Building a Team? It Takes More Than Just the Right People

Author: Casey Gale       


Adam Bryant interviewed more than 500 leaders about their secrets to success, including the importance of teamwork, when he wrote for the New York Times column, “Corner Office.” (Courtesy Adam Bryant)

Successful events take teamwork. But those teams, according to Adam Bryant, should be “about more than finding a group of people with the right mix of professional skills.” Bryant would know — as the creator of The New York Times’ Corner Office” interview series, he has spoken to more than 500 leaders about their secrets to success, including the importance of teamwork. In a recent New York Times piece, Bryant — managing director of leadership development and executive mentoring firm Merryck & Co. — shares insights he learned from executives during his time writing the interview series.


Adam Bryant’s book, “Corner Office.”

Here are three:

  1. Create a clear map. Through interviews with leaders, Bryant learned that simple plans are often the most effective, especially when they draw a clear map from start to finish. “Leaders owe their teams an answer to the same question that young children often ask their parents before setting out for a long drive,” Bryant writes: “‘Where are we going and how are we going to get there?’ In other words, what is the goal and how are we going to measure progress along the way?”

When Bryant interviewed best-selling management book author Jim Collins, he learned that these simple plans often get muddled by a long list of competing priorities. As Collins told him, “if you have more than three priorities, you don’t have any.” Leaders, writes Bryant, are charged with determining this small list of priorities and how each should be measured.

  1. Set a respectful tone. Robin Domeniconi, chief executive of fashion company thread tales, uses the expression “M.R.I.” — meaning “most respectful interpretation” as “a cornerstone of culture,” Bryant writes. That means coworkers have the freedom to challenge one another and ask questions, as long as it is presented in the most respectful way possible for example prefaced with “‘Can you help me understand why you don’t want to do this, or why you wanted to do this?’” Domeniconi told Bryant.
  1. Stay on ‘your side of the net.’ All teams occasionally need to have difficult conversations. When discussing someone else’s behavior or performance, it’s important to make sure you “don’t go over the net,” Bryant writes. That means you should never assume the motivation behind someone’s behavior. Instead, stay on “your side of the net,” Bryant writes, “and talk only about what you’re observing and your own reactions and feelings.” People naturally become defensive about assumptions, but can’t argue with how their behavior makes others feel.

Instead of insinuating that someone is often late because they don’t care about work, for instance, this conversation can be framed as “I’ve noticed you keep showing up 20 minutes late, and it makes me feel like you don’t care,” Bryant says. This idea first came to him through Andrew Thompson, chief executive of Proteus Digital Health.

““People concoct all this imaginary garbage about why the person is doing this to them,” Thompson told Bryant, “when in fact the person may not even realize that they’re doing anything.”

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