Great Teams Do Not Happen by Accident: How to Intentionally Build a Stellar Team

“The old adage ‘People are your most important asset’ turns out to be wrong. People are not your most important asset. The right people are.” – Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t

If you have read my 7-Step Success Formula booklet, then you may be familiar with step number three: Building Your Team. We are the company that we keep, and it is important to be cognizant of the “team” with which we surround ourselves. This is crucial in both our professional and personal lives. In the sixth part of this leadership series, we will outline the key principles to building a stellar team.

I am not the first, neither will I be the last, to emphasize why it is so critical to develop a team selectively and deliberately before embarking on your team’s mission. Many of us might assume that it is skills and expertise that should top your list of qualifiers when building a high performing team. While this is true to a great degree, equally important is assessing an individual’s attitude and willingness to contribute to the greater good of the team. Michael Smith, author-journalist and authority on the history of polar exploration, retells the story of Ernest Shackleton. He focuses specifically on Shackleton’s crew recruitment practices. Smith begins by saying, “What mattered most was whether the candidate appealed to Shackleton. He once said that the four great qualities needed to be an explorer were: optimism, patience, imagination and courage.” While some may describe his method of recruitment as eccentric, Smith mentions that “Shackleton could also pick a rose from the thorns and his instinct for recruiting loyal, dependable men from the rougher side of life was often crucial. … [T]hey proved to be invaluable assistants, particularly in the most challenging circumstances when lives were at risk.”

When the time comes for you to build your team, here are my recommendations. First, be aware of hiring individuals with negative dispositions and a habit of complaining without resolve or solutions. This can deteriorate the morale of you’re the team over time. Second, each member of the team should offer unique and relevant skills that equally contribute to the team’s success as a whole. Third, you must consider a person’s willingness and mentality of working together towards the greater good of their team.

Jim Collins affirms the importance of having the right people on your team using the bus analogy. Specifically, he advises that before deciding where the bus is going (a team’s mission), you must first have the right people on the bus (members of the team) and they need to be in the right seats (team members are in the right roles). As I have built several successful teams, I have come to learn that the direction of a bus is not always set it stone. As the leader, you must be ready for detours and difficult unexpected turns. However, when you have the right team in place, you can navigate the rough waters like Shackleton and his crew. When your team is committed to one another, they have greater resilience as a unit and ability to respond to changes in the team’s mission. The direction of the bus can change without members either getting off the bus, creating resistance and negativity on the bus, or crashing the bus entirely.

Collins takes the bus analogy further, stating that having the right people on the bus is not enough. The right people must be in the right seats; you must assign the right roles to the members on your team, accentuating each individual’s strengths as it aligns to the team’s mission. Donald O. Clifton lists two important considerations in Now, Discover Your Strengths: The revolutionary Gallup program that shows you how to develop your unique talents and strengths, “1. Each person’s talents are enduring and unique. 2. Each person’s greatest room for growth is in the areas of his or her greatest strength.” This reinforced perspective of focusing on “maximizing […] strengths, never [on] fixing […] weaknesses” does not mean we choose to turn a blind eye to our weaknesses. Instead, amplify the strengths of your team members, and each person will be afforded the opportunity to sharpen their skills to help create a more reliable and higher performing unit. It is then through measurable competencies and key performance indicators that a teams’ strengths can be calibrated and aligned accordingly to the overall mission.

Lastly, knowing when and how to release the wrong people from your team is just as important as assembling the right people for your team. Collins claims that a “culture of discipline” is critical for organizations seeking greatness. This means training your people to operate within consistent processes with clear controls and expectations. It is within these defined environments that we see teams excel and succeed (Make sure to check out part four of my leadership series – People vs. Process: How to Successfully Handle the Conflict When They Collide). However, there will come a time when some members of your team may not be hitting the mark. Taking the time to coach and assess these individuals will help you identify your next steps. Sometimes it may be reassigning that person to a new role. However, it may mean that they are not the right person for the team. It can sometimes be challenging, but effectively assessing and releasing the wrong people from the team is an equally critical leadership task – especially after you have moved them to different seats on the bus, and it is still clear they are on the wrong bus. Procrastinating the termination of under performers who are unreceptive to feedback and coaching will leach energy from your team, eventually leaving you with nothing but a team that is burnt out and frustrated; and often, with many of your stellar team members gone.

Teams can make or break any venture. Teams are built one member at a time. If your team members are selected conscientiously, you can build a stellar team. Likewise, if you let just anyone on your team, you can expect problems. It is better to delay a hire, than hire the wrong person. In conclusion, stack your team with the best of the best. Assign the members of your team to the role that suits their skills and maximizes their strengths. Lastly, don’t waste any time removing the wrong people from your team. The principles outlined here will support the first step to achieving any mission – building a stellar team!

Want more? Check out my free 7-Step Success Formula booklet at

If you missed the first 5 parts of this series, you can read them here.

Part 1 – Women Have a Limited Pool of Mentors and Even More Dearth of Sponsors

Part 2 – Emotional Intelligence – What Is it? Do You have it? How to develop it?

Part 3 – Leadership vs. Management – Distinct, But Not Mutually Exclusive

Part 4 – People vs. Process: How to Successfully Handle the Conflict When Both Collide

Part 5 – Mastery: The Relentless Pursuit of Self-Improvement