To Build a Great Team, Start Here

How will you build a world-class team?

Imagine you are an Olympic coach, responsible for putting together a team to compete on the world stage in Rio. What would you do?

Building a great team starts with selection. Who would you choose to be on your team? (That is, once you have ruled out athletes hesitant to take on the Zika virus, contaminated water, and unsanitary conditions in the athletes’ village – or who have been banned for doping.) What skills would you look for? The best athletes? The hardest workers? The best teammates? And how would you go about selecting them?

I am reminded of an Olympic story from 40 years ago. The 1976 United States Olympic men’s basketball team was on a mission to win gold. After winning the first seven Olympic championships awarded, a controversial finish in 1972 left the U.S. with silver medals (which the players refused to accept), a bitter taste in their mouths, and considerable pressure to win in 1976.

The coach of the 1976 team was Dean Smith, head coach of the University of North Carolina men’s basketball team. He selected a roster of twelve players including four from UNC and a total of seven from the Atlantic Coast Conference, where Smith’s UNC team played. Coach Smith was sharply criticized heading into the Games. Had he and the selection committee chosen the best players in the country?

Coach Smith later wrote, “I didn’t want the twelve best players.” He wanted a team of players who would “play unselfishly, hard, and intelligently” – hard, smart, and together. That, he believed, was the best way to ensure the team would win. And win, they did – by more than 20 points in the final. 

What skills do you look for in the members of your dental team? Do you make hiring decisions based more on their technical skills, or on their ability to communicate and work effectively with others? What about their ability to commit to the team and give their best? And how do you assess that?

Unfortunately, most leaders have little formal training in selection. Hiring, promoting, reconfiguring jobs, and succession planning are often haphazard at best. How can you go about making world-class selections for you team?

1. Make selection a top priority. You can’t build a great company, or a great team, without great people who are a match for the work and the organization. Great selections don’t happen by accident – and poor selections are extremely costly in tangible and intangible ways. 

2. Have a process. Great selections don’t happen by accident. Boost your odds by using a first-class process for defining the skills needed, identifying qualified candidates, and assessing their skills in a way that builds commitment in the new hires and on the team.

3. Focus on the skills that make the most difference. Technical skills are important, but are often the easiest to train. The ability to relate to and work well with others is essential, especially in a dental office where people’s roles are highly interdependent and where almost everyone has contact with patients.

4. Train your people. People commit to what they help create – and that includes committing to help their new teammates. The best, most effective selection processes involve line managers and team members, not just the “big boss” or an HR specialist. Ensure that everyone on your team has the skills to contribute to great hiring decisions.

There is more to building a great team than making great selections. You also have to train and coach your team. But poor selections create a greater need for training and also make coaching much more difficult. As Dr. Gerald Bell, founder and CEO of Bell Leadership Institute, says, “If you don’t hire smart, you have to manage tough.”

So, what’s your next step in building a world-class team?

Bill Sanford, MS

Leadership Trainer and Speaker at Bell Leadership Institue

Bill Sanford, MS, is a leadership trainer and speaker at Bell Leadership Institute in Chapel Hill, NC. He has worked with clients in industries from construction, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, real estate, technology, food service, hospitality, banking, and law, to government, higher education, and the non-profit sector. He has also worked extensively with several clients in sports, ranging from college teams to the National Basketball Association (NBA). In addition to delivering Leadership Mastery Series™ seminars, Bill leads Master Classes for senior executives and implements selection systems as part of Bell's Licensed Programs