5 Signs you have a winning team (and what to do about it if you don’t)

Your team. In business, at home, in sport, on an adventure. Does it click and you are flying along. Or does it feel hard, crunchy and that something isn’t working?

Over the past two months, I’ve worked with two very different teams. Both were in challenging, uncertain and changing environments. The setting. A 2,000 mile sail along the rugged and windswept North Pacific coast between San Francisco and British Columbia in Canada.

One crew, the “North” team (for the sail heading North) was a four strong team of men, three of whom who had barely met before. The second crew, the “South” team was my family team - my wife and three young children. We took on the challenge, we were safe, we thrived and the expedition was a success with both teams.

Now that I’ve been back on land for some three weeks, I reflect on what the two teams had in common. Some of the things that stood out to me as the hallmarks of a winning team, a happy team that can take on different challenges and thrive. 

They are the same signs you can spot in a business team. A team that is either thriving and doing well, or a team that needs a little help to get firing on all cylinders. These are some the things leaders at all levels in a business might take note of.

I share some of the things that stood out to me below. How many of these do you notice in your business or a team that matters to you?

1) People care about each other

On our sail North, one of the team had a bug for around 36 hours. Fever, high temperature and low on energy. No-one had to be asked to stand up and take his watch or his cooking and cleaning duties. The team just naturally did it. We all worked together. We look after each other. It’s just the right thing to do for the team. Similarly, Nichola, my wife was seasick for the first day on the South team. I and the children rallied round and looked after her.

At work. One team member has the project from hell and is pulling all hours to get it done. How do the rest of the team respond? Do they all pack up at 5pm and leave one person struggling on their own. Or do they pull together and help out where they can.

The question is whether your team genuinely care about each other and are looking out for them. Feeling cared about is one of the most motivating things a person can experience.

2) How does it feel to be part of the team?

On our passage North I had four very strong characters on board. Within a couple of days, you could feel the team had bonded and were working in sync. The energy was infectious. When people’s watches finished, they’d actively want to stay on watch to spend time with the other crew. Other signs were there. Taking a moment to read the log book (the ships document which needs to be updated hourly with position data, weather data and notes about the passage) and you’d see the energy flowing from the words on the page. On the South team, family mealtimes were always fun - lots of conversation and every afternoon, we played board games (all iPads and iPhones were switched off and we enjoyed time together as a family).

Walk into the offices of any business and you can feel it instantly. What’s the energy like? Is it infectious and something you want to be part of or does it feel tired and lacklustre. It’s something you just can’t hide. 

Great teams literally pull you in. I remember back in the late 90’s when I worked at KPMG. I was on a training course in the Welsh countryside. We were split into six teams competing against each other. Our team was just buzzing with energy and were having fun. So much so that one of the instructors actually decided to join the team and work with us. When a team of people create energy like that, it’s palpable.

3) People aren’t afraid to be themselves

The crew were just themselves and played to their strengths. The North team were just who they were. People just spoke their truths and we shared many things between us. As to the South team - well children have no issue in saying exactly what they think - it all just flows out.

Authenticity always has been one of the most powerful ways to communicate your message. Speaking honestly and openly from the heart.

I love the work by Ray Dalio, the driving force behind Bridgewater, the worlds largest hedge fund. He speaks of radical truth, radical honesty and radical transparency. Cutting out all the BS and getting down to the truth of each situation. Link here for his TED Talk on this.

I see in a winning team that people feel liberated to speak their truth and to be who they truly are. Trying to conform or be someone else is just plain exhausting and takes vital energy away from the tasks in hand.

Since coming back, one of the North Team has been helping me with one of my ventures. What I love is the honesty with which he can share things with me. He can speak the core truth of what he thinks and I know beyond any doubt that he is coming from a place of care and compassion. The increase in the levels of self awareness that this generates is remarkable as people say things they might not normally say.

4) Appreciation and Respect

Everyone brings something different to a team. Celebrating and understanding those differences is vital. The “standard boat rules” expect each person to do an equal amount of cooking, cleaning, driving the boat and sailing manoeuvres. 

With the South team, we encouraged the children to contribute what they liked doing best. My son would take a watch and keep look out. My oldest daughter would cook and read stories to the youngest. The little one loved to vacuum the boat and we made a game out of it.

The reality on the North passage is we had two people who loved cooking, one who loved fixing stuff, two who didn't mind the cleaning and quite a few who loved the long watches on deck and sailing manoeuvres. So we flexed. Everyone played to their strengths. Each person appreciated the skills the others brought. There was no “why haven’t you cooked today, its your turn”, it was give and take. Everyone could see that each person was pulling their weight and making things happen.

In a business it’s exactly the same. I always look for the strengths of each person and get them to do more of what they love doing. You need a collection of talents and experience. It’s about cooking up the right balance.

One of the rituals I’ve enjoyed doing both on board a boat,   a business and in my family team is to regularly appreciate and talk about the good things that are happening. On the boat over breakfast every day, I’d hold a skippers briefing. Part of that would be values prizes. I’d share one specific thing that each person had done well over the previous 24 hours. Not everyone gets to see the contribution that each person brings so I see it as part of a leaders role to highlight the contribution that each person makes and to help others appreciate that.

I’ve yet to meet anyone who needs training to tell you what is wrong with a situation. This is about talking about good things. Things that are going well. Building on peoples strengths and building people. 

5) Humour, Celebration and time together

Nothing bonds and cements a team like fun, laughter and enjoyment. The South team despite some seasickness always found things to smile about. The North boys team found “toilet” humour within 24 hours (aided by two block toilets on board).

Back in my corporate days, I remember two different cultures I worked in. One where every week, we’d enjoy spending time in the pub together talking as people. And one where people would leave at the end of the day and wouldn’t socialise. It created a big difference in how much time people relished going to work and spending time as a team.

One of the key things I did in my last business Trovus was to set up a rewards structure for meeting targets. Money would go in the pot for us to celebrate and do things together as a team. One was a weekend for all the team in Amsterdam. Another was the silent disco at Regents Park Zoo. Another was creating graffiti for the office walls. Didn't matter what it was - it was that we celebrated and enjoyed what the team had created and achieved together.

I raced around the world in the year 2000 on the BT Global Challenge - called the Worlds Toughest Yacht Race. I remember a mantra at that time that a fast team is a happy team. The thinking was that if the boat was going fast, then everyone would be happy, and you’d push on to go even faster.

I actually think the polar opposite is true. A happy team is a fast team. Get a team playing to their strengths, doing the things that they love doing, raise the levels of self awareness through truth and honesty, talk about what is right and encourage the team to celebrate together. I think that if your team is buzzing and happy, then you will have a fast team that is a winning team.

What to do if your team isn't in that place? There are many places to start…

  1. Like and Follow my Facebook page where I post regular updates on interesting things I discover and enjoy sharing.
  2. I’ve just launched a course here called SuperTeams> it’s all about how to nurture and build your winning team. You can sign up and take the course immediately - its here.
  3. I work and coach leaders on how to build their winning teams. Contact me if you want to see if we’d be a good fit. 
  4. I deliver Keynote talks on Leadership and Teamwork. My most popular talk is one hour long and is called “Charting Success - 8 Steps to Navigating a Winning Team”. You can book me through my excellent speaking agents - both are brilliant: Dominic at Maria Franzoni and Tiffany or Chris at Unique Speakers Bureau.

Have an awesome day everyone,

Caspar