What 1D taught me about being a great team

Throughout many of posts so far I’ve touched on how I’m working to be a better me and how I’m working with my team as we seek to become a great team.

Let’s aim high

Saying that we want to be a great team is quite a statement.

It says that we don’t want to just be a team. It says that we want to aim high. It says that we want to exceed the level that most teams settle for.

It is seen by some as being a bit of an ego statement. It is seen by others have being aloof. And for others, it’s seen as us thinking that we are better than them.

And in someway I believe that they are all correct.

We are setting our standards, our aspirations and our expectations high. And we believe (for most of the time!) that we can get there. There are times when we think that we won’t become a great team due to a problem we are facing, or if the team starts to stick, or if we are unsettled by an outside – or internal – force.

Don’t just settle 

But because we are aiming high, when we have these issues we don’t just settle and say this is just a normal team situation, we dust ourselves off and get back to doing what we were doing – aiming to be a great team.

I should say that it’s not easy to keep that mindset though. It so easy just to settle. It’s easy to look at the energy needed to do better and take the easy option of doing nothing. It’s easy to put off tackling the problem for tomorrow. 

But great teams don’t do that. Great teams aim high and work hard at being great. 

Great teams understand, appreciate, and acknowledge the hard work and high energy levels required to stay great. And then they take the actions needed to tackle the problems. 

An example of a great team 

As a huge fan of music of all genres, I’m a bit of a fan of The X Factor. A few years ago there was a group formed by the show who, whilst not wining The X Factor, have gone on to become a massive musical act all over the world – and have been in the headlines this week as one member of the group has left.

What was the group? It was One Direction.

[I should say here that as a huge lover of pop music I do like their music! Phew, confession over!]

Why am I bringing them up in my blog post about great teams? Well, there was a moment in one performance that they did during a live show that just proved to me that they would become a great team. It was a small moment – but I believe that it was a huge moment for them.

Here’s what happened:

Whilst singing one of the tracks, one member of the group goes slightly off key, and instead of either ignoring it or getting frustrated by it, another member walks up to him, puts his arm on his shoulder and helps him get back on track.

It happened, was dealt with and was over in a split second. But it had a huge impact on me, so much so that’s it’s something that has always stuck with me about them.

At the time when it happened, I rmemeber thinking this group will go places. They support each other. They are a team. But more than that. They are aiming to be great. The other member of the group didn’t just allow the incident to happen, shrug his shoulders and say “oh well, it happens”. He got involved. He supported his colleague. And got them back onto their game.

He wasn’t settling – he was aiming high.

They were becoming a great team.

What can we learn from it?

To me it just proves how essential the peer-to-peer support is for the team. And it proves how team members can support each other to aim high, to perform well, and reach the levels needed.

And it got me thinking, if you are part of a team, have any of your collegeues helped you like that? Or do they just let you – and the team – sink and settle?

Let me know by commenting below, tweeting with  the hashtag #GreatTeams, or dropping me an email to iammichaelwatts@gmail.com. In addition, let me know if you have any other famous examples too and we’ll see wht we can learn together.

Let’s be bold. Let’s aim for greatness. Together we can achieve it.

What is a team?

In my blog I have written quite a bit about how I have been trying to transform my team into a ‘great team’. But one of the questions I keep asking myself is:

what is a team?

At its most basic, a team is a group of individuals being placed together in an organisation to deliver a specific set of tasks



And, quite honestly, that is how my team has felt at several points during my time with them. We were a group of individuals who were put together following an organisational restructure to complete a specific set of tasks. 

We had been physically located around a set of desks within an office. We had a reporting line established within the team. And we had a set of tasks and responsibilities set out in the restructure document for us to complete.

It was then up to us to define what our team looked like, how it felt, what the culture was, and what our team was about.

And this is where it went wrong.

As the manager of the team I should have been more proactive in working with the team to set us off on the right footing. Instead, I let the time drift away and so we as a team drifted on. We never took ownership of the work. We never set out who we were. We never set out what we were about. We never set out what type of team we wanted to be.

And this is the biggest regret that I have whilst working within the team.

At the same time I wasn’t putting 100% of myself in the team. I was looking to leave. I was struggling to balance work and life with three young children. I was struggling to work out who I was within the team. I had lost my purpose.

And this was having a significant impact on my team. And it was having a significant impact on me.

And I realised that this just had to change.

Great teams are just groups of individuals being placed together in an organisation to complete a specific set of tasks. Great teams work hard at the habits that make them a great team. They have a clear purpose. They understand themselves. They work hard at being a great team.

And that what u had to do. I had to work harder at being the leader of the team to help us become a great team. So I created a simple plan of action to help me change me, so that we can move towards becoming a ‘great team’.

Action 1: Be a better me

I knew that for the team to move forward I needed to be a better leader. I needed to bring the whole of myself into the team. I needed to be a better me. And I had to see this as my team. 

But before I could be a better leader, I had to earn the trust and respect of the team. I had to show them that they can believe in me. I had to give some of me to them so that they would buy into me as a leader. What I needed to do is brilliantly summed up by the passionate Simon Sinek in this video, Why Leaders Eat Last, from a 99u event:

Simon Sinek: Why Leaders Eat Last from 99U on Vimeo.

I needed to eat last in my team. I had to put them first. I had to become a leader of our team.

But before I could do that, I had to give our team an identify. 

Action 2: Give us an identity 

One of the things that dawned on me during this time was that the team didn’t have an identity. We were still just a group of individuals within a much larger team.

So that had to change.

I worked with the team to give our team a name. Something that pulled the different parts of the team together, was easy to remember, and said what we did on the tin. 

Under this name we had a shared identity. We had a shared belonging. We had an identifiable team. We started to use this in all our work. 

Now we had an identity, we needed a better environment.

Action 3: Create the right enviornment 

One of the responsibilities of a leader is to create an environment where others thrive, where the individual members of the team are supported to do better, and where the team members trust that their leader ‘has their back’.

These quotes from Simon Sinek have guided me as I have been working to create the right environment in my team:





I needed to set the right environment. I needed to empower and support the team. I needed to own our work. I needed to lead the team.

I needed to be a better leader. I needed to aim high for the team. I needed to lead my team to becoming a ‘great team’.

But, before we could do that, we needed to understand why we were there. What was our role in the organisation? How did we add value? What was our purpose?

So, we set about understanding and identifying ourselves better with the help of the Teamworks tool from SYPartners.

The 3 habits of great teams

As part of my inspiration building research into all things SYPartners, one of the videos I found really did connect with me. 

The video by the SYPartners chairman and founder, Keith Yamashita, was 20 minutes of pure gold dust.

In the video – The 3 Habits of Great Creative Teams – shot at the annual 99u Conference [more about them in a later post!] Keith expands on his ‘great teams’ quote by talking about the key elements that make up ‘great teams’. 

Keith Yamashita: The 3 Habits of Great Creative Teams from 99U on Vimeo.

Here’s a summary of the video:

When the your team is faced with adversity does it stand strong and act boldly or does it crumble under pressure? Based on his work with over 1000 teams, Keith Yamashita shares his insights about great collaborative environments including: have an awareness beyond your day-to-day, respect the unique talents of your team members, and actively cultivate meaningful one-on-one relationship

What did I take from the video? 

Increased belief that what I was fighting for was worth it. An even bigger love towards the power of understanding our individual Superpowers [including a massive desire to get a copy of those cards!!]. And a different way of sharing this message with the team. 

So, I sent a link to this video to the members of my team and asked them to watch, to think about the messages in there, and to think about what we need to do differently to become a great team. 

We now had a basis for discussions – both at a team level and at the individual level.

These discussions then led me to an interesting discovery. Although everybody in the team knew that they were part of a small team within a bigger team, when chatting with them, on a one-to-one basis, they all didn’t seem to (a) understand how their role & tasks fitted in with the purpose of the team, and (b) see any connection between their role & tasks and the role & tasks of their peers. 

And that had to change.

So I set about improving that understanding and bringing the different parts of the team together around a shared purpose and vision. And who would have guessed it, there was a new source of inspiration to help me with that. 

This is when I found a new blog of advice, support and ideas for people just a like me – a manager who wants to manage better and make their team better. What was that blog? It was another SYPartners product – called Teamworks.

Find out how I started to use this advice in my next blog.