Tips for Team-Building

Smart CEOs put together a group of leaders who can share goals and responsibilities. The key is to ensure that teamwork thrives

By Don MacRae

Casey Stengel, one of baseball's most famous managers, said the way to manage a team was to keep the guys who hate you away from the guys who haven't made up their minds. This strategy apparently worked for Stengel, who guided the New York Yankees to a record five World Championships in a row in the 1950s. But it's woefully outdated for the business world.

Every successful organization needs a cadre of leaders who make the place hum. On a professional sports team, a manager and a group of coaches plan the season, call the plays, nurture athletes, monitor results during games, and make changes quickly if they're losing. It's not a job for one person. If the manager and the coaches aren't on the same page, the team will fall into disarray -- and eventually out of playoff contention and out of the money.


  The same idea holds true in business. Running an organization is too complex and demanding a task for one person. But you would be amazed at the number of CEOs who try. These corporate chieftains lead their companies using Stengel's divide-and-conquer approach.

They manage by fiat, and make senior executives compete for their praise. They talk up the team by using "we" in their memos but make sure that everyone knows who makes the final decisions. They invite candid and open discussions, then reward honesty and frankness with isolation and undisguised disdain.

There's a better way to lead a company. In the past year, I've worked with dozens of corporate leaders who are committed to creating organizations that are much less CEO-driven. They've taken the time to identify key players for their executive team, and they've given those members the latitude to stretch their abilities and tackle new projects. I've seen what works -- and what doesn't -- when forming winning teams. Here are some pointers to get you started:

Size up your executives

Ask a trusted adviser to do a thorough, unbiased evaluation of your top people. Is there trust and openness in the group, or hidden agendas? Do they support each other? Do they accept their roles and responsibilities? Are meetings comfortable or tense? How committed are they to deadlines and group activities? Is leadership shared, or do some people dominate?

You may be surprised to learn that what you hoped would be the core of a successful team is actually a very dysfunctional group. If that's the case, make changes in your executive ranks now.

Nail down the team's purpose

Nothing can save a team that lacks direction. Craft a "team charter" that lays out the group's goals, values, and working approach. Writing it up can take a lot of time. But you need one if you want team members to understand the game and their role in winning it.

Don't forget to bond

This is what holds teams together when the going gets rough. I've worked with executive teams who've raced cars, gone white-water rafting, sung karaoke together, and of course, played countless rounds of golf. Make time for these shared experiences. They can lead to long-lasting relationships that can withstand even the toughest challenges.

Keep tabs on the team

It's easy for people to fall into familiar roles and assume old habits. Senior executives who have worked long and hard to get to the top are usually natural leaders and tend to be more comfortable leading the parade than being part of the band. CEOs have to make sure that leadership is shared by team members.

Hold the group accountable for its successes and failures

That's not to say that team members shouldn't have individual goals. Those accomplishments should still play an important role in deciding an executive's compensation. But an even bigger factor in their pay should be the overall health of the company. The executive team wins or loses together. It's not acceptable to be the leading scorer on a losing team. The reward system must match that philosophy and be reinforced by the CEO.

The highest levels of a business have no room for autocrats. Leadership has to be team-driven. Is that your goal, or are you keeping the guys who hate you away from the guys who haven't made up their minds? If you subscribe to Stengel's strategy, don't be surprised when you find yourself playing in the minors.

MacRae is president of the Lachlan Group in Toronto, Canada. He has taught and worked with corporate leaders for the past 25 years. You can reach him at or visit his Web site at

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