I’ve been a part of lots of teams, in sports and business, and over the past 20 years I’ve had a chance to work with many high-performing teams, at companies like Google, Wells Fargo, Microsoft, Schwab, eBay, and others.
I’ve also studied the core elements of team achievement. Through all of my experience and research, I’ve found that two conditions most effectively enable a team to create a culture of high performance, trust, and belonging:
1. Caring About Each Other. Caring about the people on our team is about making sure they are nurtured and valued—not just for what they do, but for who they are. It also has to do with it being safe for us to make mistakes, ask for help, speak up, be ourselves, and disagree.
This is about feeling psychologically safe, knowing we’re included and that we belong, and having the confidence to have tough, but important conversations. Caring environments are also filled with a genuine sense of kindness, compassion, and appreciation, where people are seen and supported as human beings.
2. Challenging Each Other. Challenging each other is about having high expectations, which are essential for people and teams to thrive. But these expectations have to be healthy—meaning there is a high standard of excellence, not an insatiable, unhealthy pressure to be perfect. We almost always get what we expect from others; however, if we expect perfection, everyone falls short and people aren’t set up to succeed.
Healthy high expectations are about setting a high bar and challenging everyone (our teammates and ourselves) to be the absolute best we can be. This also has to do with being clear about our standards and goals, holding each other accountable, fully committing ourselves to the team, and demanding excellence from one another in a healthy and empowering way.
We often think that in order to have a high bar and push each other we can’t also be caring. Or we think that if we care about and nurture one another, we can’t also expect a lot from our teammates. Actually, the goal for us as team members, leaders, and teams as a whole is to be able do both at the same time. It’s not one of these things at the expense of the other, it’s being able to do them simultaneously and passionately.
Creating an environment that supports both caring about and challenging each other takes courage on everyone’s part, and at times goes against conventional wisdom. But being willing to focus on both of these things, and encouraging others to do the same, creates the conditions for everyone to succeed at the highest level.
This combination of caring about and challenging each other is the secret sauce of high-performing teams.
Given my sports background I refer to teams who operate and perform this was as “championship teams.” There’s an important difference between a championship team and a team of champions.
A championship team doesn’t necessarily always win, but they play the game the right way, with passion, and with a commitment to one another as well as to the ultimate result. This type of team knows that it’s greater than the sum of its parts. It’s often chemistry and the below-the-line intangibles that we’ve been talking about throughout this book that separate the good teams from the great ones.
Teams of champions, on the other hand, might have great talent and motivated people, but they’re often more focused on their own individual success. Championship teams know that talent is important, but they focus on the collective success of the team and the highest vision and goals of the group.
As basketball legend Michael Jordan said, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”
Championship teams not only care about and challenge each other, they also know the difference between their “role” and their “job.”
When most of us think about our “job,” we think of what we do—engineering, sales, project management, marketing, human resources, legal, operations, design, finance, and so forth. While these descriptions may encapsulate what we do and the title we hold, they’re not actually our job.
If we’re part of a team, we each have a functional role, of course, but our job is to help fulfill the goals, mission, and purpose of the team and company we belong to, whatever they may be. In other words, we’re there to do whatever we can to help the team win.
The challenge is that most of us take pride in our role and we want to do it really well, which is great. However, when we put our role (what we do specifically) over our job (helping the team win), things can get murky; our personal goals become more important to us than the goals of the team and organization.
It takes commitment and courage, but groups and companies made up of people who understand this simple yet important distinction—who realize that everyone on the team has essentially the same job but different roles—have the ability to succeed at the highest level and with the most collaborative environment.
What can you do to make sure that your team cares about and challenges each other, understands the difference between their role and their job, and can truly operate as a championship team? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below…
Mike Robbins is the author of five books including his latest, We’re All in This Together: Creating a Team Culture of High Performance, Trust, and Belonging. He’s a thought leader and sought-after speaker whose clients include Google, Wells Fargo, Microsoft, Schwab, eBay, Genentech, the Oakland A’s, and many others.
* This is an excerpt from We’re All in This Together, by Mike Robbins, published in paperback by Hay House Business, March 2022