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Webinar Q&A | Elite Teams: Developing Special Forces for Your Business

A majority of organizations often struggle with “siloed” behavior. Quite naturally, people and teams under pressure to perform focus on what is right in front of them in order to meet the demands of an endless set of urgent tasks.

Ironically, in challenging and complex environments, the best teams do just the opposite. These “elite” teams effectively slow down to speed up. They come together and think enterprise first, adapting to the needs required to deliver today without losing sight of tomorrow. Their ability to pivot quickly and think above and beyond the positions in which they operate sets them apart.

In a recent webinar, I shared how the principles behind Mission Leadership, a philosophy born from military Special Forces and adapted for business teams, effectively enable teams to reach new heights.

If you missed the webinar, a recording is now available for you to watch online. By the end, you will see relevant examples from military, sports, and business to exemplify how your teams can apply some of these ideas to become better leaders, inspire new levels of engagement, and perhaps most importantly—meet the demands of any performance challenge.

After the presentation, several great questions came up from the audience and I wanted to share them with you. Below are those questions and my best answers. This is an ongoing conversation, and I encourage you to keep the questions coming in via the comments section at the bottom of this page.

Q: So are cross-functional team better then siloed teams?

A: Any team of people working to deliver results on behalf of the organization should not be stuck in their silos. This can be an intact team, a cross-functional project team, or essentially anyone inside the organization regardless of their team or workgroup designations.

Silos work against any business because people become solely focused on what they have been asked to do WITHOUT understanding why it is important or how it adds value to the firm. Focus and delivering on our own commitments are of course critical but not if they come at the expense of the strategic intent of the company. People who understand this connection not only deliver against their targets, but they also may adapt as appropriate to meet changing needs in a very dynamic environment.

For example, an IT professional who has a set of three applications that she is working on or supporting inside the organization may get a request for a fourth from someone in the business that is violating the process for how to escalate these things. Now, the very idea of that happening drives IT leadership crazy and it should. So they will remind the person requesting the new application to go through a chain of requests to escalate and maybe, only then they may one day prioritize it. But what if this fourth request is actually a game changer and the IT professional, through her understanding of the business and its strategic intent, realizes that this idea is much better than anything she is working on? What should she do? Compromise her own performance objectives (the three applications to which she supports) to help escalate the fourth? Of course that’s what she should do, because it is the right thing to do. But silo thinking doesn’t allow for that.

Q: How do you apply this model with so many people working in virtual teams today?

A: The principles around team performance apply just the same, though they are magnified given the gaps “psychological distance” affords from not working alongside your colleagues. This comes in the form of spatial, social, and experiential differences in the way the various team members see things, contributing to strikingly different perspectives that make it difficult to build team cohesion. But, if leveraged properly, these gaps can be closed; however, it requires effort. For example, those weekly check-in video calls are important to attend, be attentive at, contribute toward, and be seen (use the video and don’t say you are not presentable). These sessions have to be facilitated well.

Q: Teams can be transient with members moving in and out often. How does this impact the way you go about embedding some of these ideas?

A: Elite teams develop a set of rituals, or “tribal dances,” that represent how they operate. Because they are a part of the way they go about delivering high performance day in and day out, there is always a full commitment to them. As new members come into the team, they see people “dancing” a certain way and they join in. First, this happens because they want to belong and be seen as part of the team. But over time, they see the power in these rituals. One example is to label any decision meeting as such—we call it a “Decision & Action” meeting. And the ritual for the meeting always has a clear AIM (make the decision on X in order to ensure that Y happens) in addition to the following:

  • A pre-read be sent 48 hours in advance so people come prepared
  • During the meeting the pre-read that was sent is not presented again, only the conclusions debated (how many times do meetings run out of time because the presenter spent the entire meeting going through the 49-page deck?)
  • People align and commit to an outcome, and the meeting is evaluated

Holding these kinds of meetings correctly allows teams to effectively “slow down to speed up” because they have full commitment when it is over and don’t have to rehash decisions.

Q: How do members in these teams sustain their commitment to the rituals to which you spoke in the face of all the challenges in the business?

A: These rituals are simply agreed-upon ways of working. They represent how we operate. Unless we change them, they are not debatable as they have become important parts of who we are—our culture. Leadership commits to sticking by them and calling out poor behavior when team members are not operating at their peak. Delivering high performance is not negotiable. Your organization has you there for a reason, and frankly, who has time for mediocrity? It’s boring.

Q: You mentioned several books that sound interesting. Can you send a list?

A: Yes, I’ve listed several on the following page: https://www.gpstrategies.com/recommended-books-duke-maines/





About the Authors

Duke Maines
Duke Maines has a history of success in enabling people and businesses to unlock opportunities to transform their organizations. As a commercial leader, Duke built and led what is widely considered the best sales organization in beer industry at Boston Beer Company—brewers of Samuel Adams.   After starting his own brewery, he established Oregon Ale & Beer Co. as a top ten craft brand within just one year.  All of this came after he paid his own way through University from the proceeds of a start-up t-shirt company.    Recognizing his true passion—and personal purpose—he began a career in learning and development which led to critical experiences in all areas of OD including leadership development, talent management, recruiting, workforce planning, change management, and internal communications.  In this capacity, Duke has  led change management efforts of two of the largest mergers in history as well as found unique and creative ways to help companies tap into their core purpose to accelerate culture transformation efforts.   His past positions include the Chancellor of Challenge, Emir of Excellence, Optimus Prime of Talent Maximization, and the Dark Over Lord of Learning.  These “official” titles provide a sense of the style, passion, and energy, Duke brings to any organization—especially those who want to enjoy life while they deliver exceptional results.

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