On a dreary Michigan day, my phone rang. The voice on the other end of the line asked me if I would work with the talented but dysfunctional Cranbrook Ice Hockey Team. I stood, leaning forward with excitement. Would this be the opportunity I’d been longing for? A chance to pilot my corporate program with a sports team?
I asked clarifying questions to discern the source of the problem, and was impressed with Head Coach Andrew Weidenbach’s response:
I had a leader on my hands. He explained that the boys played selfishly, were disrespectful to the captains, and that their immense potential was undermined by poor team chemistry. I smiled. I’d seen this movie before.
Many corporate leadership teams have these ego- and desire-based issues. It is essentially a human problem. I talked Coach Weidenbach through my process. Two days later, I was in the locker room.
Unite behind a common vision
We built a Team Success Statement that included winning the State Championship and the behaviors required to achieve it. The energy in the room was palpable. Everyone was relieved to be on the same page, and the team that left the locker room was not the same team that had entered it. The boys headed home to take the assessment that would help us understand their internal motors.
Their results began to roll in. My job was to serve as a guide and an interpreter of results at the individual and team level. When we met again, I explained that the group had more competitive horsepower than any team I’d ever worked with. Ever. Then, I asked:
Let natural talents shine through
Coach Weidenbach shaped each player’s roles to better leverage their strengths. For example, third string goalie, Nolan Rogow, was tasked with resolving conflict with harmony as his strength. Empowered, Nolan oiled the team engine and did more to help them win off the ice than any other player.
Six weeks later, the Cranbrook Hockey Team hoisted the Michigan State Championship trophy. They dominated, outscoring the competition 67 goals to 16 goals over their last eleven games.
Afterwards, I interviewed the coaches and players for a book recapping this journey. No one spoke about the win. They all shared how great it felt to soar and become a team that reached its full potential, where players understood and valued one another. Defenseman Jack Blumberg said:
You can’t control the outcome, but you can control the process
Coach Weidenbach took a risk when he hired a corporate team consultant to help them win. I will be forever grateful and have since worked with other sports teams. Some win championships, some don’t. I love them all.
They all learned to unite behind a common view of success, to understand and leverage your internal motors to overcome obstacles and achieve significant goals. I’ve seen that it works in the locker room and the conference room!
Here are my main takeaways that apply to all winning teams:
- All teams struggle and do not understand why.
- There is untapped, misunderstood, and undervalued talent on every team.
- Many teams lack a deep connection to their role, each other, and a common view of success.
- Reveal that the struggle is normal and essential for growth.
- Measure and harness untapped talent. I use a tool called the Clifton StrengthsFinder®.
- Define success at the individual and team level, and unite behind it.