Does Your Team Invest Time Strategically Building Community?

Excerpted with permission from pages 81-84 of “Smart Leadership – Four Simple Choices to Scale Your Impact!”  by Mark Miller

After several decades of studying teams, we were still struggling to connect the dots. We knew there were at least four types of teams:

  • Pseudo-Teams
  • Mediocre Teams
  • Good Teams
  • Outstanding Teams (We later called these High Performance Teams.)

Even with the different team types identified, we were having trouble deciphering the elemental components of each one. It was easy to figure out what the pseudo-teams and mediocre teams had in common—invariably, the problem was a lack of leadership and skills. The trick was discerning and articulating the difference between the good teams and the outstanding teams (High Performance Teams). After years of investigation, we finally found the answer. Good teams have talent and skills. What sets High Performance Teams apart is that they add a third element—we call it community.

Let’s focus on this idea of community as you evaluate your team. Community is the turbocharger (and the missing element) many of you have been looking for, and it has four primary characteristics.

People know each other deeply.

It is uncanny how many women and men work side by side with others and know little about one another as human beings. I have witnessed this many times.

  • What are the personal passions of the people on your team?
  • What do they do when they are not at work?
  • What are their hopes and dreams?
  • What do you know about their families?
  • Their hobbies?
  • Their pasts?

All of this is knowable. And although some of these items in isolation may feel trivial, community is cumulative—we build it piece by piece, slowly revealing a complicated, nuanced, and beautiful, three-dimensional puzzle that is their life. As leaders, we can facilitate these conversations to ensure our team members know each other deeply.

People serve each other unconditionally.

Lou Holtz, the former coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the South Carolina Gamecocks, was a huge fan of community, although he didn’t have a name for it when he promoted this type of connection within his teams. I had the opportunity to talk with him about his approach and the various tactics he employed. One of them was to normalize serving others on the team. He told me he often ended practice by calling the team together and asking if anyone needed help with anything. Sometimes a player would need a ride, and they would figure out who could make it happen. Sometimes a player would say, “I have a math test tomorrow.” Coach would ask, “Who can do math?” and everyone would laugh. Then they would try to figure out who could provide assistance. He said he did this over and over again. When you serve one another off the field, wonderful things happen on the field. Leaders can model this servant spirit, encourage it, and facilitate it.

People celebrate and mourn authentically.

If you had great news to share or a personal tragedy to report, who would you call? One of the cornerstones of community is the gift of presence—just being with someone when life is full of joy or full of sorrow. This element of community can manifest itself in big events and small, like a teammate graduating college or adopting a puppy.

The question is not, “What would I celebrate?” In community, the better question is, “What would my teammate celebrate?” Go there with them.

I remember going to a coworker’s son’s first middle school football game. Not because this was a big deal to me—because it was a big deal to him. I have also attended many weddings and funerals over the years because I have chosen to live in community.

People genuinely love one another.

This is probably going to be the squishiest thing you’ll hear me advocate in this entire book, but stay with me. There are countless appropriate ways to express gratitude, appreciation, thanks, and love. Random acts of kindness, notes of thanks and appreciation, unsolicited acts of service, and more come to memory as I think about communities I have been a part of over the years.

If you create a place where people know, serve, celebrate, and mourn together consistently, over time, love and the appreciation of others in the circle will be a natural outcome of your efforts. People are starved for genuine community. Some find this community in more traditional places like family, schools, churches, or clubs. The best teams, the high-performance ones, create these transformational conditions in the workplace. Wherever community exists, people thrive. Love is still perhaps the most powerful motivator in the universe. Some teams have chosen to tap into that power. You can too.

Community, like I just described, rarely, if ever, occurs spontaneously. I was talking with John Katzenbach, the coauthor of The Wisdom of Teams, about this phenomenon. He too had seen the power of community, although he described it as a by-product of genuine care and concern and didn’t have a name for it. He said, based on his research, if someone worked in a team-based organization their entire career, they would likely only encounter this type of team once in a lifetime. I told him I could probably agree with him on the low probability if left to chance. However, if a leader embraces community as the third element of his or her strategy for high performance, along with talent and skills, I think you can achieve it almost every time.

In summary, community is a place where people do life together. Does this sound like your team?

Note from Bob:  Spending time with Mark is always a treat!  Reading Mark’s new book “Smart Leadership – Four Simple Choices to Scale Your Impact!” will be a way for you to spend a couple of hours learning from him.  You will want to order your “Smart Leadership” book now by clicking HERE

I am predicting that even before you finish reading “Smart Leadership” you will be wanting to purchase additional books to share with your staff, colleagues and many others in the shadow of your influence!

Mark Miller


Mark Miller is a business leader, best-selling author, and a communicator. He is currently serving as the Vice President of High Performance Leadership for Chick-fil-A, Inc. Beyond chicken, Mark’s global influence continues to grow. Today, there are over a million copies of his books in print, in twenty-five languages. Smart Leadership is his tenth title.



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