Instill a Sense of Discipline

The last two weeks December and beginning week of January are an extravaganza of sports; I myself spent two days this past weekend at a college hockey tournament. The championship game came down to a shootout, exciting indeed. On the drive home, I thought back to my high school teaching days when I coached sports as well.

A few years ago, I happened to meet a former player, and in the course of conversation he mentioned to me that after more than 10 years in the business world, the only time in his life when he felt that he was a member of a real team was when he played on that team.

It’s unfortunate that often there is no real sense of team in a business. In reality, building a team in business is as challenging as building a sports team. One fundamental that is necessary in both arenas is instilling a sense of discipline in the team. There are five components to building a sense of discipline in a team: vision, mission, communication, performance and accountability.

An oft repeated saying is, “If you don’t know where you are going, that’s likely where you will end up.” A team without a vision is like a rudderless ship. A team vision clearly lays out where the team ought to go and what it should accomplish. While there is often collaboration on the development of vision, it is clearly the leader’s (coach’s) responsibility to be sure that the vision is properly articulated to the team. When each team members knows exactly where the team is going, the foundation for success is in place.

Mission, often confused with vision, is really the road map on how to achieve the vision. In a sports setting as in business, this includes both the strategy on how to achieve success, as well as the “playbook” for how the team will operate. As a coach, I often told my team that they were like a chain; only as strong as the weakest link. If each of them did not know exactly what to do, then the chain would break. As well, like the agile company, understanding what is happening around you enables you to adapt quickly to changing game situations.

Communication is key to any team; communication between the leader and the team as well as communication among team members. In larger team situations, such as football, the head coach cannot do it all alone. Therefore, the head coach must not only communicate well with the assistant coaches (read management), but must prepare them to communicate with the rest of the team. In the heat of the game, communication must be two ways; coaches helping players and players informing coaches on what is happening on the field of play. So it must be with a business team.

Performance and accountability are a mated pair. Each member of a team has a role to play and they must be well prepared to perform in that role. Once the game begins, each player must also be accountable for what they are doing in order to be successful. Feedback systems on performance should be in place so that each member of the team can be accountable.

Now, this is where I might part company from some of the accountability exercises I used a coach: running extra wind sprints might not work too well in a business setting, but clear feedback on a person’s responsibilities and how well they performed them, along with coaching and training in order to help people succeed can go a long way to improving performance.

My best wishes to all for success in 2010!

4 thoughts on “Instill a Sense of Discipline

  1. Good article. Several others reasons for failed team work might be the emphasis on individual weaknesses instead of talents; lack of knowing one’s own talents; lack of alignment between the organization’s strategy, structure, processes, rewards and people. Leanne Hoagland-Smith, The Results Coach, author of Be the Red Jacket in a Sea of Gray Suits, the Keys to Unlocking Sales Success.

  2. I too am a Notre Dame graduate (Class of 1977). Your article resonated with me having raised two boys and having spent near three decades on Wall Street.
    I recently published “Cinderella of Wall Street,” a memoir that fuses an inspirational personal story with the evolution of the financial world over three decades. I titled one of the Chapters “Vision” and refer to the crossroad where “Alice In Wonderland” meets the Cheshire Cat and asks “Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?”
    How right you are as your thoughts apply to individuals, families, institutions and governments. Thank you for such a cogent and “right on target” article, a powerful message, but simply delivered.
    Lydia Fisher

  3. Very interesting…but I think if you believe a business cannot have teamwork, you will get what you believe should happen.

    The attitude of a leader is always reflected in the staff’s performance.

    The team I work with at Voice123 has been great. My mission since starting was to base the same ideals I applied to being captain of a hockey team, which I only did for one year, but I had great success. I applied an emphasis on vision, mission, communication, performance and accountability, but I applied one more athletic ideal; being honest with staff. Management, as I was trained in the past 20 years, never felt obligated to be transparent. Some feel honesty can be de-motivating, but a team aware of the situation is more likely to support a company and help it succeed.

  4. Good articulation of facts Kevin.

    I only wish that every team that we build can exists in a functional world as the one explained.

    Too many times have we discovered that there is mistrust among the ranks. Too many instances of “personal agenda” surfaces once the team is formed and any member has to exercise their personal unspoken agenda in the name of “ego” “greed” or some other self serving purpose. It is any of these junctures that the entire system breaks down and chaos ensues.

    If only there was a mechanism which could prevent such instances from happening. When we did not have to worry about personal agendas, nor about counter productive or negative motives which only strangle and/or fragment the will of the whole team.

    Best regards to you and the family. Happy New Year.


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