Teams of Soloists

December 3, 2019



Sales teams are like golf and tennis teams: groups of individual performers who can be “successful” even if their teammates aren’t.  I spoke with Division-I Tennis and Golf coaches about how they motivate players to care as deeply about team results as their own performance. 


Here are three lessons:


1. Obsessively create a team-first culture and repeat it constantly.  Coaches consistently emphasize team over individual. In business, we have customers to prioritize, so perhaps something like Customer > Team > Individual fits into your culture. For culture to become authentic, it must be a part of every team meeting and coaching conversation, not just a talking point at kickoff.


If not properly coached, a golfer who is performing well below their personal best could become demotivated and careless.  Proper team culture will motivate them to keep grinding to prevent a 75 from becoming 76, knowing it could be the stroke that loses a tournament for the team.


Imagine a rep capable of 100%+ who is tracking to 85%. The gap from 85% to 83% could mean the difference for team target achievement with implications for huge portions of your organization.  


2. Team camaraderie is critical. Individuals are less likely to accept a disappointing result, if they know it’ll impact someone they care about. We must spend time knowing each other as people.  At Mintel, we spend time in each team meeting asking a member to talk about who they are.  We’ve learned about colleagues as standup comics, photographers and theater moms.  It’s far more natural to care for a person we know than an anonymous colleague. Team meals and events promote authentic connections across teams and will cultivate these bonds. 


3. Recruitment dictates future results.  Coaches with whom I spoke primarily look for character during recruitment.  They look at reactions to bogies to understand responses to adversity, and note whether they’re dealing with the student or their parent as a gauge for accountability. 


At Mintel, we’re interested in humility: how many times does a candidate talk about “we” and who earns credit for success in their stories?  The personalities we hire today will dictate who we are for years to come. 


Teamwork matters because it affects the bottom line and, equally important, makes life more enjoyable.  Consider that an individual horse can pull 4 tons; two horses that are trained together can pull 16 tons… 4x what an individual can do.  What’s your Team capable of when they’re in sync?

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