So You Want To Be Part of a Great Team?

Dear Friends,

“So You Want To Be Part of a Great Team?” I ask, as did Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith in their book The Wisdom of Teams. The “why” you’d want to is obvious, and likely two-fold. First, teams generate results.  A great team is more than the sum of its individual parts, and – in business, as well as arts, science, sports, and even religion – team performance matters more than individual performance. Second, being part of a great team is unforgettable. Shared accomplishment is one of life’s amazing experiences.

Unfortunately, despite the compelling reasons to create great teams, they are in fact quite rare. How many groups have you been in?  How many of them would you say were teams?  And how many of those were GREAT teams? I am with Katzenbach and Smith who found through tens if not hundreds of interviews that being on a great team is really rare; for most people it will happen but a couple times in their organizational careers.  And yet you say – I sure do – “I want to be part of a great team.” So, what do we do?

I’ll share my major takeaway from the Wisdom of Teams, after these “Don’ts.” Don’t hold a team-building retreat. Don’t mainly focus on relationships. Don’t try to make it fun. Instead, they suggest the most important part of forming a great team is combining a great shared purpose with clear performance outcomes that everyone buys into.  My experience as a worker, coach and consultant all tell me they are dead-on when they write that “far too many teams casually accept goals that are neither demanding, precise, realistic, nor actually held in common.” Real teams’ “most fundamental characteristic” is “a relentless focus on performance.”

So, what a perfect time — beginning of the year, Golden Globe season, Road to the Final Four — to ask your team, if they really want to be a great team.  And if so, spend the time to clearly articulate the performance goals to which you will all hold yourselves accountable. Hash ’em out. Get agreement. Get some small wins. And keep those targets in front of you. They write “No group ever becomes a team until it can hold itself accountable as a team.”  What will you hold yourselves accountable for, as you

Lead with your best self!


  • Thanks, Dan. I shared this week’s RFL with my colleagues in my own weekly note to all staff on leadership (my note features the NYTimes “Corner Office” interview with a CEO).

    I’ve done quite a bit of reading about virtual teams – teams that aren’t located in the same building. A frequent theme is that outcomes and performance outweigh other factors in successful virtual teams. Trust is important and it gets built by being accountable, individually and to each other. It helps to know the personal stories of remote colleagues, to take time to check in and chat, but without accountability people don’t describe the team as successful. As you, Katzenbach and Smith say!

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