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Ten ways to create a winning team
by Lou Carloni

In today’s world of downsizing, doing more with less, and working smarter-not-harder, teamwork is more important than ever. No individual or group of people working separately can do as much as several key individuals working together as a team. In fact, one definition of a winning team is one in which “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” Synergy is essential but elusive.

Want to develop a winning team? Try the following strategies.

Many companies avoid team building because of past experiences that have left employees jaded and cynical. This situation often results from one too many faddish “innovations” in management. Change never comes magically. Any significant change in your organization requires a fundamental shift in the way you think, act, and do business. It can’t be another program- of-the-month. To succeed, you have to start thinking in terms of your real customers—and what they want. If you are a manager or owner, then your real customers are your employees. You must think of their needs first, and let them think of the needs of the external customers.

Industrial psychologists Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus tell us in Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge (Harper and Row, 1985) that you need only two characteristics to be a leader:

  • You must use your strengths (whatever they are) to bring out the best in others.

  • You must focus only on your strengths and stop focusing on weaknesses. Your people need you to be their leader. Think about what your strengths are and how to use them to bring out the best in others. Ask your people what they think your strengths are. You will get remarkably different answers than the ones you listed. Then get about using your strengths to build your winning team, and let it bring out the best in your customers


  • Commitment: it is necessary that you live the mission and expect the whole team to follow your example.

  • Cooperation: the whole must become greater than the sum of the parts.

  • Communication: provide all necessary information, and let the team members know that it is okay to ask for information and to share data with each other, fellow workers, and sometimes even customers.

  • Contribution: participation is not optional in a teamwork situation. You must require and support it.

People do exactly what you reward them for doing. They don’t respond to promises, requests, cries, screams, threats, or kindness. They respond to action. Reward the individual members and the team for the results you really want, and only for the results you really want.

Each member and the team as a whole need to feel that they are making a difference in the lives of others. The efforts they make are not just about business success—they are about pride, about having their work mean something to someone. You must discover what that meaning is and magnify it. Let them clearly see the value of what they are doing and why it matters. Let them feel the pride in their success.

Teams need to feel a sense of accomplishment; they need to see the end result of a project. Assign your teams whole projects, not pieces. Assign results, not specific tasks. Let team members carry the project from start to finish. And make sure others know about the finished product and its importance. That will help team members feel the accomplishment of completing something significant.

You must provide training for the team members and the leaders because it is a necessary ingredient for team success. Allow training on any topic that the team wants (regardless of whether it is job-related) —using videotapes, audiotapes, seminars, books, and professional trainers. Studies show a return of 10 to 30 times the initial financial investment in training, and it doesn’t matter what a team or its individual members learn. So keep everyone engaged in learning. Any voluntary expansion of their abilities is a good thing for your organization.

Everyone has limits. But how will your team members ever know what their limits are if you never give them a project that is more difficult than they thought they could accomplish? They need to learn and grow, to develop and improve. They need you to challenge them, and to believe in them. Once you issue the challenge, you must confidently assure them that you have faith in them. But always keep an open door and encourage the team to come to you when they feel ill-equipped to handle a problem.

Give full control to the team—responsibility, authority, and accountability. This means full delegation. Don’t look over members’ shoulders, don’t question their expenses, and don’t ask them to explain every decision and every action. When you give them a project, you also need to outline their boundaries—budget, timetable, scope of responsibility, and authority. Then let them carry the ball. Meet with them at agreed-upon times, and keep your door open in case they need to call on you. Other than that, get out of the way and let them impress you.

When they rise to the challenge and accomplish something truly outstanding, you must show your appreciation for their efforts, and reward the team accordingly. Let them see the respect you have for their significant accomplishments, and make certain others see it as well. The sweetest sound in the world is one’s own name being spoken in a complimentary fashion by someone else. Let them hear their names and the name of the team from your lips to every ear in the organization.

Lou Carloni is president of SMBC, Inc., a training and consulting firm, in Odenton, Maryland.