Many Individuals, One Team

Having a world-class team is every leader’s goal, yet it’s tough to achieve. Stu Schlackman explains why building a successful team also means understanding each team member. 

It’s amazing how in the world of professional football a new coach can come in and turn a losing team into a winning one in just a year. Have you ever wondered how these coaches do it? What do they say to players that makes such a difference? What potential changes are they able to see, which others cannot, that will turn the team around?  

Building a high-functioning team isn’t about hiring a bunch of superstars (in fact, that tactic rarely works). And while it’s important to have a congenial, positive work environment, creating a team is not about bringing together a group of people who like one another (that’s what friends are for). Instead, to amp up your team’s performance, learn how to build team harmony — and see who your team members really are. 

The Causes of Team Dysfunction  

When it comes to building a world-class team, you should actually start by learning the characteristics that define a poorly performing team. Following are the five main elements, identified by Patrick Lencioni in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, that can hurt a team’s performance. 

  • Absence of trust. Trust is the foundation of any relationship, and without it you cannot engage in team building. When trust is absent, members of a team second-guess decisions and ascribe false motives to others. Lack of trust leads to lack of openness, which in turn creates fear and fosters low morale. A team that operates under these conditions will rarely excel.  
  • Fear of conflict. To improve a team’s performance, you must develop ways to resolve conflicts among team members. Conflict is a natural part of a healthy relationship, and dealing with it productively is critical. When team members learn to acknowledge conflict and work to move beyond it, the team as whole benefits and grows. Low performing teams often avoid dealing with conflict, falling back instead on a false appearance of harmony. But a high-performing team will encourage its members to discuss the issue, avoiding personal attacks, and to look for the best solution for the team.  
  • Lack of commitment. When team members lack trust and don’t know how to handle conflict, you will have a tough time gaining their buy-in to the team’s success. A team with the highest caliber of players (like the Dallas Cowboys had last season) will do poorly if the players are more committed to their individual outcomes than to the team’s success.  
  • Avoidance of accountability. Accountability means looking out for — and then quashing — behaviors that are harmful to the team and its goals. Strong leaders not only hold their team members accountable, but also create an environment where team members hold one another accountable.  
  • Inattention to results. What is the end goal? What are the desired outcomes? The whole idea is to get results, not merely survive. There is rarely success without a powerful focus by the team on the endgame — and responsibility for maintaining this focus rests squarely with the leader.  

The most important of these five elements is trust; the other four layers are built on it. If you don’t have trust, then you can’t resolve conflict. If you can’t resolve conflict, your team members will be reluctant to commit to the team goal or to embrace the notion that they are accountable to one another. With commitment or accountability, team members will give priority to their individual success instead of team goals.  

Trust is the combination of character and capability that leads to consistent and superior performance every time. Or, as Stephen Covey artfully puts it in his book The SPEED of Trust, trust = speed ÷ cost.2  

If you have just one team member with low trust, it can be contagious. People typically can sense another’s distrust and will often reflect the same negative, distrusting attitude right back. The result: low trust all around.  

A Team of Individuals  

To build a world-class team, you need excellence in decision making, communication, motivation, and risk taking. But a strong team is actually made up of individuals who have different decision-making and communication skills, different motivations, and different capacities for risk. Those differences are part of what gives a high-functioning team its synergistic power to exceed what team members can accomplish alone.  

The first step in building harmony in your team is to understand your team members as individuals with different personalities and work styles. When you understand these differences, you better understand why people say and do the things they do, which will add a deeper dimension to your interactions.   

As a self-test, the next time you’re in a team meeting, be aware of your natural reaction to statements that you disagree with. Did you react to the particular statement, to the person who made it, or to both? Can you separate the merits of an idea from how you feel about the person who proposed it? Logically, you should be able to. In the real world, this is more difficult.  

What’s Your Emotional Intelligence?  

Despite the analytical tools, processes, and training at our disposal, the interactions of team members aren’t based on logic but on emotions. This is why, according to Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves in their book Emotional Intelligence 2.0, high emotional intelligence — the ability to assess and influence the emotions of others — is a vital characteristic of a great team. 

Emotional intelligence encompasses how we communicate, how we comport ourselves, how we exhibit our emotions, and our overall ability to build relationships with other people. Put simply, our emotional intelligence is a chief determinant of how we interact with others.  

There are four elements of emotional intelligence:  

  • Self-awareness. An understanding of who you are and what your strengths and shortcomings are, especially when working with other people. Being self-aware means knowing more than what you like and dislike; it means knowing what your personality is and how it comes across to others.  
  • Self-management. The ability to maintain self-control and manage your emotions around others. 
  • Social awareness. Your ability to focus on what’s happening around you. In addition to understanding of the setting and who else is present, social awareness includes your capacity to accurately sense and appropriately respond to other people’s actions and emotions. 
  • Relationship management. Your ability to influence those around you and the reactions and emotions they express. Strong relationship management skills help you gain agreement from others and are critical in building a high-performance team.  

Ninety percent of top performers in their careers, whether in sales or management, have high scores in emotional intelligence. That’s no surprise when you think about how others would regard someone with high emotional intelligence: they easily establish and maintain positive social relationships, manage conflict well, fit easily into social situations easily, and are often seen as natural leaders.  

A solid understanding of the different personality styles that are at work within your team will help you work through every team — or client — situation.  

Being cognizant of the fact that people see things differently and do things differently will help you communicate more effectively. Instead of taking opposition to others’ perspectives, you are now open to new views on the issue or situation.  

So rather than rushing to judgment or becoming easily frustrated, you’ll gain a new respect for the skills each personality style brings to your team. You can, in turn, use those different styles to build a world-class team that consistently produces outstanding results. 

Stu Schlackman
Stu Schlackman

Stu Schlackman, is founder and president of Competitive Excellence, which helps businesses achieve superior sales results through training and coaching. The Sales Intelligence System helps companies build high-performance teams and increase sales through an understanding of the four different personality styles. Before starting Competitive Excellence, Stu spent 25 years in corporate sales, where he was instrumental in increasing revenues and growing client bases at large corporations. In addition to closing large contracts and leading sales teams, Stu spearheaded sales training initiatives. These initiatives powered his sales teams to exceed sales projections by an average of more than 30 percent annually. Stu is also the author of Don’t Just Stand There, Sell Something and Four People You Should Know. Stu teaches and mentors at Dallas Christian College and is active in the Richardson Chamber of Commerce, the National Speakers Association/North Texas, and other civic and community organizations.  Stu can be reached at