How Champions are Made – Life Hacks for Vision Masters #3

You’ve doubtless heard of the old saying that a team is only as good as its weakest link. “I won the championship by myself”, said no one ever.

I was thinking about that this week as the NCAA basketball tournament kicked off with 64 men’s teams as well as 64 women teams battling for national championships. Only one men’s team and one women’s team will emerge from the tournament without a loss. They will be crowned champions.

People will have lots of nice things to say about the runner-ups. They’ll have praise for many teams, many outstanding players. But only one men’s team, one women team will be champions. Those teams will have persevered through a grueling test of six games in two weeks against ever better competition. Those teams will find a way to win, despite the odds, bad calls by officials, tough draws against equally competent foes, injuries, illness, travel, academic demands, personal issues players may face, as well as a media barrage as they move towards the final games. They’ll face it all. They’ll persevere. They’ll win the title of champion.

How similar this is to the path that a winning team in business travels. How similar the obstacles that must be overcome on the way to successful funding, market entrance, traction, growth, market dominance, acquisition or IPO. Some teams have what it takes to be champions, others can’t quite get the job done. As a Vision Master, your job is like the coach working to guide his or her team to a championship.

But here are the facts of life: talent tends to win out in the end, as long as that talent is well-coached, rallies around a common goal, trusts each other to be great when the time requires greatness, shares the spotlight, is committed to the task at hand no matter what. No one person wins a championship.

That’s the kind of team you need in order to win the big prize, whether in sports or business.

Recall that in a recent post I laid out five key areas where Vision Masters (Founder, CEO, Innovator) need to excel in order to win the big prize. As a reminder, those areas are:

1 – FUNDING AND FINANCE (Cogent Plan, Pitching, Investor Relations)
2 – LEADERSHIP (Team Building, Culture, Corporate Governance)
3 – MARKETING (Sales, Marketing, Distribution, Communication)
4 – INNOVATION (Product Development, Pivots)
5 – OPERATIONS (Service, Logistics, Facilities, Accounting, Legal, Manufacturing)

As we discussed, only the rarest of individuals can master each of these competencies.  Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerburg, Steve Jobs did not. Fortunately, you’ll recall the “uber method” from that post – you only need to master enough in each area to competently hire “Area Masters” – i.e. experts in each area, and eventually one overall “Execution Master” as your general manager or president. Just as basketball coaches need to know enough about each role on a basketball team in order to recruit the right mix of talent to forge a champion.

To exemplify this point, last week I profiled Melinda Richter, President of JLABS.  Ms. Richter, you’ll recall, looks for certain qualities in the teams that she invests in, in addition to expertise or experience. They are persistence, problem solving and passion. You would do well to make sure each core member of your team has these qualities. In addition, Ms. Richter employs a “superpower” of detecting patterns in large amounts of information. She employs this power to detect the kind of leadership that will be successful, having already achieved an 80% success rate. Her biologic-AI system (her intuition pattern-recognition facility) detects the pattern of a successful leader and team unconsciously – i.e. she recognizes the leaders and teams that are bound to be successful without necessarily consciously assessing them.  She’s a Vision Master master.

As Vision Master, you need to get good at this yourself when selecting teams. Here we’re talking about Vision Master area of competence #2 — Leadership and Team Building. So you may be wondering, “how the hell do I do that without having built hundreds of teams already myself and without Ms. Richter’s superpower?”

I’m glad you asked . . .

Begin with the idea that you must gain basic competence in the five key areas listed above. That enables you to know what skill sets your team requires. Now you’ll be capable of recruiting the best as well as recruiting based on your key needs. Fortunately, once you get to that place, there is a very reliable method for selecting winning teams that embody:

a) Complementary skills sets and work preferences (diversity)
b) Willingness to accept these differences  (flexibility)
d) Mutual trust (team spirit)

and the three mentioned by Melinda Richter:

a) Adaptability (problem-solving ability)
b) Aligned values (passion)
c) Willingness to stick-it-out together (persistence)

How do you know, in advance, that you’ve got the right team?

Consider that the only way you’re going to know these things about people is to spend time together working on something together. If you’ve never worked together with the key members of your team, you’re almost sure to err in selecting them. That’s why in sports they play a regular season before entering playoff time. Teams need to go through the rigors of a regular season in order to gel. It’s very similar in business. So here’s Vision Masters hack #3 – a fast and reliable way to build an executive team when you haven’t worked together before (and even if you have) . . .

Work (part time) together in a volunteer organization, on the same project team. Since you’re going to be the team leader at work, it makes sense to take on the team leadership role on the volunteer project. So take the leadership role yourself, then enroll your team members from among the very same team members you plan on building a company around. In this way you gain three to six months of experience working together in a service capacity. This will give you a chance to determine whether you have the balance of complementary skills and aligned values, as well as personal chemistry, to found a company together.

Consider this your “regular” season. Once you launch, once you seek capital, it’s playoff time. There’s little room for error. That’s why sports teams play a regular season. It tests their players, separates the best from the worst teams, then moves toward a climax — the battle between the best in the playoffs. In business, you simply must find a way to have your “regular season.” The stakes are too high once you raise capital, once you enter the market. That is NOT the time to discover whether or not you have a winning team.

If you may think you’re already too busy to work on a volunteer project, think again. Perhaps you can’t afford not to try this. The esprit-de-corps your team will develop on such a project will clearly demonstrate its strengths. It will also tend to make its weaknesses apparent. Some of those weaknesses can be improved with your good leadership. Others will be exposed as completely lacking. That provides you the opportunity to bring in new talent.

Perhaps you’ve seen the movie “Miracle,” about the 1980 US Olympic hockey team that won a gold medal, beating the vaunted Soviet Union Red Army team in the process. US coach Herb Brooks had to select a team from among college players. They would practice and play for six months, before heading to the Olympics to face a Soviet team that had played together for ten years and hadn’t lost a game in years.

Coach Brooks’ selections riled the US Amateur Hockey Association brass. Brooks didn’t necessarily take the players with the most awards or accolades. He chose each player for a specific role, within a plan he devised specifically to beat the USSR team. Then they played an exhibition season of nearly 30 games (i.e. your service project). During those six months a group of players from separate schools, separate cultures, became a winning team that achieved far beyond what anyone looking at their resumes would have expected.

They beat the USSR.  They won.

That’s what you can do with your team. Use this Life Hack to hone your team. Hone your own leadership skills. Identify that grand vision. Consider what it will take your team to reach it. Use a service project like Herb Brooks used his exhibition schedule. Find your weaknesses. Identify gaps.  Fill those gaps. Watch your team gel. Play all out. Play like it matters.  Play that way.

When your “playoffs” come your team will be ready to shine!

Key Takeaways:

  • Great teams require time and testing to gel into winners – regular seasons before playoffs
  • Vision Masters must gain experience in 5 key competencies in order to gauge their team’s strengths and weaknesses
  • A great way to test the strength of a team is a service project — your “regular season”
  • Because once you get funding and go to market its playoff time — no margin for error
  • Working together toward a common purpose when the stakes are lower allows team members to develop cohesion, find their best role, learn to work together effectively
  • That way, when the playoffs begin, your team will be tested, battle ready, up to the task

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