Every person, place, or idea has a story. This one started seven years ago when I began a quest to answer, for myself, three questions that I regularly asked the people I mentored and coached:
• Where do you find the most meaning and purpose in your work?
• How will you stay relevant in the face of continuous change?
How can you make a difference that matters to more than just an audience of one: what will be your “small dent in the universe?” to quote the late Steve Jobs.
My answer to the first question emerged as I uncovered the themes that formed the narrative of my 30+ year career: my passion for coaching and mentoring; a deep curiosity about why people do what they do (which has always been my source of energy for innovation and challenging the status quo); and my drive to create and build, versus maintain and manage. I found the answer to the third question in the joy of helping people through one of their most significant career transitions—moving from individual contributor to people manager.
Answering the second question was the toughest because I had to set aside the ego and identity that comes with “I was CEO of this” and “I was a vice-president of that,” and see my career experiences for what they really were—a history on which I could build, not laurels on which I should rest. That shift in mindset gave me the courage and conviction to invest in a five-year ‘walkabout’ in the shoes of today’s team leaders, rather than returning to a senior leadership role. I also recognized that walking in those other shoes would only be truly valuable if I complemented that experience with a deeper understanding of contemporary team leadership. So, I took a deep-dive into the fields of human motivation, employee engagement, and team effectiveness, earning a doctorate in the process.
The idea of Team Relationship Management (TRM) was built upon the shoulders of giants. It reflects the voices of the thousands of employees I encountered through research studies and both formal and informal conversations; my doctoral research and the many scholars that contributed to my work; and direct conversations with hundreds of team leaders. It also echoes the voice of my late father, a history teacher turned businessman. As he made the transition from academia to business, he never lost his love of teaching and mentoring, or his insatiable curiosity about people and the stories they shared with him. Most significantly, he saw success in terms of the strength of the relationships that he developed with both employees and customers.
What emerged from those many voices became the architecture of TRM:
• The essential fundamentals of team relationships
• The core psychological needs that inspire individual motivation
• The relationship coaching practices that lead to strong, trusting relationships
The overarching theme within TRM is powerful yet simple: people want and need healthy relationships at work to do their best and be their best. So human. So blindingly obvious. While there are mountains of research that demonstrate the importance people dynamics has on team effectiveness and individual wellbeing, the concept of actively managing relationships is largely absent from the vocabulary and metrics of business leaders. Nor will you find it in the training programs and models used by most leader development consultancies and leadership gurus such as Tuckman’s 1965 Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing; the GRPI model (goals-roles-processes-interpersonal relationship, 1977); the T7 model, or Katzenbach and Smith’s Commitment Skills-Accountability in the 1990’s; or the Five Dynamics and The Hackman Model from the early 2000’s. All these models contain useful ideas, but they all reflect the 20th-century bias toward top-down, leader-centric hierarchies.
Interest in the relationship dimension of teams isn’t entirely missing from modern organizations, and it has garnered more attention in the early 21st century than most of the 20th century. Yet, too often, relationships are treated as a secondary aspect in teamwork models, or as an outcome of climbing ropes together or building tinker toy objects while blindfolded. The stellar exceptions can be found among teams such as the US Navy SEALs. In his excellent book Team of Teams, General Stanley McChrystal (U.S. Army, retired), the former commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force in Iraq and Afghanistan, paints a vivid picture of the essence of crafting extraordinary teams as he describes the ambition of the Navy SEAL basic training. McChrystal emphasizes that the training’s goal is “not to produce supersoldiers. It is to build superteams.”
Amazingly—despite the overwhelming evidence that fostering strong, trusting relationships is the foundation of every high-performance team—most organizations do little or nothing to train leaders to actively manage the key relationships that make or break team effectiveness and well-being. As CRM did for sales effectiveness in the 20th century, TRM offers what may be the single most significant opportunity for organizations to ensure that their teams can innovate and compete in the 21st century. Moreover, as people transition from individual contributor to people manager, establishing habits that lead to excellence can make or break both careers and organizations. Making TRM a cornerstone of that transition ensures that your teams have the energy, adaptability, and resilience to excel.
This book is a practical guide for a new generation of team leaders. Whether you’re taking on your first people leadership role in a large company, or leading a fast-growing start-up, you are as passionate about people’s welfare as you are about performance. You recognize the importance of your role to your organization; yet, too often, you don’t get the support you need to complement your hands-on experience with ideas and tools to put your team on the road to extraordinary. In a nod to my brother’s input and his enlightened approach to leadership, the concepts in this book will also prove useful to senior business leaders who want to stay relevant in the 21st century. This book is for those of you who understand that 20th-century approaches aren’t good enough for today’s challenges and are looking for new ideas to spur innovation, attract and retain talent, and develop the next generation of leaders.
I recognize that there are many dimensions of successfully leading and developing a team (i.e., getting the right people, establishing goals, designating roles, establishing processes). They are well covered in many books and articles on leadership, as well as in my previous book, The ONE Habit, so I won’t revisit them here. Instead, I offer a new and innovative perspective centered around relationships. Over the course of my research, I discovered that, along with the practices associated with leading any team, managing relationships holds the key to crafting an extraordinary team.
As a team leader, or any leader for that matter, your days often feel like you’re changing tires on a moving car. I did my best to write this book with that in mind. If you’re reading this introduction in anticipation of what’s to come, I ask you to occasionally indulge my passion for business history. Beyond that, you won’t get a lot of pop psychology buzzwords and business speak clichés. You’ll also be disappointed if you’re looking for a list of 15 ways to improve performance. Rather, in five parts I’ll take you from the rise of teams in the 20th century to three specific actions that, no matter how crazy busy you are, you can take immediately to begin developing the habits that lead to mastering the art of crafting an extraordinary team.
Part 1. The Rise of Teams looks back at the twentieth century world of Frederick Taylor’s Scientific Management and the ‘hierarchy-and-heroes’ approach to leadership, then traces the evolution of teams into the 21st century. I discuss how success in the 21st century demands that organizations reshape themselves around teams and networks of teams, and what it takes to enable a new generation of team leaders to thrive.
Part 2. Want Extraordinary? Get Relationships. examines the chemistry of exceptional teams and what it will take to ensure that your team is ready for the demands of the 21st century. Today’s teams are responsible for increasingly complex tasks, and play an ever greater role in delivering both longer-term innovation and immediate results. Whether working locally or virtually across time zones and cultures, they must demonstrate an unprecedented level of adaptability. We’ll look at the relationship between balancing performance with well-being, and the importance of embracing the idea that success depends less on a leader’s skills or brilliance, and more on their humility and ability to inspire the best in people.
Part 3. Team Relationship Management begins with an examination of the tension between the drive for productivity and efficiency, and the needs of employees, that defined management thinking throughout the 20th century. We’ll then turn to the late 20th and early 21st century developments in understanding human motivation, employee engagement, and team effectiveness that led to the development of Team Relationship Management. Last, we’ll define and explore each of the elements of the TRM architecture in detail:
• The team relationship fundamentals that are critical to establishing a highly-functional team culture.
• The core psychological needs that, when met, inspire individual motivation and energize people to do their best work.
• Team relationship coaching: the core leadership practice that drives effectiveness and well-being.
Part 4. The Core of TRM: Coaching Your Team gives you the nuts and bolts of the one habit shared by every exceptional team leader: relationship coaching. The chapter starts by answering the question: Why relationship coaching? We’ll reflect on personal coaching conversation philosophies, and the differences in mindsets and behavior that lead to highly effective coaching. The chapter then dives into the specifics of feedback, measuring and tracking the strength of team relationships, followed by relationship coaching strategies, improving your coaching conversations, and how to plan for those conversations. We’ll wrap-up discussing how TRM is designed to be an integral part of modern continuous performance management programs.
Part 5. Crafting an Extraordinary Team asks you to reflect on two questions: “Why does my team want to be led by me?” and, “Am I creating the best conditions for my team to thrive in terms of both performance and wellbeing?” I’ll help you to answer those questions by building upon the groundwork established in the prior chapters and summarizing the three actions that you can take immediately to put you and your team on the road to extraordinary.
Throughout the book, you’ll find pages for notes, a glossary, and select references. In the appendices, you’ll find information on TrustMetryx™ software tools for team leaders, as well as my TRM Workshop and, in Appendix C, a deep-dive into the behavioral science research foundation of Team Relationship Management.
As this book came together, there was discussion around printing a hardcover version, or only softcovers. I resisted the temptation for hardcover because people often don’t like to write in a hardbound book. My hope is that the ideas in this book are sufficiently compelling that you are inspired to make notes, dog-ear pages, and (most importantly) embrace the concepts making them part of your own approach to crafting an extraordinary team.
Connect with me on LinkedIn and let me know how you’re doing crafting your extraordinary team. Good reading! Jeb