Face to Face

Building a Team Like a Pro

by Tony DiLeonardi

A few years back I had the privilege of delivering the introduction speech of a childhood friend as he was inducted into a local statewide sports "Hall of Fame." It wasn't Canton, Ohio, but a privilege for me none the less.  This friend had played six years in the NFL with the Denver Broncos and had started and played in three Super Bowls protecting the great Broncos quarterback, John Elway. He, however, was on the losing team each of those three Super Bowl games.

In his four years at a Big Ten University he had the opportunity to start and play in three consecutive major NCAA bowl games-the Liberty Bowl, the Peach Bowl and the granddaddy of them all, the Rose Bowl. He was on the losing team of each of those big games as well.

So it was with great pleasure that night after I introduced him, to sit back down with my wife and listen to his humble speech of how he had all of that "success." Interestingly enough, some people you and I know may not think that 0-6 in the biggest football games is success.  But those people are mistaken and quite simply don't understand success, excellence and achievement.

He joked about his NCAA Bowl failures and his NFL Super Bowl defeats. Then he looked down to our table, filled with his wife, three high school teammates and their wives and said, "perhaps now you all know why all these years later I'm still sitting around with my high school buddies." He continued on to say, "because that was my first and last championship team I played on." This was a reference to our 1981 high school undefeated 13-0 state championship football team.

I had not thought before in terms of both special memories and the unique bond that can occur when teammates have a shared vision and mutual success-even so many years later, despite ups and downs. A shared vision is powerful, fun and enticing. It's a reminder to us that it's not just "success" that we are striving for, but more importantly, it's the ability to claim it with a special group of teammates.

In our industry and in our country today we can all claim "success and wealth." But can we claim being part of a successful team?  And not only what that means professionally, but personally for all the team members?  The by-products of a successful team cuts through our day job and has ramifications in areas like our relationship with our spouse, children, community and church.

Now more than ever in this fast-paced, ever changing and difficult financial services business, we need to reconsider the art and concept of team.   What does TEAM mean? How do we build one?  How do we play on one? What is our vision?

Whether you are the head of a department, in charge of a team, or today currently part of a team, the team concept cuts through your practice.  Equally importantly, it cuts through your relationships with your clients you serve in ways we need to take notice of - both positively and negatively.

In today's military for example, much attention is paid on re-acclimating veterans' post-war experiences to understand that they may not experience the same team-like mentality in the business and civilian world that they experienced while in the "fox hole."  That's sad.  I'm not suggesting our lives are in jeopardy in the financial services business, but I am suggesting that teams that truly trust each other, care for each other and support each other during good times and bad are far more likely to succeed and get results that are meaningful! That success can last a lifetime.

Building a sustainable team is important and difficult. It takes intentional efforts. Here are four simple factors to consider when building your team (LIVE):

• Leadership

• Inclusion

• Vision

• Empathy

A team needs to understand who is in charge and that leader needs to paint a clear, consistent vision of where you are headed and what is expected by all members.  She/he needs to include all team members in discussions, decisions and the results regularly. Remember, not all things worth measuring count and not all things that you can count or worth measuring.  Each team member ought to recall clearly the team's vision, the goals and even the strategies and tactics being implemented each day to obtain those goals.  Finally, the team needs to have understanding and empathy with each other, recognizing that each team member has their strengths and weaknesses, good days and bad days.  These four simple factors can help you articulate to your team what is important and repeat it often. It will put you in a better position to achieve something meaningful together.

Let me close with my buddy once again and a story from high school. I know what you are thinking-get over the glory days!  I respectfully say, make new glory days with old, simple truths.

On a crisp mid-October Friday night in 1981, we were playing our cross-town rivals at their stadium. The schools were only separated by 2.5 miles so we dressed at our locker room and bused over. The buses dropped us off 3 blocks from the stadium.  We put our helmets on and began to walk over, led by the 12-person drum core pounding on their drums. As we got closer to the stadium entrance, the student body of our rivals starting to press up against us and force us against the exterior brick wall of the gymnasium, narrowing and blocking our path to the stadium. There was an estimated 8,000 people at that game-a very big number in those days.  My buddy, our all-American leader, who was leading us into the stadium didn't appreciate the welcome we were getting and the fact that we were being prevented from doing what we had come to do. So our leader included us in his vision, empathy and leadership by physically clearing our path of rival students. It is even more comical today than it was at the moment, but sometimes your team and your clients need to know you are willing to remove obstacles that prevent them from reaching their goals. Oh and by the way, the game was a donnybrook, but we won.

Knock down barriers to success for your teammates and clients. The results may last a life-time.