Choose Excellence: The Skill of Team Building

Dr Ivan Joseph
September 8, 2020

To build your self-confidence — your unwavering belief in yourself — you need an encouraging environment where it’s safe to try new things, sometimes fail and sometimes succeed, but never worry whether you will be supported.


In your personal life and work, it’s important to surround yourself with people that value you and will encourage your learning and living.


Why? Because the people around us have a big effect on us.


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What does the research say?


Research shows that we are hugely influenced by the five people we spend the most time with.  Think about your five people... Not your favorite five people (although no doubt they’re pretty awesome), but the people you spend the most time with. 


Now ask yourself: Do they understand you? Do they support you? Do they recognize your achievements and encourage you when you fail? If one or two of them don’t, you’ve got the wrong team.


Finding people who make you better is not an accident: we bump into thousands of people throughout our lives. We need to hold on to the ones who help us to become more, which then builds our self-confidence. 


This is why team building is a skill: it takes focus, practice and repetition to get it right.


Team-Builder #1: Seek People Who Value Creativity


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Parenting is a great example of the importance of creating an environment that makes failure okay. Kids need to be supported and not judged for getting something wrong.

Accountability and responsibility are important, but hammering kids when they flop teaches them to not even try. They need to see failures as learning opportunities,  not catastrophes. 


The same goes for adults. We need supportive friends, colleagues, spouses, bosses and clients who will embrace our ambition and recognize that failure is a side effect of innovation. Creative people drop the ball sometimes. And we all make bad choices occasionally that put us on the wrong path. 


This is life. 


It needs to be okay to fail as part of becoming a person who succeeds more often than not.


One of the best examples I have seen of this approach  is the Digital Media Zone (DMZ) at Ryerson University. An incubator for start-up businesses, the DMZ was one of the first and most successful campus-based accelerators for young entrepreneurs trying to turn their bright ideas into successful ventures. In less than five years, it advanced from an idea to being the number-one campus-based accelerator in North America and number three in the world. 


The motto at the DMZ is “fail fast.” The program encourages young thinkers and leaders to go gangbusters in translating their ideas into marketplace ventures so they quickly discover if their idea will work. The premise is that there is no learning quite like learning from failure, and the entrepreneurs at the DMZ have a different attitude toward failure because of the climate around them.


When it comes to personal confidence, we need people close by who will be there for us when we crash and burn. We all lose our way sometimes. We make decisions that don’t turn out well. We might even get knocked down and need someone to help us up. 


Of course, the flip side is also true. You have to get away from people who will tear you down. 


We’ve all been in situations with leaders, colleagues and teammates who resist innovation and are poisonous to our dreams. If this happens to you, do everything you can to make a change; otherwise your belief in yourself will drain away. 


None of us can thrive in a toxic setting.



Team Builder #2: Surround Yourself with the Best


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In 1968, a young man named Bruce Jenner arrived at Graceland University on a partial football scholarship. In his freshman year, Jenner injured his knee and had to stop playing football. At the suggestion of his coach, L.D. Weldon, he took up decathlon and achieved enough success to make it onto the national team and qualify for the 1972 Olympics in Munich. 

While there, a moment occurred that changed the course of Jenner’s life.


He was warming up near the track when Bert Bonanno, a coach from San José City College and the head coach of the Peruvian track team, walked over and said hello. Bonanno asked the athlete what his plans were for training  once he got back to the United States, and Jenner explained that he was returning to Iowa to finish his studies. Bonanno invited him to come to San José, California, as that’s where many of the world’s best track-and-field athletes were training. 


After that brief conversation, Jenner finished 10th in the decathlon and Bonanno didn’t hear from him again. Then, in the summer of 1973, Jenner suddenly showed up at the San José City College training facility. In an interview later in his life with the San José Mercury News, Jenner said, “As soon as I took off my cap and gown, I jumped into my ’63 Volkswagen bug. Pole vault strapped to the roof. Javelins sticking out the doors. Headed west. I asked myself, ‘Where are the world’s greatest athletes training?’ That’s why I picked San José.”


The area was known as “Speed City” because of all the runners who trained at San José State University under famous sprinting coach Bud Winter. But it was also known as “Strength City” for the throwers who trained with Bonanno. 


For Jenner, who had to perfect his technique in 10 different events, being with the best of every sport was the perfect training ground. He went on to become the world-record holder and Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. He also became one of the most famous athletes of his time. All because he knew enough to train with the best in the world.


To improve your performance and boost your confidence, make sure you surround yourself with the best.



Team Builder #3: Create a Culture of Excellence


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A “good enough” culture is the kiss of death for high performance and will undermine your growth.

It’s nearly impossible to excel in a climate that isn’t firmly committed to being the best. 


In addition to the individuals you surround yourself with, your belief in yourself is strongly influenced by the groups you belong to. This is the reason that sports teams talk so much about culture. They want to create an environment where it’s normal for everyone to behave like a champion, on and off the field. 


A good example of the importance of having a winning culture can be seen in how New Zealand approaches rugby. 


Despite having a population of only four million people, New Zealand boasts one of the greatest sports dynasties ever: the All Blacks. The program is the winningest international rugby Test side in the history of the sport, having won 75 percent of their matches since 1903, which is the best record for any international sport. And in October of 2015, when New Zealand won the Rugby World Cup, it became the only nation to win the championship in back-to-back years.


What makes New Zealand unique is not just its obsession with rugby but the extraordinary culture of the All Blacks. Players think of the team as a religion or a philosophy, not just a jersey they pull on before they play. 


For years, there was a secret black book that listed the primary guidelines for living like an All Black—all of which, when the book finally became public, are essentially about setting near-impossible standards. Team members use phrases like “An All Black is always in search of the perfect game,” “An All Black says, ‘I’m never good enough’” and “Being an All Black is bigger than you.” Through their fundamental beliefs, they create a culture where everyone elevates their performance all the time. 


While you may not live in an environment as extreme as the All Black culture, you can look for and help to create a culture around you where success is the only option.



RECAP: The Skill of Team Building


Team Builder #1: Seek People Who Value Creativity

Friends, family and colleagues who value experimentation and improvement will support you along the way.


Team Builder #2: Surround Yourself with the Best

High-achievers in the areas of work and life you most value will make you better.


Team Builder #3: Create a Culture of Excellence

Help to build an environment where everyone involved wants to elevate their performance.

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