TEAMWORK: It takes a village

Alone we can do so little,
together we can do so much.
- Helen Keller

I am always amazed at the ingenuity and communal nature of human beings.  Whether we work like ants to build pyramids, construct railroads across a continent or help a single person take 6 million steps to run across America, there is strength in numbers.

Earlier this week I was asked to speak about how ultra-running and my run across America was really a team effort.  For me it was very easy to deliver this message, because my decade long career at GE had taught me that a team of people can move mountains.  The following are some thoughts to be considered when building and developing teams for longevity.

BUILDING THE TEAM
It is art, not science.

1.  Leadership  For teams to function effectively, there must be leadership.  The team will eventually confront challenges and need to make decisions.  Sometimes these decisions can be made by a vote; other times, a leader will need to make the decision for the team.  A leader of a team can be a solitary person, or a committee of people.  Regardless, the team needs direction and a leader is integral to the team's success.  For my run across America, I was the leader and regardless of whether I liked it or not, I would be the ultimate decision-maker for everything, including routing, fundraising, messaging, run strategy, etc.  

2.  Subject Matter Experts  When creating a team, specific skill sets are required to accomplish the task at hand.  The leadership structure should create a list of skill sets that are needed to make the team function in a healthy and successful manner.  When I led a division of GE Capital, I had the following skills sets on my team - Sales, Marketing, Finance, HR, Operations, Collections & Risk/Legal.  Each skill set was required to make the whole function, and without a skill set the entire organization was at risk.  In the case of VISIONRUNUSA, I needed an experienced crew chief to physically help me during the run, a technically savvy person to handle live-routing and tracking, a well organized logistics person to handle and close-out daily issues that would arise, and an organization to handle traditional media.

3.  Commitment to the Mission  This is probably one of the hardest things for managers in today's world to assess correctly.  In the working world, most people work for money, and making money for themselves is their first priority.  To build a world class team, this equation needs to be turned on it's head.  People need to work and put forth effort to accomplish a goal external to their own needs as a first priority.  Only if this environment exists, can a world class team be built.  The assumption here is that the people's basic needs, i.e., food, shelter & safety, are being met.  Good team members are givers and not takers.  Good team members put the whole ahead of the parts.  Good team members are not jealous and quick to celebrate the successes of other team members.  For VISIONRUN, my entire team was made up of volunteers - givers.  Originally, I had asked other people to be involved and help, although their own needs and lives were prioritized over the run.  These people were valuable, but they were not part of the core team.  Only those who could put the mission ahead of themselves could be part of the core team.

4.  Only the Best  Only recruit the best of the best to be on your team.  Don't settle for mediocre team members.  Some of the worst decisions I made at GE was when I settled for sub-standard team members.  It is better to leave a position open on a team for a long time and recruit the "right person", as opposed to filling a team position with a "body" for the sake of filling the position.  Companies treat this very differently.  At GE, it was expected that you would recruit and build teams with only the best people.  At a subsequent Fortune 500 company I worked at, the norm was to just put bodies in positions.  As the company would restructure and lay people off a couple times a year, they would expect leaders to hire back these same people into different roles whether or not these people had the best skill sets for the positions.  Recruit people who are already the best, or recruit people who have the potential to become the best and use your time helping them develop into the best they can be.

DEVELOPING THE TEAM
Once you have the right people in the right positions, it is time to make the team perform at it's peak.

1.  Set High Standards  People will rise to the challenge.  If a leader sets a low standard, usually that is all that a team will accomplish.  On the rare occasion, a bunch of go-getters will blow right past a goal and out perform that goal.  At GE, the annual planning process constantly challenged leaders and their teams to achieve seemingly unattainable goals.  Every year, however; goals were achieved and surpassed.  VISIONRUN would be no different.  My team was under-resourced & small in number, but they had impeccable work ethic, commitment, high in integrity and were responsible.  Each team member performed at an exceptionally high level when they were called on.

2.  Positive Reinforcement  Be positive and help the team stay positive.  There will be setbacks and failures along the way; however, the team must learn resiliency.  Resiliency is best taught by being positive.  During VISIONRUN, this was a big opportunity for me.  At times, my team needed positive reinforcement and I was unable to give them what they needed.  I was so devastated with pain, isolation and mental fatigue that I attacked.  When this happened, the team gave me positive reinforcement, and eventually brought me out of my funk and helped me to be resilient.  In all my leadership roles, I have always had teams perform better when any and all successes were regularly celebrated.  Good leaders also celebrate human growth milestones of team members, as well as tasks that are accomplished.  It is rare that team members are complimented on overcoming fears, stepping out of their comfort zones and/or swinging for the fence; hence, it is very powerful to give positive reinforcement when these milestones are achieved.

3.  Communication  A team is a team because they communicate with one another.  There can be no lone wolves on a good team.  Communication takes time, but only with communication can the team move towards its goal in one cohesive fashion.  Without good communication, some team members may still be stuck at the start line, while others are already half way across America.  In the corporate world, there is a lot of frustration with "over-meeting".  Meetings need to have a goal "communication outcome".  Once that outcome is achieved, the meeting should be adjourned and people given time back to get back to work and accomplish their tasks.  Efficient communication is key, and simpler is always better.  At GE, I was taught to simplify goals into a phrase for my teams.  For VISIONRUN, I was able to simplify the goal into one word - FINISH.

4.  Reward  People do not work or give their best effort for money.  People work hardest and do their best when they are driven by emotion and feelings.  When a goal becomes personal to team members, is when you will see a team at it's best.  The reward is not external to team members.  The reward is feeling you are part of the whole - something that is much bigger than the parts by themselves.  That connectedness that we humans strive for in all of our relationships is the biggest reward we can ever receive.  Last night, me and my 3 core team members celebrated the "run-iversary" of VISIONRUN.  As soon as we were in the room together, we were connected and had something very BIG in common.  Together, we did something that I think we all still can't quite grasp.

ONWARD!

Jason Romero is a highly sought after inspirational speaker and the 1st and only blind person to run across America.  Jason is a member of the US Paralympic Team, holds 10 world records in ultra-running, a former attorney and business executive, and a single father of 3 children.  More information can be found @ www.relentlessromero.com.  

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