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Four Ways To Build An Elite Team


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by David DeRam, co-founder and CEO at greenlight.guru

I’ve been lucky enough to coach several elite teams over the past 25 years, including a group of neighborhood kids who went all the way to the Little League World Series. From those experiences I’ve learned that great sports teams are rare. There’s a level of non-verbal communication that only the team understands and you can feel the love coming out of the players’ DNA.

Do you find that on great business teams? It seems much less common. How can you take the lessons from elite sports organizations and use them to build powerful business cultures?

Below are four ways to build an elite business team that rivals a championship sports team:

1. Know your core values.

Let’s use the Oregon football team as an example. One of the organization’s core values is speed, so they not only hone in on the most speedy recruits, but they move fast, play fast, and practice fast. In business, you have to know what your core values are to know what you’re looking for in a new hire.

At greenlight.guru, two of our biggest core values are finishing what you start and constant innovation. If a potential employee doesn’t have either one of those traits, we won’t make that hire.

To judge these traits in potential new hires, instead of a typical in-office interview, I like unusual interviews like a round of golf. I think you can learn more about someone’s values doing that than sitting across a conference room table. If their ball lands in a bunker, do they get angry and throw their club or do they take it in stride? Are they ok with average or do they fight and compete to win?

2. Find the parallel between your team and the Golden State Warriors.

Building an elite business team is elusive, but possible by drawing the parallels between elite sports teams that we can use to model.

Legendary professional sports organizations draw huge crowds in big arenas with lots of pomp and circumstance. Big games call for celebrations and genuinely make people feel good. Why can’t businesses bring out huge emotions like professional sports do? Why can’t we have big celebrations when we hit our sales goals? Why can’t we be high energy and have fans? We should be making our customers into our fans.

It’s also important to study the teams you want to emulate. If you’re a sprinter, you’re going to study elite sprinters. In our case, we build elite teams, so we’ve studied those teams – Indy Car pit crews, the New England Patriots and the Navy Seals. Elite is a level you almost never make it to, so we invest a lot in executive and team coaching.

3. You need both Randys and Rudys.

Something that trips up a lot of hiring managers is thinking you have to hire people who are just like you to accommodate an existing office culture. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

You have your raw talent, dominant players, like Randy Moss, who when you throw them the ball, you know they’re going to jump over everybody and put points on the board. They have the potential to change the game. Then you have players like Rudy, who may lack the natural talent Randy Moss has, but make up for it with fire, dedication and hustle.

Most people look at experience as the most desirable quality, but passion can make up for a lot of problems. In sports, if you lose the ball you can still fight to get it back. Same in business – if you make a mistake but are still fueled by a certain hustle, you can make up for it. Both types of players are valuable, but every team needs a mix. To take a quote from the sports docudrama “Miracle,” “I’m not looking for the best players, Craig. I’m looking for the right ones.”

4. Invest in great coaches.

Great coaches inspire a sports team to do more than they ever thought they could. Why are business leaders typically not inspirational? Demand that your leaders bring great energy to every one-on-one, every call and every team meeting. The energy of the team will always feed off the leader.

If executive management is having a disconnect with the team, it might be time to bring in a third party for leadership training. Just like every athlete needs to be coached differently, the same goes for employees. Once the coach learns how to motivate each player, the entire team will benefit.

Bottom line.

If sports weren’t fun, we wouldn’t play. If you’re not dancing in the office, cutting loose, and letting it all hang out, you’re missing out on the benefits of an extraordinary culture. Fun leads to passion, which leads to flow states, which leads to elite performances. Build fun into both the workday and after-work events and you’ll never go back to the way you ran your business before.



David DeRam is the co-founder and CEO at greenlight.guru, the only quality management software platform designed specifically for medical device companies. At greenlight.guru, DeRam is responsible for developing opportunities, raising capital, attracting phenomenal talent, developing strategy, building culture, and assembling elite teams. Previously, DeRam founded successful companies for almost 30 years across multiple sectors including finance, medical and nonprofit.