There is an ‘I’ in teams: Why HR leaders need to understand this to boost performance

With little more than 100 days to go before the start of the 2024 Olympic Games, former Team US sprinter-turned HR guru, Charles Clark, suggests CHROs need to understand there is an 'I' in team:

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Apr 19, 2024

Judging by the numbers, corporate America is on a quest to take its workforce to the next level.

Approximately $101.8 billion is now being spent each year on employee training initiatives to raise skills and raise productivity.

But – as is often commented on – despite these hefty investment levels, the expected boost in organizational performance that businesses get back from this often falls short.

Companies are then left grappling with the mystery of the missing link between investment and outcome.

So what is the link that organizations are getting so wrong?

The power of the individual

Charles Clark on his way to 6th place in the 2009 Berlin World Championships

Based on my experience as a world-class athlete [I came 6th in the final of the 200m at the World Championships in 2009)] – and as someone who now travels the world to help people become goal achievers – to me it comes down to a fundamental shift in perspective about what exactly brings a team to new heights.

So what do I mean by this?

The age-old saying, ‘There is no ‘I’ in team,‘ often serves as a mantra for collective effort and unity.

Yet this sentiment – while well-intentioned – seems to overlook a crucial component of team success: the power of the individual.

Take icons like LA Lakers basketball player, LeBron James, or retired American football player, Tom Brady as an example.

Their success was not found by diminishing their individuality, but by refining their distinct skills and using their personal strengths to help take their teams to glory.

Their stories are testaments to the fact that when individuals are encouraged to excel in their unique capabilities and are given the space to shine, they not only add value to their teams, but they elevate them.

Nurture the unique strengths of everyone

Because of this, I believe the solution is surprisingly simple, yet profoundly overlooked: nurturing the unique strengths and leadership qualities inherent in every team member.

Each employee, from the executive suite, to the entry level, possesses a spark of leadership that, when cultivated, can amplify a team’s collective success far greater than the sum of its parts.

By shifting the focus from blanket training to genuine empowerment, organizations can unlock the kind of innovative and dynamic leadership that leads to a vibrant workplace where everyone is an agent of change and a catalyst for innovation.

In the playbook for creating a culture that breeds success, HR leaders play a crucial role in executing strategies that foster team synergy.

Here’s how you can turn your organization into a championship-winning team:

Encourage autonomy (not micro-management)

One of the best things you can do for your team is to take a step back.

Yes, you read that right. Step back to let your team members step up.

Trust is the foundation of any strong relationship, including those within a team.

Encourage management to step back, and watch as a newfound sense of autonomy takes root.

This begins by setting clear expectations and then giving team members the ability to approach problems in their own way.

This leads to a team that not only runs more efficiently but also feels a greater sense of investment and satisfaction in their work.

It’s about cultivating leaders at every level, ensuring that every pass, every play, every project is executed with a sense of responsibility and pride.

Champion Emotional Intelligence

In the corporate league, the teams that stand out are those that prioritize EQ alongside IQ.

Encourage training that hones in on emotional intelligence skills such as empathy, stress management, decision-making, and collaboration.

Teams that understand and manage their emotions work better under pressure and maintain a resilient front, much like the best sports teams that stay composed under the high stakes of a final game.

By fostering these soft skills, you’re assembling a team that’s not only skilled on paper but also thrives in the face of adversity, and is equipped to handle the twists and turns of any challenge.

Instill a sense of purpose

Every role in your team has a purpose, and every purpose fuels passion.

Help each team member find that spark by connecting their daily tasks to the larger vision of the organization.

When employees see the impact of their work, they don’t just show up – they’ll stand out.

With purpose, people’s productivity and engagement levels soar, and the collective momentum of the team becomes unstoppable.

It’s akin to a star athlete playing for more than just the win, but for the love of the game; for the fans; for the legacy.

In the corporate world, this means working not just for a paycheck, but for a cause, for a mission, for a shared success that resonates with their own values and aspirations.

Embrace the lessons of failure

Charles Clark today

The journey to greatness is often paved with setbacks, but it is the response to these challenges that defines a team’s character.

As a three-time National Champion and ten-time All-American, once ranked the sixth fastest man in the world, I’ve faced my share of both triumph and adversity.

A devastating injury that could have been the end of my career entirely instead became the catalyst for a profound personal transformation.

It taught me that within every setback lies a seed of opportunity. As an HR leader, you are in a unique position to help encourage your team to shift their mindset around failure, to see it not as a defeat but as a stepping stone to growth.

By doing so, you cultivate a team that is resilient, adaptive, and innovative.

For HR professionals, creating a killer team culture means going beyond the traditional training paradigms and investing in the personal growth and leadership capabilities of every employee.

By empowering each team member to lead in their unique capacity, you pave the way for a corporate culture that is not only successful but also sustainable and deeply fulfilling for every employee involved.

Charles Clark, is author of The ‘I’ in Team: The Playbook To Create A Winning Culture and A Thriving Business.