Building A Winning Team

Ditch the Training Drills, Get Real
Adam Kelly, ex-county cricketer, PhD researcher and Sports Scientist at suggests a key element of success is training your team for real life scenarios and that training drills outside of true match conditions are limited in their impact. Sporting professionals identify the correct stimuli quicker and produce quicker, more accurate and correct response. After all, the purpose of training is to improve skill execution and this occurs by recognising the correct stimuli.

I can see that this makes sense in business. We often send staff on courses to update their skills but the benefit is not delivered until the learned theory is put into practice back in the workplace. Possibly the most successful development we see is from our apprentices. This is undoubtedly because they have real life situations to experience and test their responses on, whereas less hands-on training is about taking in information, digesting it, and hoping it’s still there to call upon when you need it.

Similarly, the above applies to experience. For example; the more we experience a particular business situation, the better our execution and outcomes generally become. This further accentuates the benefit of on the job experience in business.

There’s no ‘I’ in team
Ok, so this is an overused saying but one that is key to developing a successful team. The greater good has to be appreciated by the team as a whole, even on the occasions when decisions don’t sit well with individuals. Elliott Newell, an Applied Sports and Performance Psychologist from said: “A truly cohesive team becomes more than just individuals, and their combined performance equates to more than they could give individually.”

From a business perspective I think this comes back to communicating a strong philosophy and earning the team’s commitment. Regular reviews bring attention back to the bigger picture and the results of their combined efforts, encouraging individuals to hit their own targets towards the shared goal.

Faith or Fact?
Newell believes that in order to establish how to best support the team it’s important to determine your role clearly. As a supporting influence, are you there to enhance the unwavering faith of the team’s capabilities, or are you better off delivering the brutal facts about their present state? Choosing an approach largely depends on the state of play but we must be prepared to do both.

He also stresses the importance of adapting to individuals, to be able to deal with multiple types of character and bring them together in one direction. A comment I particularly resonated with was; “Remember you’re trying to get people on the same page, but that a page is a lot bigger than you might realise – they don’t have to be on the same word or letter, just part of the same narrative”.

This makes total sense to me as a company director. In good times and bad, a consistent and fair leadership style, combined with an ability to inspire in your team with your own vision, desire and passion to achieve is rewarded time after time by hard work and top class performance.

Lead to win, even when you’re losing
A question we asked of Newell is whether it’s right to change your leadership style in response to poor results. He recommends avoiding knee-jerk reactions – why uproot your tried and tested systems, processes and ingrained ideology, just because things didn’t work out this time? Obviously, if your losing streak continues then alarm bells should ring; review your fundamentals, commit to what you believe in and refine your approach.

From a business perspective, we could relate this to the loss of a sale, which can make you question everything. Is our pricing out? Is our offer wrong? I’d say; probably not if a similar approach has previously succeeded. I do believe that both business and sports leadership require a strong faith, some perspective and confidence in the systems and people you are working with.

Is it all about being the best?
Often in business and in sport our focus is on ‘being the best’ and this is instilled in the mentality of team members as the ultimate goal. Newell believes that this attitude is, in essence, dangerous. He says: “In my experience, a high performing team is not necessarily obsessed with being the best full stop; rather they are obsessed with being the best they can be and with the processes that lead to being the best. This is far more controllable and as a result, is far more likely to lead to positive types of motivation and more engaged performance behaviours (like being persistent in the face of challenges, being creative and open to new ideas and being co-operative with other teammates).” That makes a lot of sense and I think both sports teams and businesses would do well to bring a little more depth to what success really means to them.

With a truly united team anything is possible.
At the end of the interview, Newell concludes on the importance of a cohesive team; “a strong sense of team identity can often pull a team through a difficult period. It can motivate and inspire as well as increase effort and determination.”

I agree wholeheartedly with this; Arena certainly couldn’t be successful without an amazing set of people on board. I must add that building a team of people who are all pulling in the same direction and driven by the same passion is no mean feat. The role of the leadership team is vital to providing continual inspiration and good communication. Relationships inside and outside of the team, and recognition of great performance are also key.

[box]By Adrian Fitzpatrick, MD of Arena Group, alongside Adam Kelly and Elliott Newell from[/box]