Why This Blog?

During my nearly thirty years of building and leading teams of all types, across diverse cultures and generations, I have found that much of the “expert” advice given to team leaders added little practical value to those of us facing the day-to-day challenges of team leadership, which often feels like changing the tires on a moving car while plotting its course. There were some innovative ideas, they just didn’t come with the tools to implement them.

Early in my career I had the good fortune of working with some exceptional team leaders. Over the course of my career journey I also experienced or observed mediocre (at-best) team leaders and teams. As I stepped into my first team leader role, I made plenty of mistakes. Over time, through a combination of good coaching and excellent training, I developed a pretty good handle on the art and science of leading a team. Yet, when asked, “What really makes exceptional teams and team leaders different from the rest?” I struggled to provide a clear answer that other team leaders could easily implement. That struggle, and my passion to make a difference in the coaching and development of new team leaders, led to my decision to complement my years of hands-on team leadership experience with the depth and breadth of discovery that comes with pursuing a doctorate.

So why this blog? My purpose is to share the insights that I gained during my quest to answer the question “What really makes exceptional teams and team leaders different from the rest?” I believe that those insights, and the tools that emerged from them, can help team leaders to elevate the experience of their team members, and in doing so not only deliver superior team performance, but also make the world better – one team at a time.

Do We Need a New Model of Team Development?

Anyone that has participated in a team leadership training program in the last thirty years has likely been exposed to one or more team building models including Tuckman’s 1965 ‘Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing’; the GRPI model (goals-roles-processes-interpersonal relationship, 1977); the T7 Model or Katzenbach and Smith’s Commitment-Skills-Accountability in the 1990’s; or the Five …

Getting the Right People on your Team Bus

I recently conducted a workshop on building highly-effective teams with a group of service leaders and their team members. During a coffee break, one of the leaders and I were chatting about the challenges of team building, and he asked me a great question, “How do I make sure that …

Happiness at Work: Does it Really Matter?

About ten years ago I was appointed CEO of a mid-size software company – one that had been the leader in its field for nearly twenty years, but was now struggling to grow. The Board’s assessment was that the company lacked innovation and a compelling product strategy. My early assessment …

Team Leadership: How to Handle a Lone Wolf

If you lead teams for a long enough time, you are likely to recruit or inherit a ‘lone wolf’ – a talented, capable individual who has a tough time fitting into your team. Smart, capable, and willing to challenge the status-quo, you see their value; yet, often they are high-maintenance …

How to Measure Individual Performance in a World of Teams

A good friend of mine is the CTO at Cloverpop, a Silicon Valley start-up that has developed a revolutionary on-line platform for measuring, accelerating, and improving decision making. Recently, Roger and his engineering leadership team were debating how to best evaluate the performance of individual developers and engineers when results …

Virtual Team Leadership: How to Build Effective Virtual Teams

All teams face challenges in their quest to be effective. The reality for virtual teams is that they face greater complexity and uncertainty as they strive to overcome the barriers of time, distance, and communications. When successful, virtual teams enable the best talent to come together to amplify energy, competencies, …

Your Team’s Performance: Real or Illusion?

“Automobile drivers consistently rate themselves as better than average — even when a test of their hazard perception reveals them to be below par”, said Mark Horswill, a psychologist at the University of Queensland in Australia, in an interview for an article in LiveScience. “You find it across all ages, …

Training vs. Coaching: Which Path to Building Better Teams?

During my twenty-plus years in large organizations I estimate that I have participated in more than 50 leadership training sessions, along with a handful of leadership coaching experiences. Reflecting on those many training sessions, I struggle to recall a single idea resulting in specific actions that led to meaningful, measurable …

Teams and the Battle for Gender Equality

Aristotle astutely observed that, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Unfortunately, when it comes to diversity and gender equality in the workplace, too often the day-to-day habits in many organizations fall far short of excellence. In the January 2017 HBR article To …

Team Excellence: Lessons from the Navy SEALs

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu observed that the challenge of leading a small army versus a large army is largely a matter of “dividing up their numbers” and “signs and signals”. In modern terms, this means instilling the structures, communications, and processes that are necessary for scaling an …

Exceptional by Design: Teamwork @ IDEO

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of working alongside an IDEO team on a project for a consumer audio company. Two learnings stand out from that experience. The first was the way the IDEO team balanced a disciplined design process with creative thinking. The second was their instinct …

Team Turnaround: Turmoil, Triage, and Recovery

You Will Be Tested. If you aspire to lead, then at some point in your career you will find yourself performing triage on a troubled team. The trouble may come from within the team, external forces, or both. For me, it was both. My first GM role was leading the …

Google, Aristotle, and the Habits of Effective Teams

As one of the world’s most visible and valuable companies, with a corporate motto of “Don’t be evil”, the bar is high for Google in terms of expectations at all levels. The February 25, 2016 article “What Google Learned from Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team”, published by Pulitzer …

Learning to Lead a Cross-Cultural Team

Cross-cultural teams have become the norm in virtually every multi-national company and many smaller companies doing business globally. Building a highly-effective cross-cultural team can be one of the most challenging, and rewarding, opportunities for a team leader. Early in my career, a Japanese …

Motivation at Work: Inspiring Team Performance

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” —John Quincy Adams, 6th President of the United States Why do we do what we do? Insights from ancient philosophers to modern day behavioral scientists show us that the answer is …

Team Fundamentals: Place Your Bets.

Too many team leaders gamble on the performance of their team without having put in place solid team fundamentals. During my research, I uncovered many reasons for team leaders taking shortcuts in building their teams — from too little time due to competing priorities and their company’s obsession with quarterly …

What Distinguishes Exceptional Team Leaders From the Rest?

About this blog This is the first of four posts which are excerpts taken from my recently published book, The ONE Habit: The Ultimate Guide to Increasing Engagement and Building Highly-Effective Teams. My doctoral research on human motivation, engagement, and team performance was the basis for the book. Following the …