Beginning at my time in IMD Business School and continuing through my time building and growing TIGNUM, one of my passions has always been studying successful, high-performing teams. When I first met my friend and our Chief Performance Officer, Scott Peltin, I immediately started asking him questions about how he did this in his high-performing Fire Service teams. One time, I saw it for myself as I rode along with him as a Battalion Chief and saw the crews operating on a fire ground under his command. I expected to see some chaos on the fire ground, as portrayed in the movies; instead, I saw several small, extremely efficient teams doing amazing work. In reality, fire command didn’t sound or look like commanding - it was way too calm, way too organized, way too synergistic, and way too uneventful.
I find myself reflecting on that day as the small team we built together evolves into one of the high-performing teams I studied throughout my professional life. As CEO of a small company with a huge vision and great values (impact, innovation, fun, and freedom), my biggest fear is to detract from the power small teams have and become too status quo or bureaucratic. From the start of TIGNUM, I've asked myself, "How can we become a giant with small teams?" Interestingly enough, through the development of our QOT digital platform, work with the elite military special missions groups, and my relationship with one of my mentors, US Army Command Sargents Major (retired) Rob Lively, I have started to gain some clarity as to what makes the best, high-performing small teams.
Here are some of my insights:
_Great small teams are comprised of Sustainable High Impacters who have effective rituals to ensure they will show up every day and go home every day at their best. These teams don’t have much fluff, so everyone pulls their weight (both because of necessity and their passion for what they do).
_Great small teams have a complete understanding of what success looks like - there is no debate as to why they exist or what they are trying to achieve. This is not always easy to create, but the best teams have a culture where people quickly ask questions when there isn’t clarity.
This clarity is successfully achieved through a cycle of:
The cycle continues until 100% clarity is reached across project contributors.
_Great small teams have the autonomy to solve most of their challenges, problems, or issues. This means they are self-led more than I ever appreciated yet know when and how to quickly escalate concerns and risks when needed.
_Great small teams require that everyone puts their ego aside. I have learned that egos eat brains, strain relationships, and destroy Sustainable High Impact.
_Great small teams share a clear vision of who they are at their best, they support each other, and they hold each other accountable to their shared vision. Just as individuals have a self-image, so do teams. This self-image needs to be created together and relentlessly pursued. Internally, we call this “Being TIGNUM.” If someone on the team does a great job of demonstrating our vision of us at our best, we simply say, “Great job being TIGNUM.” The opposite is also true.
_Great small teams build in simple, effective, and repeatable processes and tools to help them do their work quickly, effectively, and efficiently. These tools may be how they run meetings, review and examine their mission, perform their after action-reviews, and develop processes they need to be agile and successful.
_Great small teams have fun along the way and celebrate their successes. I learned this during my ride along with Scott’s fire crews as they high fived each other after extinguishing a fire; I've seen it when great sports teams celebrate after a win, but I've found the fun, celebratory part of what these teams do to be missing in too many teams in the business world.
I’m sure we could grow this list together, but I wanted to share observations that I am passionate about, which may, in some small, way help you. As always, I would love to hear what you hear, so please send me your insights. Maybe together, we can change the world.