Why a team of champions doesn't necessarily make a champion team

A team needs to move together in the same direction if it is to accomplish something. Individual excellence does not necessarily equate to team performance. CEOs, like sports coaches, have often discovered this to their cost - when simply grouping champions together, the whole is less than the sum of the parts, not more.

"It’s easy to get good players. Getting them to play together, that’s the hard part."
— Casey Stengel, Baseball Player and long time Manager of New York Mets

To get a group of people to move in the same direction and to make significant progress means having team members who are willing to adopt certain roles, sometimes as basic as leaders and followers, who are committed to the goals of the team above their individual goals, and who have the behavioural flexibility and emotional intelligence to create sustainable team relationships.

Think of a tug-a-war game. If each individual member wants to drive the direction of the team, and those directions differ, the team will counter each other’s efforts, only to be left with a nil result. Only champions who are willing and able to be champions for the collective success of the team will create a high performing team.


Trying to put a team together with exactly the right combination of team members is optimistic at best and futile at worst. The key to success is not so much in who the team members are, whether champions or not, but that they have an agreed role and set of norms that allow them to achieve their purpose. For example, if a team of champions is really to perform well, then the team members need to observe a number of rules:

  •  balanced roles: possibly with rotation from time to time to increase learning, resilience and performance
  •  agreed goals: how to get there can and probably should be the subject of discussion, but the goals themselves must be agreed between members
  •  openness and confrontation: frank airing of points of disagreement
  •  support and trust: members of the team have to have confidence in their team-mates to work sensibly and to deliver
  •  cooperation and collaboration: both within the team and also with other teams and stakeholders.

The qualities often inherent in champions that can positively influence team performance include commitment to quality, a high expectation of themselves and others, optimism in the face of adversity, energy, excitement and a commitment to success. These are great qualities in champions, and if combined with behavioural flexibility and emotional intelligence and commitment to the team goal, your team has a winning formula.

"Coming together is a beginning.
Keeping together is progress.
Working together is success."

— Henry Ford, Founder of the Ford Motor Company

However, so often more is needed. What may need to be developed in champions to make them work better together in a champion team includes:

  •  flexibility in the strategies used to pursue goals
  •  clear understanding of the strategy and context of their parent organisation
  •  strong communication of their purpose within the group and externally
  •  constant exploration of how to do things better as a team
  •  willingness to value people above all for their contribution.

Teams also develop both good and bad habits over time. A model (created by Bruce Tuckman) explains the stages of team development - the four stages of the model called forming, storming, norming and performing describe the way in which the team moves through initial reticence (forming) and friction (storming), can go on (through norming) to yield superior performance (performing) if they are channelled correctly.  Ensure your team of champions develops positive norms during these stages in order to achieve superior performance. The team building needed for improvement does not come naturally to everyone and constructive coaching may be highly beneficial for obtaining better team results.

If you have a team of champions that needs to work better as a champion team, then contact Alison Jardie, Director of Leadership Evolution on 0400 340 171. A combination of team building, leadership development and executive coaching can start to multiply your teams results today.