8 Steps to Building a Strong Team Culture

Why is teamwork so important? Because the best of the best never have a goal they can accomplish alone. The best of the best realize that they need to build a world-class team around them to get to those crazy, challenging finish lines, especially in times of change. If you want to win in the long run, you need to choose teammates who are not necessarily the best at each skill needed for the journey, but the best PEOPLE for the journey. In other words, when times are tough, you don’t simply want the best team MEMBERS, but the best team MATES. When people are not just at work or on a race course WITH each other but FOR each other, that’s when the magic happens.


Building a world class team and a strong team culture is all about the 8 Essential Elements of Human Synergy. And if everyone in your team operates with these elements in the forefront of their heart and mind, you’re going to succeed!


The 8 Essential Elements of Human Synergy

Human synergy basically says we are better together than we will ever be alone, and that the outcomes we are able to achieve together are so much greater than the sum of our individual strengths, skills, and talents. And most importantly, human synergy says that we’re not just walking side by side towards a common goal. We are figuratively, and in some cases literally, carrying each other and creating that wonderful interdependence that gets us across difficult finish lines.


So what are those 8 essential elements of human synergy? It’s an acronym for teamwork and it’s something that my teammates and I discovered in the quest to win what the Discovery Channel called the “Toughest Races on Earth”, the Eco Challenge and the Raid Gauloises. In these 7-10 day long ultra-endurance Adventure Races, mixed gender teams of 4 travel together for 600-1000 miles, navigating only with a map and compass, and using only non motorized forms of transportation like kayaking, mounting biking, mountaineering, rope work, whitewater swimming, etc. And if we had even one teammate quit along the way, our entire team would be disqualified. So the winning teams like ours learned quickly that caring about one another as much as we cared about ourselves, and creating those meaningful connections to our teammates, was truly the key to success.

Let’s take a look at what makes the great teams great! Especially when the goals are huge, the stakes are high, and change is the only thing that says the same….


The 8 Essential Elements of Human Synergy:


T— Total Commitment

E— Empathy and Awareness

A—Adversity Management Skills

M—Mutual Respect

W—WE Thinking (vs Me thinking)

O—Ownership of the Project

R—Relinquishment of Ego

K—Kinetic Leadership (Be the Leader your team needs in the moment)


1) Total Commitment

Total commitment means that there’s no space left for having a plan B. Why? Because it distracts the whole team from plan A. If you want to win, everybody has to be on the same bus and the bus is going all the way to the finish line with no stops. If everybody on your team has that total commitment to the mission and inspires that commitment in one another, there’s no finish line that’s too far away! Total commitment is a matter of what I like to call the 4 Ps:

Planning – Everyone must be heading to the same place on the map, totally on board with the mission, vision, values, strategy, and tactics. And that plan and all updates must be consistently communicated to the rest of the team. It’s also a great idea to get your team members’ input about those plans along the way.


Purpose – What is your organization’s WHY? No matter how strong and inspired you and your teammates are, you need to have a strong WHY—something greater than yourselves that consistently inspires the team when the going gets tough.


Perseverance – Going the extra mile for everyone you serve, and never letting your feelings affect your performance. A world class team shows their commitment to one another and your goals, in not how they feel, but in what they consistently DO.


Preparation – The luckiest people on earth are always the most well prepared. Because LUCK=Opportunity + Preparation. So, if you have truly world class preparation, and you put that together with opportunities that you proactively create, you suddenly become the “luckiest” team in the world.


2) Empathy and Awareness

This is all about human connection. Because at the end of the day, we don’t work for companies, we work for people. Sometimes leaders lose their focus on people and purely focus on the goal. But the success of the mission completely depends on your teams’ relationship with one another. If you want to be a great leader with a great team by your side that you can trust and that can trust you, you need to be the kind of person that people want to work with and work FOR, and demonstrate that every day with your empathy for them and your awareness of their wants, needs, whys, goals, dreams and how to lift their spirits when things don’t go as planned.


3) Adversity Management Skills

Adversity management means learning how to fully embrace change. Because if there’s one thing that we all know, especially after the last few years, it’s that change is the only thing that is ever going to stay the same in our lives. It’s really how we respond to change, day in and day out, that dictates our success in the long run. And a lot of your ability to embrace change as a springboard to future success is based upon your attitude: world class teams see challenges versus roadblocks, are ruled by the hope of success versus the fear of failure, define themselves by their COMEBACKS, and not their setbacks, and when things are truly sideways and ludicrous, they inspire each other to simply laugh and embrace the suck!


4) Mutual Respect

How do we inspire mutual respect? We build that respect on a team by being the teammate that always has all of our team members’ backs, that shuts down any negativity and gossip, and who shares their authentic self with the team, even if that means being vulnerable. World class teams also believe in each other beyond reason—because what happens when we believe in people? They rise to the occasion. Believing in your team members gives them the confidence to share their strengths AND their challenges with the team. Last but not least, give your teammates respect as a GIFT and not as a GRADE. When people understand that everyone on the team is walking side by side with them, and they have confidence in one another’s good faith, trust, constancy, and affection, they’re not just co-workers, but friends, and ultimately, family—Truly the hallmark of a winning team culture!


5) WE Thinking (vs Me thinking)

The essence of being a We Thinker is this African Proverb— If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together….

WE thinkers are people who see the world full of teammates everywhere they look. The whole world is their team and every interaction with another human being is an opportunity to create a win-win.

WE thinkers realize that, in order to get to the finish line, no matter how big or small a goal is, you need to build an amazing team around you that you can count on. The moment you accept that you can’t possibly have all the answers and that there are other wonderful potential teammates out there who have strengths, skills, background, and experience that you may not have, you’re on your way to building a worldclass team that will help you achieve more than you ever imagined.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Being a WE thinker doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to have team goals. You can be a WE thinker and have completely individual goals. For example, an Olympic gymnast has a team of coaches, therapists, nutritionists, a supportive family network, etc, even though they may be ultimately standing on the podium with a medal alone. But they would never be there without their team.

When you have huge, hairy audacious goals, it’s very much like trying to get to the peak of a mountain. During the steep and dangerous sections of the climb, people literally rope up to one another. Why? They not only “rope up” for safety (it’s a major bonus to have a team that can pull you out of a crevasse), but it’s also to have immediate access to other great friends and problem solvers who all hold the key to one another’s success. So who can you rope up to for your journey to your next goal? And how can you be a Sherpa (and carry some extra weight in your area of strength) for others?


6) Ownership

How do we create that 100% “buy in” from every member of the team? You either hire the inspired, or inspire your hires. Not that you’re necessarily in a position to hire people, but when you’re choosing people to bring onto your team for whatever mission lies ahead, consider these key factors to teambuilding success….


Hire the Inspired:

When you bring new people onto your team within your business or in your life, make sure that they are not only capable of performing at a world class level, but that they are truly inspired at a deep level by your vision, mission, values and the people served by your organization. Many jobs can be learned, but inspiration is an inside job, and in many cases, that real sense of purpose and ownership of outcomes is of equal importance to the technical side of the job.


Inspire Your Hires:

How do we inspire people who are currently on our team? Here are a few key ways to create real ownership of your mission and outcomes:

– Discover teammates’ strengths and let them lead in those areas of strength, experience, and ability

– Ask your teammates what they are hoping to get out of working with you and your organization. In other words, what is their “why”? What inspires them to do their best? I guarantee you will get as many different answers as you have teammates. Everyone has a different reason/goal for why they do what they do, and it’s not always the drive for more money. Some teammates want mentorship (someone who “sees” them and their potential and can help them move forward), others want recognition, etc. If you can discover what that is for each teammate and help them get it, you’ll create a great deal of ownership.

– Ask for teammates’ input on strategy, tactics and goals. People tend to embrace that which they help create!


7) Relinquishment of Ego

My teammates and I lived by one very important rule: Leave your ego at the start line. It’s the heaviest thing in your pack! How do we show our teammates we’ve left our ego at the start line?

Here are my three favorite (and simple!) strategies….


Ask for Help and Accept Help–It’s a Gift to the Helper:

One of the tell tale signs that you’ve got great teammates is how willing they are to rely on one another and to ask each other for help when they need it, without the fear that they will appear “weak”, but with the understanding that, in helping one another, they will ultimately help the team succeed. This is easy in an adventure race, where we very literally need help to keep moving forward. In the business world, most of us are, understandably, reluctant to ask for help. If asking for help or accepting help is hard for you, think of accepting help as a “gift” to the helper. It always is! Doesn’t it make you feel great when you’re able to advise or guide a colleague? Give that give to others and let them help you. You’ve also created a great bond between yourself and your teammates when you do. Bottom line is that you haven’t used all of your strength as a leader or teammate until you’ve asked for help.


Give Away the Credit:

A great way to continue to inspire your teammates and build solid bonds with them is to consistently give away credit for success to everyone on the team. You’ve seen the best of the best do this in sports, ala Michael Jordan, who inherently understood that his teammates would work harder to set him up for success when they trusted him to share the credit. The same is true in business. When we gracefully share credit for our success with others, the right teammates will do the same in return. Ultimately the *team* wins when competitiveness is replaced by loyalty, respect, and the trust that all teammates’ names will be on that symbolic trophy.


Feed your Ego with your Team’s Success–Not your Individual Glory:

Our ego is a powerful force, but as is the case with all powerful forces, we must harness it for good versus evil. None of us got to a high level in our careers without a strong ego. But world class teammates feed their ego by helping the *team* succeed: When they are the strongest team member, they demonstrate that strength by helping someone else versus getting to the top of the mountain ahead of the pack; If they are the smartest or most capable teammate at the moment, they offer that wisdom and guidance to the team, or mentor others; And, most importantly, when they are the most challenged teammate at the time, they raise their hand and ask for help, knowing that accepting help is the best thing they can do to help their team get across the finish line first!


8) Kinetic Leadership

On a world class team, leadership consistently flows and changes, from a couple of different Perspectives….


Changing Leaders:

There is a big difference between management and leadership. Being a manager implies that you are the person formally charged with directing and facilitating the success of others. But a leader is someone who INSPIRES others to be at their best, and who is prepared to step into a leadership role and be the person to drive the success of the team based upon their strengths and not their title. Therefore, everyone on the team should be ready to lead (and expected to lead!), and the best managers will allow those “informal” leaders to continually emerge. After all, the most important job of a leader is to create other leaders.


Changing Leadership Styles:

It’s poetic and powerful to watch a great leader step up to the plate and become exactly whom their teammates need at the moment. The best Teambuilders know their teammates well, and are constantly listening for, assessing, and striving to deeply understand the needs of each individual and the team as a whole, so that they may maximize potential and outcomes. When it’s business as usual, a team sometimes needs a visionary, a coach, a friend, or to feel like they’re part of the decision making…in times of great challenge or change the team often needs a strong pacesetter to get out front and show them the way or to simply tell them exactly what to do and when (…to be utilized sparingly! But as a firefighter, I appreciate those leadership styles when we roll up on a house engulfed with flames.


Bottom line: leadership styles should be utilized and interchanged similar to the way a golfer chooses his clubs: If we continually assess conditions, learn the lay of the land and choose just the right club for the job, we increase our chances of long term, consistent success from our team.


A Strong Team Culture

When it comes to reaching our craziest goals and crossing our most challenging finish lines, we’re all in an adventure race, right? So let me send you off on your next adventure race with a personal toast: May you always have such huge hairy audacious goals that you can never accomplish them alone, and may you be the kind of leader that builds and inspires a world class team that will grab a tow line from one another, leave their egos at the start line, completely commit to one another and the mission, and even carry each other every step of the way.

Are you ready to race?!