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How to build one of the best sales teams in the world

teamwork

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” –Henry Ford

Team building is an ongoing process for large and small businesses alike. The right team can be the difference between success and failure, or scalability and stagnation.

Sales people are empowered entrepreneurs, but they can also build a team around them to support their professional and personal goals — and that approach can help them strategically fast track their next moves. Let’s take a look at how the right approach to team building is just as important to growth as the right working capital.

Great leaders build great teams

“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” and it sure as heck wasn’t built by one person.

Great leaders are the lifeblood of great teams, but that doesn’t happen by accident. So it helps to understand the ways in which teamwork is literally wired into our brains.

There is a fundamental importance of rewarding your team’s ‘collective success’ versus just the ‘individual performance.’ Psychology Researchers and Neuroleadership experts Jay Van Bavel and Dominic Packer revealed in the Harvard Business Review why focusing on collective success makes all the difference.

“Although leaders are concerned with collective success, most organizations — from sports teams to universities to global companies — still focus on rewarding individual performance. The majority of Fortune 500 companies reward the most productive individuals, not the most effective groups or indispensable group members. We believe that leaders at these organizations are overlooking something fundamental about human nature — our tribalism.”

Buck your traditions

Van Bavel and Packer led their research with an example of a nearly 50-year old Ohio State Buckeyes football tradition — and it’s the reward system behind all those Buckeye stickers on players’ helmets (you know, the ones that look like little hemp leaves — both amusing and beneficial).

Buckeyes

So what’s the story behind this?

In 1968, the Buckeyes coaching staff wanted to reward exceptional plays and encourage their team to keep winning — and so a new tradition began. Individual players were rewarded with Buckeye stickers to place on their helmets — a visible reminder of their success. The system paid off in spades, and the team won the championship that year. They continued a dominating streak in the league, but it wasn’t ever lasting. Over the next few decades, the system was failing and the team was, too.

In 2001, a new head coach flipped the way players earn Buckeyes. Instead of their old system of rewarding a player for scoring a touchdown or other individual victory, every player on the offensive unit would get a sticker if the team scored more than 24 points.

The purpose? The idea of favoring teamwork over individual performance was the real goal. And it paid off almost immediately. The team not only won a national championship the following year, but the Buckeyes have been one of the most successful teams in the country ever since.

Your team members want to fit in

Belonging to a group is a deeply rooted aspect of who we are as individuals. Van Bavel and Packer further explained how managing this mentality is a major role that leaders will play.

“Great leaders are “entrepreneurs of identity.” They embrace our tribal nature and seek to shape the identity of fellow group members,” they elaborate. “Human beings evolved in groups, and most of us still work in groups every day. … This is why sports fans can show up to a stadium and immediately share a common purpose with 100,000 complete strangers.”

That might be the case at a sports stadium, but how about at the workplace? The researchers clarify that it is quite similar.

“When a person starts to identify with a group, it triggers a fundamental shift in their goals. Events and decisions that were once evaluated with reference to oneself (“what’s in it for me?”) are now evaluated in reference to the group (“what does this mean for us?”).”

That shift to a healthy team mentality is one of the most important psychological breakthroughs a company can have.

Does your team feel safe?

What’s more, business leadership expert Chee Tung Leong illuminated the fact that today’s average lifespan of an S&P 500 company has fallen from 67 years to just 15 years.

“The marketplace is much more unforgiving towards companies that take too long to learn their lessons,” Leong explained. Creating a culture of learning at your company is key to success.

As entrepreneurs, we talk a lot in business about the virtues of bold thinking and risk taking, but what Leong uncovered while studying team dynamics at Google, is that you must create an atmosphere where people feel comfortable taking those bold chances.

Chief among these key dynamics was this idea of ‘psychological safety.’ To build the best teams in the world, Leong explains that “team members needed to feel safe enough to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other.”

“While self-preserving behavior is natural in the workplace, it can erode the foundation of effective teamwork.” This can damage the culture you are trying to build – where team members can learn from one another. “The safer team members feel with each other, the more likely they are to collaborate, admit mistakes, and take new opportunities.”

Leong advocates building the culture of psychological safety on your own teams through three fundamentals:

  1. Encourage failure
  2. Admit your own mistakes
  3. Hold “anxiety parties”

The latter, while admittedly unconventional, allows team members to openly share things that make them feel vulnerable and anxious, allowing for immediate 360-degree feedback with the team. Leaders can then address issues head-on and avoid wasting time on assumptions about the team’s feelings — instead, focusing on the real problems at hand.

Transform your clients into your teammates

Taking this strategy a step further, as a leader you can encourage your team to look outside the organization. Sales experts Barry Farber and Robert L. Shook argue that one of the most effective yet overlooked sales techniques involves teaming up with customers.

“Outsource your customer. Let the customer solve problems for you,” explains Shook and Farber. “A salesperson’s job is to create a vehicle that lets the customer solve his or her own problems.”

This out-of-the-box thinking can take your sales organization to a new level. “When a customer becomes involved in finding a solution to his problem, he or she takes ownership, which is the foundation of a solid salesperson-customer relationship.”

At the end of the day, a winning teamwork philosophy is one that encourages both parties to work together to solve a mutual problem. The best teams are as unique as you and your company, and making these proven team building concepts parts of your company’s direction will serve everyone well.

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