Leadership Simplified: Doug Van Dyke


Teamwork Tips For Leaders

Volume: February-mid 2011

By Doug Van Dyke, Leadership Simplified, www.leadershipsimplified.com


Recently I spoke to a group about teamwork. While it is always fun to speak publicly, this occasion was especially festive because awards were being bestowed on their employees of the month, as well as their team of the year. In a sense I was preaching to the choir about teamwork, nevertheless, we celebrated team successes and reaffirmed four keys to great teamwork. Now I could have easily listed 30 elements of teamwork, but there was only time to address a handful. The items discussed during the keynote speech were as follows:


  1. Trust – A strong sense of trust is the foundation of every high-functioning team. Trust is built by doing what we say we are going to do. In other words, integrity builds trust. A team culture that is built on integrity creates a reliability factor that permeates the organization and delivers solid results.

Example: In the early days of the space program, one of the NASA astronauts had some butterflies about his upcoming mission to the moon. He was on the first mission to explore the lunar surface. He approached NASA’s lead engineer to learn more about the technical aspects of the mission. The engineer was brutally honest with the astronaut. He said: “I don’t know how we are going to get you to the moon. And once you are there, I don’t know how we are going to get you back home.” After a pause, the engineer added one more comment that strangely calmed the astronaut and gave him confidence that the mission would be successful. The engineer added: “If you don’t make it to the moon, or if you don’t make it back, it won’t be because of me.” Pointing to his chest own chest, the engineer reiterated: “It won’t be because of me.” This “take responsibility” attitude permeated NASA during the Apollo missions. Because people took individual responsibility, a deep sense of trust flowed through the entire organization. The feeling of trust helped everyone in NASA work with more confidence. The entire team became confident that they would land astronauts on the moon, and bring them home. Their mission was ultimately, wildly successful.


  1. Expectations – Far too many team members go about pursing goals without sharing clear expectations of what they expect from their teammates. By not sharing your expectations of excellence with those around you, a feeling of simply “meeting expectations” may result. If you are reading this newsletter, you are the not the type of professional who simply wants to meet expectations. Teams begin to perform at a high level when two actions occur: First, individual team members strive to do their best; Second, team members communicate that they expect their teammates to perform at a high level. There is power when peers hold each other to high standards.

Example: The Green Bay Packers just won their fourth Super Bowl. It pains me to write this, as I was born in Chicago. Nevertheless, those pesky cheeseheads are champs again – congrats. Aaron Rodgers, their outstanding quarterback, was the MVP of the Super Bowl. It was a breakout year for Aaron as he led his team both on and off the field. On the field he performed magnificently – just as he expected himself to do. In the locker room, however, he was a leader as well. He frequently, passionately communicated to his teammates that he expected them to perform with excellence. Over the course of the season several of his teammates commented about Aaron’s locker room leadership  during press conferences. They stated that Aaron Rodgers told them, repeatedly, that he not only expected them to catch the ball, but also to get a first down, or a touchdown, or to make something positive happen. He expected great blocking, outstanding running, and teamwork. Well, on February 6, 2011 (my birthday, by the way), Aaron Rodgers’ teammates performed superbly, as did Aaron. The result was success. The result was a championship!


  1. Feedback – I was tempted to place communication here, but high-performing teams possess the quality of trust - which carries the added advantage of team members being able to share candid feedback with each other. Yes, yes feedback is a type of communication. However, if delivered correctly it can be quite impactful. When sharing feedback, high-performing team members tend to be very specific – with praise, as well as constructive criticism. In addition, feedback that possesses the most stickability contains roughly three positive items to every one constructive item offered. Effective feedback reinforces good team habits, and catches unmet expectations before they turn into major issues.

Example: Tina was a leader at a large distribution company, which was having a few quality and morale issues. She wanted to address the situation, but was unsure of a proper plan of attack. Tina and I brainstormed on the issue in order to flesh out a variety of paths for her to follow. The first strategy she implemented involved actions that she could directly control. She decided that for one full week she would embrace a mantra of “catching people doing something right.” In sum, Tina began to share a bevy of very specific compliments with her team members on the good things they did. Even after one week the atmosphere in her work unit was improved – they began to catch her doing things right as well, so it contained unexpected side benefits. The next week, she began to implement a 3-positive to 1-constructive feedback strategy. Something interesting happened: because she was so specific on the positives that her team was accomplishing, they were open-minded to the one, very specific, piece of constructive feedback she shared. Over the ensuing months, Tina was brilliantly consistent with regard to sharing feedback in a three-to-one ratio, as well as being very specific with the praise portion of the program. The final result was a terrific improvement in morale, and an error rate that plummeted.


  1. Leadership Influence – This is the portion of the program where I get to share Doug Van Dyke’s definition of leadership: “Leaders impact culture.” Leadership can be located anywhere in an organization – top to bottom to sideways. But the true leaders are the people who are shaping and influencing the culture of the organization. Leadership is not about title, it is about influence - and leaders can shape an organization in a positive direction, or a not so positive direction.

Example: Elliott (name changed to protect the guilty) owned a service-based business. He was interested in having his team engage in a workplace team building initiative in order to help them focus more on goal attainment and to reduce a feeling of “us versus them” between their sales and operations units. Prior to the initiative Elliott stated that “No one in this company takes deadlines seriously.” He also mentioned that there was tension between a small group of sales people and the operations group that made up the lion’s share of the company headcount. As the starting time of 8:00am on the day of the initiative approached, 21 of the 24 invited attendees were in their seats. At 8:00am sharp the facilitator turned to Elliott and asked: “Shall we get started?” That is when the source of the company’s major issues became clear. Elliott stated: “Well, we are missing three people, let’s give them 10-minutes to get here and then we will start.” There was an audible groan from the team, and the facilitator was shocked. What Elliott had done was to punish good behavior, people arriving on time, and stroked the bad behavior of arriving late. In addition, he had shown favoritism to the people who were not yet seated. It was no wonder that the team did not take deadlines seriously – the owner of the company was laissez-faire with regard to them.


At 8:10am the three tardy team members arrived – the sales team. The initiative began and it turned out to be a successful event. The real work, however, lay ahead. After the day’s event, the facilitator met with Elliott and brought to his attention that it was, more than likely, his actions were creating/reinforcing the major challenges faced by his company. Fortunately, Elliott was receptive to the feedback, as well as to adjusting his behaviors to be more consistent with the desired expectations he had for his team. He began to start meetings on time, and played no favorites. People got the message and deadlines began to be met. The sales team also became more integrated with the overall team. To this day, years later, Elliott embraces the notion that his behaviors drive the habits and shape the culture of his company.    


Bottom Line: Effective teamwork is a force multiplier. It drives productivity. It reinforces morale. It delivers results. Leaders impact the culture of organizations. In essence, the deliverables you desire are well within your control – lead wisely and enjoy the journey.  


Doug Van Dyke is a leadership and collaboration consultant, executive coach, and strategic planner. He is also the author of Leadership Simplified – THE Field Guide for Savvy Leaders.  Doug’s audios and videos are also available atwww.leadershipsimplified.com. To learn more about consulting services, coaching, and training, or to have Doug help your team work together better, contact him today at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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