league wasn’t thinking about the endorsements that would come piling in. He wanted that feeling again—the feeling of victory, the taste of being the best of the best. He wanted to know how to keep his championship team together. Why not ask someone who had successfully achieved it? Here is what Parseghian said:
- “Protect what you got.” Executive team leaders protect their teams. Over the years as a manager, I have made it a point to make sure my staff knows that I am their biggest fan and that I will always be in their corner.
- “Make sure you base decisions on the right information.” It’s been said that prior to the sinking of the Titanic, Captain Edward J. Smith was informed of “small“ icebergs ahead. He then gave the order “full throttle ahead” as if to taunt the “smaller” objects with his Goliath of a ship.
- “Remember where you came from.” It was the morning after the Super Bowl victory. Mike Singletary was just waking up, and his wife was nowhere in sight. He thought, “She must be bringing me breakfast in bed; after all, I just won the Super Bowl!” Moments later, she poked her head in and shouted, “Would you get up already and throw out the trash?!” It was then that he realized, ring or no ring, he was still Mike, the dad, and very much Mike, the husband.
- “Commitment.” Singletary remembers the day he first put a football helmet on as a skinny pre-teen. The coach took one look at his small size and sent him back to the locker room—but he came back out. The coach realized that getting rid of him was not going to be easy, so he told Mike that if he could tackle Cookie, the only kid with facial hair, he could stay. Little Mike was dragged all over the field that day, but he didn’t let go. When it was over, he headed for the locker room, thinking he had failed. It was then that he heard the coach yell, “Hey, where are you going? Anyone that can hold on to Cookie that long can play for me.”
To sustain executive teams, you have to believe in yourself and in your team. Stay the course and continue to remind your team of their mutual commitment to each other. And no matter the trials and tribulations, don’t let go!
- “No compromise.” Developing and sustaining executive teams takes conviction. A conviction of no compromise. Don’t settle. I love the part in the movie Braveheart where Mel Gibson delivers the line, “People don’t follow titles, they follow courage.” Executive teams (or champions) are led and sustained by men and women of courage.
“Working Together is Success.”
This last piece is called the shared contribution phase—the phase of communication. Executive teams that operate at highly successful levels understand the principle of shared contribution. It’s a type of collaboration that breeds open sharing and trust amongst the team. It forms partnerships that go beyond simple win-win outcomes.
Working together doesn’t just mean working in the same department or for the same company. It requires various levels of communication that, when facilitated properly, produce forward action and positive results. Developing more effective communication begins with the idea of “one.” Shared contribution is the art of working as one.
It’s been said that, “If as one people speaking the same language [they can do this], then nothing they plan to do will be impossible.” If we, as leaders, can capture the true essence of working together and communicate this to our teams…then I’m just foolish enough to believe that nothing will be impossible. Imagine an entire team with the confidence to move mountains!
This might better illustrate the principle:
It was sunrise. A troop of Boy Scouts gathered for their annual hike in the woods. They began the 15-mile trek through some of the most scenic grounds in the country. About midmorning, the Scouts came across an abandoned section of railroad track. Each, in turn, tried to walk the narrow rails, but after a few unsteady steps, each lost his balance and tumbled off.
Two of the Scouts, after watching one another fall off the iron rail, bet the rest of the troop that they could both walk the entire length of the track without falling off even once.
The other boys laughed and said, “No way!” Challenged to make good on their boast, the two boys jumped up on opposite rails, reached out and held hands to balance each other, and steadily walked the entire section of track without falling!
Maybe you’ve struggled to develop and sustain your team(s). It could be that you are still attempting the narrow rails of executive team and communication development alone. Grab a hold of your team, and together develop a purpose, a mutual commitment and a shared contribution. You will achieve what others see as impossible—and make it possible. iBi
John P. Muñoz is assistant vice president and manager of training and development at Citizens First National Bank.