Recently I was asked by Clint Carlos of Soar.com to tell my “best strengths story” about how I help teams reach their full potential. But I don’t want to talk about strengths. I want to talk about how I build a home for my teams – a place for them to thrive and grow. And, I want to convince you to build a home for your team, too.
Don’t get me wrong. Strengths play a big part in my planning and building of a home. But for me, my expertise and work with the StrengthsFinder is akin to creating the front door. A front door has a simple purpose: it is how we come and go. Everything we do in my house after that has little to do with the front door. Ninety percent of the journey I make with my clients occurs AFTER we create the front door. We use the front door often, so it isn’t irrelevant. But having a front door is not the same as building a house.
ALL TEAMS NEED A HOUSE
I’ve concluded that all teams need a house! Why?
Teams are like families. They need an inviting place to dive deep into the trials and tribulations of their existence. It’s where we build language, lore, and culture. It’s where we convene to collaborate and understand our hopes and fears, and dreams and doubts. It is where we nourish one another. It’s a place to ask for what you need, to accept and give help. It’s also where we cook up ideas and success recipes. We test them, track them, and refine them. It’s where we LEARN. It’s where we create rocket fuel for performance.
All good homes require a lot of planning because no two teams are the same. I conduct a great deal of prep work with my clients so that when it comes time to build our house, we’ve got a solid foundation, great lighting, a unique, open floor plan, and a common view of success.
Let’s talk about lighting for a moment. One thing I emphasize in my workshops is the need to address topics that have gone unnoticed or avoided for long periods of time. If people are afraid to speak up because the room is darkened by fear, then there is no trust. No trust? No connection. No connection? Nobody has anybody else’s back. We stop caring. Performance plummets.
I carefully bring light to those dark areas, creating an environment that allows us to speak honestly, question and challenge one another, and openly share our points of view. The outcome is a productive process that moves us closer and closer to our combined greatness.
Building a house requires patience. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Ditto for achieving our full potential. Many of you know about my book, Destination Unstoppable, where I helped a talented hockey team go from dysfunctional to state champs in six weeks. I completed that project over four years ago. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to partner with dozens and dozens of corporate and sports teams. All make unique journey, overcoming specific obstacles along the way. And it’s why every team house is different.
DESIGN YOUR HOUSE
I’ve observed several design parameters associated with my teams.
- No two teams are the same.
- Everyone wants success.
- Everyone has a different view of success – and all views matter.
- Everyone wants to be valued for being valuable – most especially those that have been overlooked, misunderstood, or rejected.
- Courage is essential. Getting to the “heart of the matter” – those unspoken topics – takes courage. It takes courage from me. Courage from leadership (and if we don’t have that – forget it. The home will be flattened by the first burst of wind.) It especially takes courage from those not in positions of power. If any one of those important stakeholders won’t make this journey, then don’t start the journey.
- The answers always lie within. Beware the “expert” that will tell you what’s wrong with your teams. Find someone who is willing to build your house and live there with your team until the answers are revealed.
That last point is one I’ve grown to appreciate more over the past few years. And it’s where I spend most of my time with my teams. I ask LOTS of questions. I dig until we have answers that include real examples so that we’re all on the same page. When someone says, “We’re screwing around with unimportant stuff,” what does that mean? Ambiguity is unhelpful. It creates doubt and fear. We get clear about the big elephants and the small elephants in the room.
Warning: This is not for the faint-hearted. It’s draining for everyone involved. And it’s essential for growth.
Let’s look at a few examples.
GIRLS VARSITY TEAM
Last year, I worked with a varsity lacrosse team that won a state championship (click here to watch a 10 minute video interview with one of the players, Mallory Brophy!). They had lots of seniors on the team. As seniors are wont to do, they graduated! Therefore, this year’s varsity team has a new group of leaders and the team overall is young (both in age and in experience). Multiple freshman and sophomores. Nonetheless, early in the season, with expectations set high based on last year’s results, I was surprised to watch them play far beneath their potential. Not just one or two games. A WHOLE bunch of games. On Easter weekend, I traveled to watch them compete in three games in one day. They didn’t just lose. They were destroyed. Everyone – coaches, athletes, and parents – wanted to know the answer to THE question: What’s wrong with this team? And they looked to me to provide answers.
Heck, I didn’t know what was wrong. I can tell you what I observed. Blame. Low energy. A lack of confidence and persistence. The moment something went wrong, they seemed to fall apart. It was like someone gave them anesthesia on the sidelines. Why where they playing like this? I had no idea.
I did know what I would do about it.
We would meet to:
- Build a front door by looking at their amazing strengths.
- New team = new house! Start building their new house by talking about their team struggles and what success looked like, specifically describing behaviors that generate success.
- Spend a TON of time on the Team Trust Bank, which was likely devastated by every loss, every cross word, every failed pass, every silly mistake.
- Laugh a lot.
I knew that if we followed that road map (the Destination Unstoppable journey!), the answers would reveal themselves. And that’s what we did. In a nutshell, I asked them what was wrong with the team, and they told me. I probed for examples. We talked about options and choices that drive performance AND invest in the Team Trust Bank. We talked about success for this team. We laughed and laughed. We shaped a house that works for THIS TEAM.
Then, off they went to compete.
I’d say it was a miracle, except I know it wasn’t. They won the next five out of six games, beating teams that had previously crushed them. Some they dominated. Some they squeaked by. I didn’t hear any sniping. I saw lots of positive encouragement. When they got low on energy, they noticed and rallied themselves. They had fun with each other.
Two weeks later we met again (when we build a house, we visit it often!) I acknowledged all their improved behaviors. They told me about their Team Trust Bank deposits, including a tool we implemented in the locker room. After we celebrated the progress and the multiple wins, I asked them a simple question: “What changed as a result of our workshop two weeks ago?” As they rattled off answers, I wrote them on the white board. You can read their responses below.
“See?” I said, turning to look at them. “The answers ALWAYS lie within. All these outcomes came from you They did not come from me. You solved your own problems. I was nothing more than a guide. You did the heavy lifting yourselves.”
Then we went deep again, leveraging exercises I’ve created to solidify the team. When one freshman athlete was responding to one of my questions, she hesitated, and then said, with voice faltering, “Sometimes I feel so mediocre…” Her face crumbled and she began to cry.
What did the team do? Rally! Hugs. Support. More discussion. Gales of laughter. Multiple deposits in the team trust bank. They surrounded her with love.
It’s a wonderful reminder that we really have no idea what’s going on inside of someone – that’s why the house must be open and well-lit, and the team must be free to gather around the fire pit and speak. Teammates must ask for help when needed because we can’t read anyone’s mind.
The ending to this team’s story will be written in a few weeks. I don’t know if they will win a championship – and I don’t care. I care that they reach their full potential and I love them regardless. Most importantly, I know that they know that we’ve built a great house for the team. A safe place that they can always come back to – to laugh, to cry, to share their doubts and fears, and their many, many successes.
Update June 14, 2019: My fabulous team lost in the semi-finals to a superb team from East Grand Rapids. They played and fought hard. What a comeback – terrible start, strong finish. I am so proud of them! Here’s a short YouTube video of some of the photos I took in that game. #LoveThemAll #DestinationUnstoppable
A few weeks ago, after weeks of preparation with every single stakeholder, I partnered with an Olympic team. Like all great teams, this group is talented AND struggling. We embarked upon two days of hard work by all involved. We built the front door and then crafted their house. We experienced fabulous and challenging conversations. There were generous amounts of laughter (it’s kind of a magic potion!), great questions, great answers, and deep learning.
One of my favorite moments included a discussion on the post-tournament debrief. This debrief was one of those unspoken problems, a small but important elephant in the room. By shedding light on how the athletes felt about the debrief, the coaches and athletes were able to collaborate and create a more productive debrief format that would drive the desired results. It was one of many performance killers we tackled over those two days.
Then, the team left to compete in a World Cup in Germany. Afterwards, one of the coaches emailed me that their six-place finish resulted in one of the most significant wins in the history of the team. I was thrilled. And I’ll be visiting that house again in June. We’ll be spending a lot of time there before the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Regarding my corporate teams, I find that the details change, but the plot remains the same. We plan. We convene. Managers understand employees, shape roles and define success. CEO’s hear and appreciate the experiences of those at the bottom of the org chart. And those at the bottom hear and appreciate the experiences of the CEO. Silos fall. There is laughter and team trust bank deposits. Lots of cooking in the team kitchen!
One of my favorite corporate memories is from a recent conversation about tackling the hard things in our roles. A customer service representative shared how she had a very difficult phone call with a customer. Frankly, he sounded like a real jerk. The call ended with both parties being dissatisfied. In our workshop, she said, “And then I heard (the CEO’s) voice inside my head. He always says that we are different! We do more, and it’s why customers buy from us.” At that moment, she moved from mad to determined. She headed over to production to check on the status of the product and spoke with colleagues in shipping. Then, she called the customer back, explaining the situation and when the customer could expect delivery. The customer was so pleased that he selected this company as the exclusive source of that product. Nobody had heard this story before she spoke about it in our workshop. The CEO was present when she shared it. She was in tears. He was, too.
Reaching our full potential is emotional. What a testimony to the CEO’s determination to build a customer-focused culture. And now her story is part of the company lore, to be shared in the house with new employees on “how we do things around here.” Destination Unstoppable is possible only when everyone knows what success looks like and is committed to reach it.
BUILD A SAFE HOME FOR YOUR TEAM
The front door matters, it truly does, and it can help shape the rest of the house. But investing the time and effort to build that safe, welcoming home beyond the front door is essential for creating and sustaining a happy and productive team.
Build your house together, and your team will unite, thrive and perform.
That’s my story! I thank Clint Carlos at Soar.com for the encouragement to share it.