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High-performance Teams – Lessons from Business & Sport in Keeping The Magic Alive

I’m fascinated by why some high-performing teams and businesses keep going from strength to strength whilst others suddenly collapse at their zenith.

Tesco have gone from being the doyens of British retail to having shares approaching junk status. Meanwhile (by whatever measure you wish to use) Apple have survived a number of trials and setbacks to remain consistent as one of the most successful businesses in our lifetime.

The England Cricket Team are also consistent – consistent in that they frequently yo-yo from being one of the best teams in the world to being one of the worst.

In 2008, 2010 and 2012 The Spanish football team won the back-to-back European Cup and World Cups. Just two years later, at what should have been their peak, they crashed out of the World Cup in national disgrace, coming 23rd.

Meanwhile the greatest team in world sport – The All Blacks – have (since their inception) won most of their matches and have only been defeated by five nations in over one hundred years.

I’ve studied it in some depth and have come to the conclusion that consistently successful high-performing teams and businesses ALL share the following characteristics:

 

They don’t rest on their laurels.

Successful teams, after achieving a goal, allow themselves only a short period of reflection. Instead of resting for long, they use the post-success time to analyse what went right, what went wrong, what could be improved and what should be discarded.

 

They remember what made them successful in the first place.

Great teams reflect upon the question “What made us successful?” If it was doing basics in a particular way, they should build upon and improve, but never discard. The shambolic England Rugby team that went to New Zealand in 2011 had clearly torn up the “Black Book”, one of their keys to success in previous tournaments. In recent times Tesco forgot what mattered most – the basics.

 

They have fresh goals to keep the team motivated.

NASA doesn’t do Apollo manned trips to the Moon anymore. They’ve been there.

 

They refresh the team.

The team that achieved greatness is one day going to leave, become distracted, get headhunted or find other things to do. You need fresh talent, enthusiasm and ideas – keep bringing some new talent and expertise on board.

 

They have a legacy culture.

This is important. People enjoy the recognition of being part of a winning team – they enjoy saying “we were part of the team that delivered X”, but really great teams foster a culture that isn’t based upon running the company into the ground and bailing out when the shares are at an all-time high. A legacy culture means handing the business over in greater shape than when you joined it.

 

They lack Hubris.

The leaders of consistently high-performing teams keep their feet firmly on the ground – a great example of this is the All Black’s “sweep the changing room” mentality – where after training they all tidy the changing room – no one is too big for the role. It’s easy when you are at the top to believe that you have the Midas touch and cannot be knocked off your perch. Supreme confidence is great, supreme arrogance is definitely not.

 

They keep innovating.

Your way of doing things was great, but others will catch up. All those people you beat to get to the top? Guess what – they will catch up. They’ll steal your thoughts and ideas because they can. They might just take those ideas and make them faster, cheaper and better – so you need to keep moving. Great teams and great businesses never stand still. They either go forward or backwards – which way will you go?

 

Scott Hutchinson is Principal for Food and Drink at Interim Partners.

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