Why Do Smart Teams Do Stupid Things?

The Three Marks of a World Class Team

business meeting problems

Think of a really smart team (i.e., has/had great talent, training, and experience) that did some really stupid things. Maybe it’s a high-profile one like Bear Stearns and its top team’s outsized bet on sub-prime mortgages. Or it could be your own family business team putting the unqualified relative in a role for which he or she is unqualified.

For me, it was the bonehead hire that I talked about in last month’s Musing. Three venture capitalists, an organizational psychologist, and three seasoned senior managers, and we hired that guy? What trips up teams of smart people?

You can read books, hire strategy consultants, and get more interpersonal skills training but if these three traits are not present you will have sub-par performance at best and sabotaging blind spots at worst.

What are the marks of a World Class Team?

Heart, Winning, and Coaching

#1: They Use Their Hearts – High performance is not just about being smart. In fact, just being smart can be a liability when it comes to team results.

High-performing teams know how to stay connected to and access their emotional intelligence. They use their EQ to connect with each other and be more authentic. The result is team members know themselves well and reduce individual and team self-perception or blind spots.

When I coach high-performing teams I help players get aligned. I want teammates to be truthful with one another, develop strong emotional literacy, clear conflict directly and quickly, know the value of being vulnerable, create trusting connections, and take responsibility if they break an agreement.

World-class teams don’t outsmart themselves and trip over emotions that may be driving their decision making. They integrate their hearts with their heads to make decisions and manage relationships and they don’t trade off being connected for getting excellent results.

#2: They Play to Win – Do you know teams who intentionally play to lose? Probably not, but I bet you know some that play not to lose? They often don’t know what high performance looks like, so they don’t strive for it.

The distinction between playing to win and playing not to lose is subtle.

business team alignment

Yet it’s a distinction created by a powerful belief that — in spite of talent, tools, and coaching — keeps teams mediocre.

Many under-performing teams have adopted a belief that they couldn’t win if they tried. Or that applying winning discipline will be too uncomfortable. These teams know what’s expected of them in order to stay out of trouble and keep their jobs but their standards are well below the team’s potential.

World-class teams know they can win, apply high standards, see anything as possible, and are dedicated to continuous improvement.

#3: They Have a Coach — Do you know of any high-performing team or individual who does not have a coach? If you do I’d love to hear about it. Any team leader or member who says they don’t need a coach to reach their potential or says their team is already at their full potential suffers from the main performance drag of any team: self-deception.

How do you spot a world-class coach? They stand outside the team’s system, meaning they have no conflicts of interest by working in the same company or being personal friends with the team leader.

World-class coaches don’t need your business. They are in such demand that they don’t need the income from your engagement. As a result, they are direct, truthful, disciplined, and comfortable with conflict. They also have run high-performing teams themselves — they are not just experts in teaching models and theories.

How Does Your Team Compare?

What is the next step in boosting your team’s performance? If it has these three marks, a team can toss out the latest book on teamwork. When its members use their hearts, play to win, and have the support and challenge of a coach, the team adapts quickly, always sees more options than the competition, and experiences a flow of creativity and innovation.

When a team gets serious about its performance it begins to move from being just a group to being a team. They not only will be smart, they will act smart too.

Invite Brian to give the keynote at your next leadership event. Brian is hitting the road doing more speaking engagements. His message is targeted to leaders seeking greater effectiveness in relationships and communication. Senior managers have enjoyed his talk entitled Why Do Smart People Do Stupid Things?: The Top Ten Lies Leaders Tell Themselves. Brian talks about how he made and lost $50 million in one day and what he learned about life and leadership. Contact Brian.