Whether we get to choose who will be on our team, or we have to work with the people we have right now, building a team for the long-haul is not something we can do overnight. Here’s a new favorite quote about that, and five things to look for when building a team that succeeds today and tomorrow.
It’s the beginning of the 1998 Men’s Cross-Country running season. Veteran coach Mark Wetmore assembles his University of Colorado team for the first time. He wants to talk with them about the months ahead. Seated in the bleachers above the school’s indoor track, 50 pairs of ears are attuned to his every word.
As Chris Lear relates in Running with the Buffaloes, the UC Buffaloes have been a national-level force in the last few years. As the season opens, they are currently ranked third. But Coach Wetmore warns them that in their current condition he doesn’t think his runners deserve that ranking. He says, “We are not the best team we’ve ever been, but we do have to most potential we’ve ever had.”
He lays out the competitive schedule so that all will know the challenges that lie ahead. He expects the team to do well, but as the Buffaloes progress from local to regional to national meets, the size of the squad allowed to compete will shrink. He will be forced to choose who gets to race.
He knows the question on their mind: What will it take to be selected for those elite teams? He tells them:
What is it that will impress him, exactly? Wetmore tells them that the best thing they can do is to run well and train well every day.
As an experienced running coach and as the leader and mentor of his teams, Wetmore is smart to take the long view. He recognizes that today’s result may be good, but what he’s looking for is consistently improving performance over time.
Those who shine now may not shine tomorrow, and those who don’t shine now might actually be tomorrow’s brightest stars. He’s focused on both production and potential, those are his guide posts for team-building.
With that in mind, he tells them to “Be businesslike, patient, and methodical.” Working hard every day for 100 days will show him what he needs to see, and help him make the right choices for building his team.
So often we are caught up our own race of the moment – maybe it’s the sprint to finish a major task, or the relay race to complete coordination on a project before it’s due. Work requires us to get things done, usually the sooner the better.
But for everything we do, there are at least two things we should be thinking about: the task at hand, and our team’s ability to handle future, greater tasks that may come our way.
Which is more important? Yes.
How do we get the right people on our team that can meet those needs? Here’s what to look for.
Building a Team
Look for staying power. Don’t be too quick to judge. One task completed may be impressive, but can they do it again? Unless you prefer to ride a professional roller coaster, the steady, dependable performers are the strength of the team.
Look for the team players. A good team is much more than one talented individual. In cross country meets, scoring is based on how well the top five runners place relative to the field. Even if a person is not the fastest racer, will they still work for the benefit of the team? Or will they make the effort only when the spotlight is shining on them?
Look for growth. As you have opportunities to delegate, don’t always pick the person who does it best, or who has always done it. Think instead about who can grow more by doing the task, how they might add to depth on the team, or how the task may prepare them for future, greater responsibilities. Then use delegation as a way to develop them. The people we want are the ones who show they can grow.
Allow for stumbles. Just as a single strong performance is not enough to convince Coach Wetmore, a single mistake is also not enough to dissuade him. Runners will stumble and fall, and our teammates will sometimes make mistakes, too. Wetmore valued the effort and the heart his runners displayed and forgave mistakes so long as they showed they were learning and growing. We should, too.
Watch for character. Wetmore tells the group that he has only one rule, “That you be a young man or woman of character. You follow that rule, and I’ll take care of the rest.” Not one to pontificate, that’s all he gave them to go with, but I think it makes things better for everyone if we make the effort to spell out what that means. Be clear about what’s important, set the cornerstone values, talk about them often, and look for those who measure up.
Building a Team – The Takeaway
How do things turn out for Coach Wetmore and his Buffaloes that season? I don’t want to give away the ending, but Wetmore’s approach helps the team survive some significant and unexpected setbacks that might have caused other teams to collapse.
When building our own teams, we would benefit by taking the same approach he did. One flashy performance should not be enough to impress us if we hope to weather the challenging season ahead.
In fact, it’s better to be impressed by what is often overlooked and unimpressive: Boringly disciplined work ethic. Unexciting cooperation and collaboration. The occasional poorly-timed fumble. Even painful honesty and integrity.
If our goal is to produce teams that produce, then like Coach Wetmore, no single day should be enough to impress us, either.
Let there be one hundred days of unwavering dedication, steadfast commitment to growth, and business-like production.
Let that be the race.
And let the ones who are still in that race at the end be the ones who make the team.