Building a Stronger Team: The ABC Test


In one of my previous posts (“One Big Family… Or A Team?“), I wrote about the importance of building a strong team. While there’s a lot that goes into that, including developing good hiring and training processes, the first question to ask is “Are the people you have now the right fit?” How do you know? The following exercise is a good way to evaluate your current team.

If you have 15 to 20 employees, create a list of each of their names. If you have more than that, then you may just want to use this tool to evaluate your management team. The concept works no matter how many people you have, so it really depends on how much time you want to invest. It’s also a good idea to do this exercise with your leadership team. Have each person work through it individually, then come together to compare and discuss the results.

Beside each name you’re going to write the letter A, B, or C, based on your answer to this question: If this person told you today that they are leaving your company, how would you feel? If you would be shaken, bothered, distressed, or upset, and would even start thinking of ways you might convince this person to stay, write an “A”. If you wouldn’t feel strongly one way or the other (in other words you think they’re just fine but you’re confident you can easily replace them) then write a “B”. If, however, you’d feel relieved that they’re leaving, write a “C”.

Now think about these questions. For your A’s, what are you doing to ensure that they have an enjoyable environment to work in and are fulfilled in the work they do? Are you sufficiently investing in their career growth so that they’re motivated to stay? Also, are these people A’s because of their fit and the value they bring, or simply because no one else knows how to do what they do? If the latter is the case, you need better redundancy. If someone wouldn’t be an “A” if they had a backup, then they’re not really an “A”.

For your B’s, could they be A’s if they were in a position that fit them better? Of if they had better training? If not, that’s okay. All organizations need solid “B” players. Just make sure they aren’t neglected to the point that they slip down into the next category.

For your C’s, why are they still on your team? Are they holding information hostage? Are they the only ones who know how to do their job (see above)? Have they been with the company for a long time, and keeping them is a sign of “loyalty”? Or are they just a nice person, and you don’t want to hurt them? All of these are poor reasons to keep someone, and need to be resolved right away. If there is any way to make this person a “B”, either by giving them more training or changing their positions, then by all means make it happen. But if not, let them go and preserve the team. Your A’s and B’s know that these people are C’s, by the way, and they’re likely tired of having to carry them. Is it worth losing an “A” because you wouldn’t remove a “C”?

As a leader, you have a responsibility to protect the integrity of the team, even at the cost of one or more individuals. Don’t take this responsibility lightly. Give this matter its proper consideration, get feedback from your leadership team or others you trust, and then do whatever needs to be done. In the long run, your team will thank you for it.


Accountability You Can Count On

ChecklistA critical component of any team is Accountability because it’s the only way teammates can know they can count on each other. But what is accountability? Quite simply, in the context of a team it is the understanding that everyone must provide an explanation for (or give an account of) whether or not they did exactly what they said they would do, knowing that they will be held responsible for their actions. The following guidelines should help you as a leader better communicate responsibilities and tasks so that the expectation of accountability is reasonable.

1) Give Clear Instructions. These must be detailed enough to ensure everyone involved is “on the same page,” and to answer the questions of what, how, when, where, and who as thoroughly as necessary. One of the biggest hindrances to proper accountability is ambiguity. If you don’t tell them, how else will they know? Better to give too much information than not enough. Be clear. Be specific. Don’t assume.

2) Have a Clear Assignment. You’ve likely been in meetings where a great idea came up and everyone seemed to agree that this was something the group should do. But by the next meeting, nothing had been done about it, because everyone thought someone else would take care of it. Statements like “We should do that” must always be followed by the question “Who will do it?” The task must be clearly handed to someone. That person can get others to help, by all means, but one individual must be made personally responsible for the results.

3) Get a Clear Commitment. The person assigned the task should say, verbally or in writing, “I’ll do it” rather than something like “I’ll try to fit it in.” Good intentions do not get the job done. But also be careful of team members over committing. Foster an environment where it’s okay to say “No,” as long as they explain why. As true accountability becomes an established part of the culture, members of the team will begin to understand the importance of their commitments and will not enter into them lightly.

4) Provide Clear Follow-up. Can you trust the commitment that was made? Can you trust that the instructions and assignment were clear? Has the situation changed? Instead of waiting until it’s too late, find out how things are going while they can still be corrected if necessary. Even after the work is done, it’s a good idea to follow up and see what worked, what didn’t, and what should be done differently the next time. Don’t micromanage. Check in at intervals appropriate to the task and the individual assigned. Just remember, without clear follow-up there is no accountability.

Team members have to know they can depend on each other to do what needs to be done, and that only happens when expectations are clearly communicated and everyone is committed to the success of the team. As with all things within the organization, the leadership sets the tone. If you’re going to hold others accountable make it clear that you expect to be held accountable too. Proper accountability requires a lot of intentional effort, but the payoff is immense, including reduced stress and a stronger team.

One Big Family… Or A Team?

This week is Thanksgiving, a time when many of us gather together as a family. Sometimes those gatherings can get interesting, because our family is… well, interesting. We often have people we really appreciate, and some we merely tolerate. Either way, they hold a special place in our heart because they’re family. And families stick together no matter what.

Some businesses, especially small to mid-sized ones, think of themselves as a “family.” I propose that this is a wrong way of thinking.

You see, families are all about people committed to one another. They don’t (usually) choose each other, but do choose (hopefully) to stand by each other through thick and thin, because preserving the relationship is what matters most.  A healthy business, however, understands that its people are part of a team, not a family.

Teams are assembled for a common purpose. Its members are chosen based on their character and what each of them can contribute to the team’s effort. In other words, they fit the mission of the team. While they may occasionally make mistakes or act inappropriately, overall they continue to earn their place on the team by the value they bring. Otherwise their positions are in jeopardy.

Because for a team, preserving the Purpose matters more than preserving the relationships. I know this doesn’t sit well with many people, even among those in leadership positions. And that’s a problem, because it means at times they are willing to sacrifice the integrity of the team for the sake of the feelings of a few individuals. This is a losing proposition in the long run. As we must remember, unlike a family, team members choose their team as well. The best and brightest on a team will not continue to choose a team that allows others to barely scrape by, not bringing value and detracting from the mission of the team. So in an effort to protect the worst, leaders can lose the best.

As a business leader or owner, you have a responsibility to build the strongest team you can. Choosing the best People, both to add and to keep, is the most important element of building A Business That Matters, so choose wisely.