Four Ways to Build an Elite Team (On or Off The Field)

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During the past 26 years in business, I've been able to curate some of the most elite working teams -- one of which we're building right here in Indianapolis -- and learned how to manage individuals into becoming more effective as a unit.

I also have a passion for youth sports and have taken a team of neighborhood kids to the Little League World Series. From both experiences I've found some major consistencies between business and sports and use those consistently to model teams. Below are four tips on building an elite business team that rivals a championship sports team.

Find the parallel between your team and the Golden State Warriors

Building an elite business team is elusive, but possible by drawing the parallels between elite sports teams that we can use to model.

Legendary professional sports organizations draw huge crowds in big arenas with lots of pomp and circumstance. Big games call for celebrations and genuinely make people feel good. Why can’t businesses bring out huge emotions like professional sports do? Why can’t we have big celebrations when we hit our sales goals? Why can’t we be high energy and have fans? We should be making our customers into our fans.

It’s also important to study the teams you want to emulate. If you’re a sprinter, you’re going to study elite sprinters. In our case, we build elite teams, so we’ve studied those teams - Indy Car pit crews, New England Patriots and the Navy Seals. Elite is a level you almost never make it to, so we invest a lot in executive and team coaching.

Know your core values

Let’s use the Oregon football team as an example. One of the organization’s core values is speed, so they not only hone in on the most speedy recruits, but they move fast, play fast, and practice fast. In business, you have to know what your core values are to know what you’re looking for in a new hire.

At greenlight.guru, two of our biggest core values are finishing what you start and constant innovation. If a potential employee doesn’t have either one of those traits, we won’t make that hire.

To judge these traits in potential new hires, instead of a typical in-office interview, I like unusual interviews like a round of golf. I think you can learn more about someone’s values doing that than sitting across a conference room table. If their ball lands in a bunker, do they get angry and throw their club or do they take it in stride? Are they ok with average or do they fight and compete to win?

You need both Randys and Rudys

Something that trips up a lot of hiring managers is thinking you have to hire people who are just like you to accommodate an existing office culture. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

You have your raw talent, dominant players, like Randy Moss, who when you throw them the ball, you know they’re going to jump over everybody and put points on the board. They have the potential to change the game. Then you have players like Rudy, who may lack the natural talent Randy Moss has, but make up for it with fire, dedication and hustle.

Most people look at experience as the best quality, but passion can make up for a lot of problems. In sports, if you lose the ball you can still fight to get it back. Same in business--if you make a mistake but are still fueled by a certain hustle, you can make up for it. Both types of players are valuable, but every team needs a mix. To take a quote from the sports docudrama “Miracle,” “I'm not looking for the best players, Craig. I'm looking for the right ones.”

Start with trust and work toward intimacy

Reaching the elite level is impossible without mastering the fundamentals, like trust. Teams have to build trust with each other before reaching a level of intimacy that allows them to communicate in ways others can’t understand.

Coworkers can better build that trust just by being accountable to each other. At the beginning of each week we set individual goals, then gather at the end to see what was accomplished. This makes everyone accountable to the team and helps contribute to the culture of finishing.

Our team excels because they truly believe what they’re doing is changing the world. We feel challenged because it’s not a typical, fluffy culture. Instead of catering to popular workplace trends like unlimited vacation time, massages or nap rooms, we attract top talent with deeper connections and values, and we encourage other business owners to take note.

David DeRam is the co-founder and CEO at greenlight.guru.

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