To Build a High Performing Team be more like John (Pizza can also help)

By Eric Spencer on January 15, 2019

The Guy Who Builds Incredible Teams

Have you ever wondered why some teams look and feel so amazing- even FUN? How do the leaders of these teams get the team to be so engaged and to look out for each other? The leaders of these teams are often pretty special people who seem to be deeply in tune with the people on their teams. Who doesn’t want to be one of those leaders?

Meet John

I recently had the luxury of working with such a person, we’ll call him John Smythe (I tossed in the “y” for added mystique). John and I were discussing the topic of “discretionary effort,” and I asked him how he got his people to go the extra mile for him. You see, John had a track record of building incredible teams, the members of which would seemingly do anything for him; I mean, his are the proverbial “take a bullet for the guy” kind of teams.

He just laughed and said, “Well, it’s pretty simple really, remember the Golden Rule? I just do that, but I do it a little unconventionally. When I take over a new team, I like to make my folks uncomfortable.” I was a little taken aback, as this wasn’t the golden rule explanation that I expected. He went on to tell me that he makes his people “uncomfortable” by telling them that he loves them. Yeah, L-O-V-E-S them. He doesn’t love them in an inappropriate or creepy way, he loves them as human beings; as in, he genuinely cares for their well-being. He told me how they never seem to believe him at first, and that’s OK.

Pizza is a Great Equalizer

John works in the oilfield, so he typically works a two-week “hitch.” This means he doesn’t live where he works, so on the weekends that he’s working, he seizes those opportunities to build relationships with his people. He relayed a story of heading out to the field on a Saturday afternoon with a “stack of pizzas.” John went to each of his site locations, shared pizza with his people, and learned about their lives. He didn’t just ask about their work lives, but their whole lives. He asked about their families, kids, dogs, favorite baseball teams, whether they were Chevy or Ford guys, where they lived, and what they believed about all manner of things. For many of these folks, this was the first time a supervisor or manager had ever asked anything about them.

John told me that, in time, the team begins to believe him when he says that he loves them, and they start to act similarly toward each other. “That’s where the magic happens,” he told me. “Once we hit that tipping point, my job gets really easy, because the entire team manages itself. The folks simply look out for each other and hold each other accountable.”

John is Awesome, Be Like John

How can we all be like John? Apparently, it’s really easy:
  • One Up The Golden Rule– Treat people better than you want to be treated. Raise the bar. Get to know your team, your peers, or co-workers. Learn what matters to them, who matters to them, and why they get up every morning and come to work.
  • Relationships Matter– If you’re honest about it, relationships are all we have in this life. They are the currency with which we navigate both our personal and professional lives. The richer they are, the richer we are. Find as many ways as possible to show your team that you care for them as individuals.
  • Win Their Hearts, Get Their Minds for Free – It may seem counter-intuitive, especially in the oilfield where employees can be pretty tough. It turns out that they are just as human as the rest of us, and pizza is a great equalizer. By simply investing time in your teammates, you’ll begin to win their hearts. As hearts are won, engagement, productivity, even safety behaviors increase.
  • Flex to Meet Them Where They Are – One of the most interesting things about John was that he seemed so comfortable around anyone. It didn’t matter if that person was an Engineer, a Geophysicist, or a Floorhand, he flexed his style, body posture, and even speech patterns to help make the other person feel more comfortable. It’s not rocket science, it’s just tuning into the other person’s social cues and mirroring them. John is a master at making people feel comfortable (just as he is at making them feel “uncomfortable”).
Recently, I was facilitating a workshop when John popped his head in to say hello. It turned out that he had three of his team members in my course. I watched him work the room, introducing himself, and saying hello. When he got to the table with his people, he solidly shook hands with one gentleman and asked him how he was. They chatted for a second, and John looked a little pensive. He said, “what, I don’t get a hug?” John’s a self-professed hugger. It’s one of the ways he demonstrates his care and concern for his people. The other guy said, “Awww, c’mon, you’re not gonna make me do it in front of all these people are you?” John said, “I’d never make you do anything, man.” At which point, the other guy was already standing up – he said “bring it in,” and hugged him like a big bear. It was a big moment.

Ever since then, I make it my mission to be a little more like John, every day.
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