If you create an effective team, the odds of winning greatly increase.

Yep, I’m back this week with another of those posts that is all about how to translate success in our hobbies into success in other aspects of our lives.  Even if your hobby is a solo pursuit, you still have a team behind you (you didn’t make that climbing rope, or those bicycle tires, after all), and creating an effective team is the first step to consistent – and good – results.

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” –Michael Jordan

The hyper competitive among us, myself included, often have hobbies that reflect our competitive nature, and should offer plenty of opportunities to learn a myriad of ways to translate that into our business lives.

[LISTEN: 5 best business blogs you’re not reading yet – PODCAST EPISODE]

Of course the more people that your competitive hobby requires in order to do well, the harder it is in general to put together an effective team.  The bigger the team, the more headaches involved, when it comes to getting a good crew together and finding your way through the minefields of whatever you’re doing, in order to be successful.

A very competitive and successful skipper that I know once told me that learning how to win on the racecourse had taught him many lessons about how to be successful in his business.  And since most of us aren’t paying our teams that define our success at our hobbies, it’s a very important lesson to take to heart.

Just getting people to show up can be tough.

We participated in a big regatta last weekend, and it was what I would call an ‘away’ game.  The race was a few hundred miles from the boat’s home waters, and the logistics of getting that many people to the boat on time to leave the dock each day is a daunting task.

Heck, it’s often a daunting task to get enough good people onboard when you’re playing locally – people have lives, things come up, crew cancel at the last minute, and there’s almost always a day when the skipper or boat manager just wants to run off into the sunset, screaming bloody murder.

Of course we had a couple of gaps to fill at the last minute, and no amount of forward thinking or planning could save us from that situation; knowing it was going to happen and being ready to widen our net to find decent sailors to fill in was half the battle of actually getting a boatload full of crew.

Milo Minderbinder in the house!

The best crews are the ones that are steady, with very little turnover.  It’s like a catch-22…  if you are winning, good people want to be on your team.  If you don’t have good people, it’s very hard to win.  Quite often it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy, and it’s hard to overcome the ‘reputation’ of not doing well.

[READ: Tactics versus strategy, understand the difference – BLOG POST]

Many skippers, captains, managers and business owners get caught at this point and have a difficult time getting past this stage of the game.  After all, no one wants to be associated with a loser team.  At least no one in their right mind, at least.

So if your team has potential, but needs a couple of solid semi-stars to kick it into a higher gear, you’ll occasionally have to be willing to bring people up from the bottom, and teach them how to do it the right way, or at least teach them how to do it your way.  (Um, see note above, winning is very helpful in this situation)

Learn to play to people’s strengths when you set up your team.

We’re not all good at the same things, and that is OK.  If you need 14 people with a variety of skill sets, having 9 folks who all share the same skillset is not ideal.  Sometimes you have to make do with what you have to work with, but try to find people who are good at different things than the rest of your crew.

Lucky for nearly everyone, there are always going to be people who are good at a variety of the tasks at hand, and those people can be shifted around to create a more functional and effective team.  This does mean that you will sometimes find yourself with the second or third best person for a job in charge of that job, but it’s better to go that route than to have the best person doing the job and the other jobs being covered by people who have no clue what they are doing.

Be clear about expectations and processes.

Communication is a skill, and not everyone communicates the same way.  The more people that are on your team, the more important standardized communication becomes to the whole.  Developing a process for handling communication is critical, and making sure the entire team understands how to communicate is quite possibly THE most important part of running your team.

Team members should own their own jobs, and they should be responsible for the outcome of their jobs.  Everyone else should be ready to lend a hand – if asked – but should also learn to sit back and worry about their own jobs until they are asked to pitch in and help…  which sounds a lot easier in theory than it actually becomes in practice.

Take the time to talk about what went right, and what didn’t go so well.

Even if you’re winning by a mile, there are always ways to have a more effective team.  Talk though mistakes after you’re finished with the race, game, whatever it is you’re doing.  Talk through what went right, and figure out how you can translate more of the right moves into a bigger margin to offset the mistakes.

Recovering from the mistakes is the number one key to winning.  We’re all going to make them, but learning not to make the same mistakes repeatedly is important.  Heck, my personal goal is to figure out how to come up with some incredibly creative ways to make mistakes that no one has ever seen before!

Keep calm and carry on.

The most effective teams that I’ve seen firsthand are the ones that don’t get thrown for a total loop when the bad stuff goes down.  The people that are needed to handle the problem go about that business, and everyone else sticks to their own jobs, and focuses on making the boat go fast while we’re working out the issues.

[Tweet “Once we’ve all set our hair on fire at the same time, we’ll never manage to find the fire extinguisher, just keep that in mind.”]

At the point where things are the worst, that’s when you’ll find the most competent and competitive people find their focus and work to keep the rest of the crew on track as well.   This is where ownership of jobs becomes incredibly important.

And last but not least…

Someone has to be in charge.

The more people on your team, the more ‘middle management’ you’re going to need, in order to run things without having to micromanage the group.  I find that grouping people by task or function, and then setting up one person to manage each group works well, as long as everyone understands who is in charge of the smaller groups, and if not, well, threatening to hit people with a winch handle as a means of last resort is also effective every now and again.

The ‘middle managers’ should all report to the ‘big boss’, and the entire crew should be aware that if the ‘big boss’ makes a decision or a call that overrides the section chiefs, then we are going with the ‘big boss’.  We can talk it out later, but in the middle of a crisis, or during important maneuvers, there is only one voice that matters, and everyone on the team should be exceptionally clear about who that voice is and what their voice sounds like.

To recap – in order to build an effective team, here are the simple steps:

  1.  Fill in the crew spots with the most effective combination of people.
  2.  Make sure everyone understands the communications process.
  3.  Be clear on job ownership and prohibit unneeded meddling from others on the team.
  4.  Set the hierarchy for command and responsibility.
  5.  Discuss the good and the bad in order to improve after every race or campaign or event.


Sounds easier than it is, I know.  If you need a coach, talk to me.  :)