12 Dec Secrets of High Performing Teams – The Sacagawea Crucible Expedition

On a recent expedition, our singular aim was to learn the secret of what makes a high performing team. Our hypothesis was that diversity, and diversity of thought, are the differentiators. What we learned was not what we expected.

Picture via Dan Marostica – captured the essence of the Crucible on his office whiteboard.

The Self-Reliant Leadership Crucible Expedition is designed for executives and veterans to take their leadership abilities to new levels… and take insights back to their teams. Our goal is to make the challenge and intensity of the expedition map to today’s business climate.

For this particular expedition, the team was comprised of 12 people:

5 veterans – 1989 West Point grad, 2009 West Point grad, Army Special Operations Sergeant Major, Air Force veteran, a retired Green Beret Lt. Colonel.

5 women – from Nike, Intel, Launch Consulting, Aramark, and a videographer.

7 men – from Western Union, Army Special Operations, CoBiz Financial, consultant, and a serial entrepreneur.

The trip involved a team-building exercise where the two leaders of the day divided the group into two teams. One leader was the quietest of the group; and one leader is a trainer at heart. The goal was for each team to select a site, and build an effective shelter for six people that would suit for a minimum of four days.

The shelters couldn’t have been more different:

Shelter A was perfect. Sturdy, solid, wind-proof, and tall enough to stand in.

Shelter B was adequate. A low-lying lean-to.

Shelter A team got down to business, and had the tasks spelled out in time hacks.

Shelter B focused on having fun, and even imagined a gazebo, Jacuzzi, and wine.

Shelter A would have survived no problem. Physically.

Shelter B would have survived no problem. Mentally.

Shelter A had a team of 5 men and 1 woman.

Shelter B had a team of 4 women and 2 men.

The trainer at heart was the leader of Shelter A – a man.

The quiet leader was the leader of Shelter B – a woman.

Who selected the two teams? The Shelter B leader – a woman.

The surprise – the Shelter B leader never gave gender a thought when she divided up the teams. She was only thinking of strengths, expertise, who hadn’t worked with who, and who might benefit from working with certain other people. No one in the entire group even realized the teams weren’t gender balanced, and the sentiment during the evening debrief was that the only thing that matters is performance.

The main take-away was that when you have a diverse team, it’s not something that comes up, because a diverse team performs, and is laser-focused on results.

So… the secret is… it’s up to leaders to work very hard recruiting, developing and promoting a diverse team to create a high performing team. Diversity in people leads to diversity of thought. And it’s unacceptable to say, “I hired the best candidates, and my team is my team.” Creating a diverse team requires an intentional and purposeful approach to recruiting. As the leader, you owe it to your organization to create a team comprised of courage, compassion, and an unwavering commitment to the mission… and each other.

Lastly, the team was asked to define three aspects of high-performing teams, and to come up with a collective definition they could take back to the teams at their organizations:

First – define a high performing team: One that maintains synergy while accomplishing a common goal.”

Second – define shared accountability: One that “places the team’s success above individual accomplishments.”

Third – define how team performance is measured: They “complete the task on a given timeline.”

Watch the documentary to see how the insights mentioned above played out!




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