Building an Optimal Team – Team Health

By Jeff Wolf –  Seven Disciplines of a Leader

All the competitive advantages – strategy, technology, finance, marketing – that we’ve pursued in the past are gone. The disciplines haven’t disappeared, but they have lost their power as meaningful competitive advantages, as real differentiators that can set your company apart. Why? Virtually every organization has access to the best thinking and practices on those topics. As information has become ubiquitous, it’s almost impossible to sustain an advantage based on intellectual ideas.

However, one simple, reliable, and virtually free competitive advantage remains – team health. Healthy teams all but eliminate politics and confusion from their cultures. As a result, productivity and morale soar, and good people almost never leave. For those leaders who are a bit skeptical, rest assured that none of this is touchy-feely or soft. It is as tangible and practical as anything else…and even more important.

Even the smartest team will eventually fail if it is unhealthy. But a healthy team will find a way to succeed. Without politics and confusion, it will become smarter and tap into all of the intelligence and talent it has.

Team health requires real work and discipline, maintained over time, and the courage to objectively confront problems hindering true team achievement. Leaders must confront themselves, their peers, and the dysfunction within their teams with honesty and persistence. Persistent leaders walk into uncomfortable situations and address issues that prevent them from realizing the potential that eludes them.

Four Disciplines

To get healthy, leaders need to take four simple, but difficult, steps:

  1. Build a cohesive leadership team. Get the leaders of the organization to behave in a functional, cohesive way. If the people responsible for running a team, department, or organization are behaving in dysfunctional ways, then that dysfunction will cascade down and prevent organizational health. And yes, there are concrete steps a leadership team can take to prevent this.
  1. Create clarity. Ensure that the members of that leadership team are intellectually aligned around simple but critical questions. Leaders need to be clear on topics such as why the organization exists and what the most important priority is for the next few months, and eliminate any gaps between them   Then people who work one, two, or three levels below have clarity about what they should do to make the organization successful.
  1. Overcommunicate clarity. After the first two steps (behavioral and intellectual alignment), leaders can take the third step: over-communicating. Leaders of healthy organizations constantly repeat themselves and reinforce what is true and important. They err on the side of saying too much, rather than too little.
  1. Reinforce clarity. Leaders use simple human systems to reinforce clarity in answering critical questions. They custom design any process that involves people from hiring and firing to performance management and decision-making to support and emphasize the uniqueness of the organization.

Healthy teams get better at meetings. Without making a few simple changes to the way meetings happen, a team will struggle to maintain its health. Healthy teams rarely fail. When politics, ambiguity, dysfunction, and confusion are reduced to a minimum, people are empowered to design products, serve customers, solve problems, and help one another. Healthy teams recover from setbacks, attract the best people, and create exciting opportunities. People are happier, the bottom line is stronger, and executives are at peace when they know they’ve fulfilled their most important responsibility: creating a culture of success.

Applying the principles of great performance is hard, but the effects of deliberate practice are cumulative. The more of a head start you get in developing people, the more difficult it will be for competitors to catch you.

–Jeff Wolf

Contact us today to discuss how we can partner together to help develop and grow your leaders and teams:, 858-638-8260 or

Follow Jeff on Twitter: @JeffWolfUSA

Articles in the Media

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Seven Disciplines of a Leader

All proceeds go to our wounded service men and women.


6 Essential Leadership Responsibilities That Build Effective Teams

To create a fully functional team, the leader needs to exhibit six leadership traits.

1. Build trust. Trust is a three-way street: A. You must be able to trust each member of your team. B. They, in turn, must be able to trust you. C. Team members need to trust one another.  Trust is earned, so set the stage for success by creating regular and ongoing teambuilding opportunities. You can start with small projects involving two-and-three person teams.  In due course, you’ll want to expand team size and the scope of assigned projects.  Never compromise your team’s trust in you by assigning a task that is well beyond their skills level.  This managerial mistake sets them up for failure, and it can irreparably damage your relationship.

2. Communicate. Watch any police drama on television and you will notice how law enforcement officers remain in constant communication during tactical operations. Their lives depend on it. You can’t expect your team to understand and execute a task without clearly communicating your goals and objectives.  In some cases, you will be a hands-on leader, participating in the task and offering close supervision.  In other instances, you may assign a team leader, who will be charged with keeping you up-to-date on the task’s progress.

Communication must flow in several directions: How you articulate your message.  How others hear your words (the takeaway message). How well you listen to-and hear-what team members say.

Any glitch in these communication channels can lead to a major disconnect, even project failure.  And if you rush through communication efforts, rattling off details without ensuring clear messaging or ending a meeting with “Got it?  Okay, let’s do it,” you discourage team members from asking crucial questions that may make or break their endeavor.

3. Offer sufficient resources and autonomy. Teams fail when members lack the time and resources required to complete their assignment.  Perform a reality check.  Ask yourself how much time and how many tangible resources you would need to fulfill the project’s demands.  Next, determine whether your team, based on members’ experience levels, requires more, less, or the same amount of time.  Seek input from team members, asking them to honestly assess how long specific components of the task will take.  Your goal is to develop an accurate, realistic timeline.

If you have chosen a team leader to lead a task, allow this person to delegate responsibilities as she sees fit.  Make sure the leader knows the difference between delegation and abdication.  The team leader’s job is to set the vision, delineate strategies (often with the help of other team members), and provide the conditions and support needed for success.

As for autonomy, don’t micromanage your team (or team leader).  Give members an attainable goal and enough autonomy to complete it.  Monitor progress, but avoid being overly intrusive.  You’re the leader – not a babysitter.  Let team members feel empowered enough to embrace responsibilities and enjoy a sense of ownership.  Remind the team that you are available if anyone needs consultation.

4. Build self-efficacy. Team members must know that you have confidence in their abilities to complete a task.  They, in turn, must feel secure in meeting your goal.

If an employee feels uneasy about his role on the team, consider pairing him with a high-performing peer.  This strategy can help boost the self-assurance of an employee who has not yet achieved self-efficacy – an individual’s judgment of his ability to successfully complete a chosen task.  Team members’ self-efficacy will affect the choices they make when working on a task, as well as their doggedness when setbacks occur.  It’s your job as the leader to uncover the employees’ fears and barriers to success and alleviate their concerns, including shyness; self-consciousness; poor communication skills; fear of conflict; impatience with, or dislike of, other members of the team; and bias.

5. Hold team member accountable. Every team member should be held to the same standard of excellence, regardless of training or years of experience on the job.  While each person’s precise task will vary, all team members’ commitment to completing the job should be unwavering.

6. Conduct routine debriefings. Debriefings should focus on high and low points during the project’s run.  When you review your team’s completed work, note individual performance and provide meaningful praise.  Team members should be rewarded when they cooperate, coordinate, and share knowledge with coworkers.  And when a team member fails to cooperate or complete her task, speak with her in your office. The meeting should be private, but team members should know that it is taking place – and that there are consequences for failing to pull one’s weight or working well with others.

Before ending a debriefing, ask each team member to share thoughts on improving performance in the future: What would they change? Which steps could have been streamlined? Were any of the steps unnecessary? Were any steps overlooked? Are any procedures archaic…performed simply because they’ve always done it that way? Is a technology update in order? Was there any overlap or redundancy among team members’ jobs?

You may be surprised at the constructive feedback you receive.  Employees also appreciate that you value their opinions and suggestions, and that you’re willing to make changes that solidify future team efforts.

Contact me today to discuss how we can partner together to help develop your leaders and teams: email or call me at 858-638-8260.

  On Sale Now

Seven Disciplines of a Leader

  • Named One of the 11 Most Thought- Provoking Leadership Books of the Year 
  • Named One of 3 Books Small Business Owners & Leaders Should Read
  • Named one of 3 books to read by KYW-AM Philadelphia
  • “…like hiring a business coach; it will help you build leadership skills, improve your decision-making and become a more effective leader.” –Small Business Forum
  • “The great value of this book is found in his explanation of the “how” and “why.” In my opinion, the information, insights, and counsel he provides can be of incalculable value to middle managers who aspire to become leaders. Also, to those now preparing for a career in business or who have only recently embarked on one. There is another constituency to which I also highly recommend this book: Owner/CEOs of small to midsize, privately-owned companies who are eager to strengthen their skills in one or more of the areas that Wolf explores.” –Blogging on Business
  • “……is going to become a leadership classic. You’ll mark up every page you read as you spot valuable principles.” – Pat Williams, Co-founder and Senior Vice President of the NBA’s Orlando Magic
  • “…..describes state-of-the-art techniques that leaders at any level of the organization can use to improve their performance. His remarkable advice is sensible, easy to understand, and noteworthy.” -Marshall Goldsmith, author of the NY Times and global bestsellers: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, MOJO and Triggers.
  • “….delivers major benefits for its readers. It very effectively demonstrates how to build core leadership skills, improve decision making, interpersonal relations, and teamwork skills and reveals techniques of highly effective and dynamic leaders.” -Edgar Tu, former President, Home Entertainment of America, Sony Electronics
  • “….has given us a comprehensive list of the many ways that the aspiring or current manager can sharpen his leadership skills in order to be able to compete effectively in today’s challenging business environment.” – John A. Warden III, Colonel, USAF (retired) and author of Winning in Fast Time
  • “….he has laid out a flight plan to guide you through both blue skies and turbulence to achieve your leadership goals. He shows how successful leaders continue to learn and grow….reading it and absorbing its lessons will imbue you with the courage and confidence it takes to become a great leader. Consider it a flight plan to support you team and you en route to your destinations” – Howard Putnam, Former CEO Southwest Airlines and Braniff International
  • “…insightful and straightforward, a book you can put to use immediately. This book is not theory, it’s action.  Real case studies lead to real takeaways you can practice now.  Whether you are a new or experience leader, this book will make you better!” – Andrew Field, CEO, Printing for
  • “…is a seminal book on leadership in business, a groundbreaking study that leaders in any line of work can use to increase their effectiveness on the job. Its penetrating insights will be helpful for frontline supervisors, managers, and chief executive officers alike.” – Dale Sohn, former President and CEO, Samsung Telecommunications America

 All proceeds go to our wounded service men and women.

Retaining Top Performers in a Competitive Economy at The SHRM Blog

Logo for SHRM, the Society for Human Resource ManagementThe recession of 2008 is well behind us. Since then the economy has been steadily improving with companies growing and expanding and looking to staff openings with talented managers. It’s also the end of the year and the start of a new year coming soon, a time that companies set their hiring plans in motion. Count on executive recruiters putting on a full court press to steal your top performers, many of whom may be considering a change in the new year. And they’ll succeed unless you take the necessary steps needed to prevent a company brain drain.

See my full article at The SHRM Blog.

A Year of Seven Disciplines of a Leader

Almost a year ago my book with Wiley, Seven Disciplines of a Leader, was published. In the course of a year I’ve been amazed, pleased, and humbled by how my thoughts and advice to managers and leaders detailed in my book havebeen received. In addition to wonderful conversations on Twitter and this blog, in the past year I’ve been:

Invited to contribute articles:

Reviewed by:

“…like hiring a business coach; it will help you build leadership skills, improve your decision-making and become a more effective leader.”
Small Business Forum

“The great value of this book is found in his explanation of the “how” and “why.” In my opinion, the information, insights, and counsel he provides can be of incalculable value to middle managers who aspire to become leaders. Also, to those now preparing for a career in business or who have only recently embarked on one. There is another constituency to which I also highly recommend this book: Owner/CEOs of small to midsize, privately-owned companies who are eager to strengthen their skills in one or more of the areas that Wolf explores.”
Blogging on Business

Interviewed by:

And this is only a sample of the attention my book and I have received, and there’s even more in the pipeline! Many thanks to my PR and social media team David Ratner, Kama Timbrell, and Tess Woods, who all helped make this possible!

It’s been a wonderful year, and I hope to keep the momentum going.

My article, How Effective Leaders Handle Criticism at Fast Company

Fast Company LogoThis summer has been rife with criticism of high-profile leaders. Ellen Pao, former interim CEO of the online community Reddit, stepped down gracefully last month after facing a torrent of abuse. Then there’s Donald Trump, by far the most rambunctious face of the aspiring Republican presidential pool. The two offer great, contrasting examples of how leaders should handle criticism.

Read the whole article at Fast Company. How Effective Leaders Handle Criticism | Fast Company | Business + Innovation.