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Much of the new work in companies today is being done with cross-functional teams. We are most familiar with teams in the world of sports. A number of lessons learned on the field are applicable to the business team. Yet we often fail to approach the work team with the same zest that we enter the after-work contest on the baseball diamond or tennis court. Why is that? The short answer is that managers need to learn to become sideline coaches and let the team play the game. Here’s some common wisdom we have gathered from successful teams, on which we have played and worked:

1. The number one factor for team success is a clear focus on a common goal. If you don’t know your destination, you will never arrive.
2. The goal should be challenging and realistic. If it’s impossible to achieve, no one will play the game. If it’s a cakewalk, no one will stay awake.
3. “Sign-up” for the goal. Make a visible and specific commitment to reach the goal.
4. “Own” the problem you are trying to solve. If it’s “somebody else’s problem” then you haven’t taken ownership.
5. Identify clear roles for everyone. Know your “team captain,” “star forward” and utility “full back.”
6. Set clear milestones. Know where your first down markers are and work to achieve them.
7. Use inclusive and open communication. Ensure that everyone gets to play. Make noise, talk it up, and post it on the bulletin board.
8. Use consensus decision making wherever possible. Consensus is about hearing everyone’s idea and concerns. It is universal assent, not universal agreement.
9. Keep score. “Teams that don’t keep score are only practicing.” –Tom Malone, president of Milliken & Co.
10. Be flexible and adaptable. Remember: the only constant is change. Learn to roll with the punches.
11. Keep a positive attitude and a healthy sense of humor. One of the best ways to cut through the stress of a hard-working team is to laugh.
12. Celebrate the wins. Each milestone you pass, as well as the final goal, deserves a party.

The Top Ten Guidelines for Successful Teams:

From the IDC Case study:

1. We had an immediate problem to solve: 93% of quota and the need to increase sales
2. We all “owned” the problem of low sales
3. A clear and challenging goal was present: reaching 150% of quota
4. There was a clear benefit and reward for achieving the goal: we all go to Maui.
5. We had a specific, measurable and realistic objective: to double face-to-face calls
6. We took a risk and “signed up” for a challenge: the bottle of wine bet
7. We published frequent results for all to see: the hallway flip chart of call tallies
8. We took ownership and initiative for results: we chased the sales reps for calls.
9. We were all committed to working together: the December push in particular
10. We celebrated as if we won the Super Bowl!
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