Teaming out is a characteristic behavior of the most effective executive teams, and one that my research institute has decoded as a high-return practice. Through 20 years of coaching, I’ve seen it speed collaboration and accelerate growth. Teaming out also helps mitigate unrecognized risk–in Fortune 500 companies, midmarket brands, and startups. Here’s how it works.
Most of us still see our teams as the people who report to us–an outdated way of thinking. The real question is, whom do you need to get the job done? In my first book, Never Eat Alone, I proposed relationship action planning. We all have financial plans. We all have a to-do list. But where is your relationship action plan? Your team is an undercurated entity, and you need to identify the relationships critical to its success, and then take a disciplined and proactive approach to building those relationships. Like anything else that’s important, you need to measure it. I use a 0-to-5 scale. If someone rates a 0, they don’t even know who we are and they don’t care about our work. If they hit 5, they are under the tent with us, serving the team’s mission. Understanding that you need to curate relationships is the bedrock of teaming out.
The Five Circles
Think of teaming out in terms of five concentric circles, starting with the executive team. That first circle is the exec team resolving to put mission first and share the leadership load. This is the principle that the highest-performing teams all share, which I call co-elevation, a belief in going higher together, and it’s a fast track to game-changing results. (You’ll find tools and resources at coelevation.com.)
The second circle is bringing in whomever you need from inside the company. Forget turf. Who has the talent or expertise you need to get the job done?
The third circle is to go beyond individuals and engage the whole organization. There’s a great example from Paylocity, the payroll and human capital management software company, when it rediscovered its founding spirit after Covid-19 hit. Michael Haske, Paylocity’s president and COO, explains: “We’ve always acted like a small company, even though we’re big. But one thing that sneaked up on us is that we stopped being as collaborative and cross-functional as we had been at our roots. We recognized, in the middle of this hurricane, that the best thing we could do is get back to that; let’s stand up cross-functional teams the way we used to and say to people, ‘You guys solve it.’ It was a great opportunity, and people stepped up.”
The fourth circle is bringing in clients. Look at sectors with tight supply-chain quality-control protocols like pharmaceuticals and automotive, or how the chemical industry works with consumer goods makers, and you’ll find examples of deep supplier-client partnerships that unleash innovation.
The final circle is working with other entrepreneurs. I’ve been teaming out with a community of like-minded leaders exploring the post-pandemic landscape in a project called Go Forward to Work. Teaming out is also where remote working creates the ability to dial in the critical friend you need in real time to bulletproof an idea or embolden your thinking.
The challenge of teaming out is defining the team according to the scope and scale of the task–not the org chart. The pursuit of transformation is a team sport. The prize is a team win.