Posted by: Mike Ferruggia | June 14, 2009

Team Building, Winning, And Learning How to Pick People

I love playing one of the games on my computer called spider solitaire. As I was first learning, I lost a lot of games, and now that I’ve gotten the hang of it, I’m slowly improving my percentage score of games won. I’m currently at 25%. But I realized last night, you can’t win every game. In baseball, a really good player gets a hit only 3 in 10 times, maybe a little better. That means he doesn’t get a hit 7 out of 10 times. And, add to that the difficulty of getting one of those three hits after someone else has gotten one of their three, and the person after you getting one his three in order for the team to actually score a run, and you see it becomes even more difficult to put it all together. As a fan, I always admired the clutch hitter, the guy who maybe was batting 260 but man, when it counted, when the game was on the line, he got the hit. We also kiind of always were disappointed by the guy who was batting 350 but man, when the game was on the line, when there were men in scoring position, he’d end the game with a dribble to the mound or bounce out into a double play.

In any event, it also got me thinking again about teambuilding, whether sports, at work, or your family, and what it takes to put together a winning team. Championships are rare, which is why they are so special, but a team can be consistent, and maybe not win the championship every year, but they can be winners year in and year out(think of Boston Red Sox, who were for decades consistenty good, consistently winners, but didn’t win a championship until 2 or 3 years ago).

A winning team is a confluence of many things. I haven’t written this ahead of time, so I’m just going to brainstorm. First, there needs to be clearly defined goals, clearly communicated. What are we trying to achieve. Get the resources you need to succeed. For years, I thought I wasn’t a very good guitar player, but I had virtually no good equipment. When I treated myself to a good guitar and amp, it became more fun to play, and I got better. It’s not a substitute for talent, bit the lesson is, you need the right tools to do a job right. Third, bring in the right people. I suppose this is probably thre most important and the hardest to do. But the key here is, you don’t just need to bring in the right people, you can turn the people you have into the right people.

The owner, and or manager of the team is responsible for creating the culture of success. Establishing what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. Developing the individual team player, helping make them proficient in the things they need to do, and playing to their strengths. Why would you put a night owl on the opening shift, is one small petty blunder that undermines the success of the individual and of the team.

Positive reinforcement works better than fear. Fear and intimidation may achieve short term gains, but is a loser in the long run. Break the goals down into smaller, do-able steps, but keep the overall view in sight.

Picking the right people. I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of hiring. And I’m proud of the choices I’ve made in my career. They weren’t all successful, but most were, and I gotta say, the intuitive thing works. You know who’s good and who’s gonna make it. Have there been times when I missed out on someone and regretted it later? Yes. But I’ll tell you, when I was at the job fair not to long ago, watching the hundreds of other people in line with me, I felt very strongly I could have gone up and down that line and, without saying a word or hearing a word, I could have picked out the 20 or so winners.

There is a desire in major corporations to set standards for interviewing, for picking a candidate, for making the process fair. This makes sense to me in that, yes, I trust my own power of intuition, but I don’t know how many other people have it. If I were looking for a job, I would want to be assesses according to some fair process, not the whim of an individual, but it’s here that I have to make a point that there is an extreme difference between whim and intuition. Whim has no reason, intuition is based on knowing what you are doing, and is just as credible as logic thinking.

In any event, other aspects of team building and winning culture–the player needs to know they will be treated with respect and diginity, valued for their work. If these words are empty, the team will know it and morale will break down. They have to believe that what they are doing makes sense. If it doesn’t, forget about it. Divisiveness and cliques and gossip are deadly and need to be nipped in the bud, part of the unacceptable in a winning culture. Winning teams are like family, develop strong bonds of friendship. How this happens is subtle, and food for thought. I would even venture to say that one of the main reasons America won World War II is because people fought for their friends more than country.

So, there’s so much more that can be said on the subject. But I’ll finish with this. There is a philosophy in some businesses that leaders can be made–that you can establish a series of behaviors to be modeled and have someone follow them and voile, you have a leader. This is somewhat effective, but I believe it falls far short. Some people have it, and some don’t There is such a thing as a natural born leader, who may need developing and honing, but natural nonetheless. The same with the winning players on your teams.

Lastly, I’ll end with this, there comes a time when you gotta recognize that someone on your team isn’t cutting it, is dragging the team down, is helping you to lose. You have to be willing to let them go. It’s probably the hardest thing for some people to do, especially after you’ve worked to create a family atmosphere and culture, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do…



  1. Boy, this is my life right now. I recently switched positions, but in my last job I had about half a dozen guys reporting to me. We were very much a team, and I emphasized that. I made them a team in a couple of ways. I listened to them, and whenever they needed something, I went the extra mile for them. Also, I spelled out our goals very specifically, and reassured them whenever we hit obstacles. I assigned Teddy Roosevelt’s “The Strenuous Life” to two of them as required reading. (If you Google it, it is easy to find and very short.)

    I also taught. We had to haul an underperforming subcontractor in here one day for a come-to-Jesus meeting. I had my whole team in the meeting and I negotiated hard with the subcontractor. Afterwards the team and I reviewed the meeting, I explained what had just happened. The subcontractor didn’t know it, but he had yielded up the one thing I’d actually wanted early on. Everything about the meeting had been designed to accomplish this, and I taught my guys how and why. Imparting skills in this way is appreciated, and builds loyalty.

    I also gave them room to achieve. One of my field guys was getting little cooperation from another department, so I had him call a meeting with them. I told him to write the agenda for this meeting, get it scheduled, and run it. I showed up, but it was clearly my field guy’s meeting. This slightly confused the other department, who thought that I would be running things. But when they saw that I was just a participant, and that I had enough trust in my guy that I would put him in charge, they realized they had to take my guy seriously. It worked out great.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: