Leading Blog






09.04.15

Missing Ingredients: Finding the Right Team Recipe

Leading Forum
In my 25 years of professional endeavors, the lessons I apply the most often…the tools I use to achieve success . . . the skills I call on every day . . . all of these things I experienced and developed to one degree or another through sports. And when the discussion is about team sports, coaching, leadership, chemistry, relationships, role players, and all-stars become a natural part of the conversation. I find that the same is true in my business experiences and my work with civic organizations, where the natural question is why some teams perform better than others, and how to improve the performance of those that are struggling. There are a number of ways to look at this challenge, but to me, it usually comes down to three important things:

1. Same Page of the Playbook: There are many reasons why a team may be struggling, but the first place to look is the source of any activity: everyone has to agree on the foundation before you put up the house. This is true in business, true in civics, and true in life. In my new book Xbox Revisited, I chronicle the challenges we faced during the formation of the Xbox business. The cold, hard truth is that we failed to establish a strategic foundation for the business, and as a result the team was dysfunctional, our execution was inconsistent, and the business lost north of $5 billion over 4 years. We subsequently backfilled that mistake with a 3 page document that defined the Purpose, Principles, and Priorities for our second product, Xbox 360. This 3P Framework strategy process is chronicled in Xbox Revisited, and I now use it in my consulting, board work, and civic engagements. It forced the Xbox team to define a single Purpose, a joint set of operating Principles, and a focused list of Priorities that we used consistently to drive the business to market share leadership and substantial profitability for Microsoft.

2. Managers, Coaches, and Captains: Even with the greatest strategy, teams can still flounder without the right leadership. In fact, many of our early struggles on Xbox were a function of my leadership as Chief Xbox Officer – although I had many of the right instincts, I was simply too inexperienced to deal with the type and level of issues we faced on Xbox. Great leaders have to be self-aware of their own strengths (what I call super-powers) and weaknesses (kryptonite) and build a team around them that fills in identified gaps. The next level of leadership has to understand their roles and responsibilities well and translate that down through the team, consistent with the strategy framework that is driving the business. Just as with any sports team, there is no "correct" structure for a group – but everyone must know, accept, and perform their roles effectively if the team hopes to be successful. Great leaders identify weak team members or those that have not bought into the strategy/their role and either help them improve quickly or replace them. This is difficult work – both because it takes great judgement to know when to "hold 'em" and when to "fold 'em", and because the process of firing and replacing someone is emotionally challenging if you are a caring manager. And yet, the fact remains that there is quite often "addition by subtraction" and no team is much better than its weakest link.

3. Executing the Game Plan: A strong strategy framework with good team leadership is enough to get you to the starting line – but game-time performance is entirely a different matter. There are many teams that look good on paper but can't actually perform to expectations. Great communication is certainly a central element in establishing an operating rhythm that drives day-to-day excellence, because once the game begins, modifications and adjustments are a constant requirement. This is the football equivalent of an audible called by the quarterback at the line of scrimmage. If everyone on the field doesn't hear that the play has changed, the whole effort falls apart. Great execution is also about efficient and effective decision-making up and down the ladder of the team. If decisions can be pushed down into the organization where people closest to the issues can make the quickest and best decisions, the team has a much higher likelihood of success. In contrast, if everything must flow up the chain and back down again, as it often did in our early Xbox days, the likely result is either poor, uninformed choices or decision constipation. Finally, winning on the field is about continuous improvement. Teams that struggle at first can ultimately be successful if they keep making mid-course adjustments – changes in people, process, decisions, etc. Most projects are marathons not sprints and the secret to success is finishing strong and fast.

This sporting analogy and the discussion of teams applies across a broad cross section of organizations. The dynamics and culture of a business are certainly different than what you might find in a government agency, a community organization, or a non-profit. But the elements that make a great team and create an environment for success are similar in all of these cases. So whether your goal is renewing your business or joining me as a Civic Engineer trying to improve our local, state, and national civic organizations, building the right team is a critical element to success.

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Xbox Revisited
Robbie Bach, author of Xbox Revisited: A Game Plan for Corporate and Civil Renewal, joined Microsoft in 1988 and over the next twenty-two years worked in various marketing, general management, and business leadership roles, including working on the successful launch and expansion of Microsoft Office. As Chief Xbox Officer, he led the creation and development of the Xbox business, including the launch of the Xbox and the highly popular successor product, Xbox 360. He retired from Microsoft in 2010 as the President of the Entertainment and Devices Division. For more information please visit robbiebach.com and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 04:44 PM
| Comments (0) | Leading Forum , Teamwork



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