Building a High Performing Team


West 4 x 400 Relay Champion

I sit in the bleachers anticipating what will happen next. I’m at the Tennessee State Championship, watching my son’s high school team compete.  It’s the girl’s day to challenge for a title.   I thought it was a highly unlikely event since the girl team had only seven girls competing (two freshmen, two  sophomores, one junior, and two seniors); they were completing against larger schools with more athletes.  It was the classic matchup of Goliath and David.

At the final event of the night (4 x 400 relay), Brentwood was leading by two points. The West Relay team (which included two freshmen, one sophomore, and one senior) finished fifth in the preliminaries.  Things were different in the finals. The girls ran like they were on fire. West’s Tamara Hundley noted, “Coach Crocket told us we needed to win this event to win State. We were not going to be denied.” In an electric finish, senior runner Maddie Treasure ran the anchor leg, came from behind and winning
the event in 3:56.82. It was their best time of the season and provided the team with another successful year. Knoxville West had won its second consecutive Class AAA team title by edging out superpower Brentwood High (62.5 points to 54 points) with the guttiest performance of the night.  Winning only one individual event, the team systematically scored in each event.  The
determination paid off.

The Magnificent Seven (Maddie Treasure, Riley Campbell, Maya Barreso, Kayla Newsby, Shantyra Delaney, Kaylah Whaley, and
Tamara Hundley) had found another way to win its fourth state championship. Celebrating that night, I ran into a rival coach from another area; the coach had won a state track title before, edging out West High to win.  He was disgusted that a girl’s track team
could score just 60 points and win a state championship.  Of course, it was easy for me to figure. I had watched the coaches over several years.  Will Jay and Mike Crocket had developed a masterful strategy of maximizing their team’s potential (this year they participated in 11 of 19 events) and creating a high-performing team.

Coach Crocket stated, “This is about the guttiest bunch I’ve ever had….We lost 50 points from last year’s team and had a
lot of injuries. These girls laid it all on the line.”  With collegiate All-American hurdler Jackie Coward of University of Central Florida graduated from the program, many people figured the West track would fade into the wilderness like so many other
programs.  The effort of this track program demonstrates the importance of developing a high-performing
organization to sustain success in the future.

High-performing organizations offer a distinct competitive advantage. A high-performing organization is one that is “intentionally designed to bring out the best in people and thereby produces organization capacity that delivers sustainable leadership business results.”  Most organizations want to boast about their superior performance in relationships to their competitors. Yet, when a litmus test is used, many come far short of this declaration to their customers.

When individuals work together, organizations often perform better. Therefore, working toward a shared vision and belief system are critical steps.  Gareth Jones and Jennifer George, authors of Contemporary Management, note the importance of good group dynamics: “People working in a group are able to produce more or higher-quality outputs than would have been produced if each
person had worked separately and all their individual efforts were later combined.”

The authors further suggest a competitive advantage for organizations working in groups and teams; the organization should aim to:(a) enhance its performance; (b) increase its responsiveness to customers; (c) increase innovation;  and (d) increase employees’ motivation and satisfaction. Yet, building a high-performing organization is no easy task.  Many organizations have faltered
in thinking that simply optimizing their resources with “good management” and utilizing good technology are enough to stimulate high performance.

In today’s hyper-competitive environment, it’s not only about good processes; it’s about putting a good team together.  Gary
Lewis, President of Resource Development Systems, LLC, argues that creating high-performing organizations is about managing people: “What differentiates the high-performing organization is not how well they have dealt with their process issues, but how well they have dealt with their people issues.”  Lewis notes some key elements for high-performing organization, such as people, vision, leadership, core competencies, innovation, trust, and personal responsibility.

 As organizations retool for the future, organizational performance will be a key topic for senior executives. The article demonstrated the importance of high-performing organizations for future sustainability. Every organization wants to attain
high performance; sadly, many organizations are simply clueless about how to do so.

Like the Knoxville West girls’ track team, organizations must find ways to overcome challenges so that they can become successful. People are a critical element to this organizational performance puzzle. Therefore, leveraging people is as important as managing resources in order to sustain high performance in organizations over the long term.

 © 2011 by Daryl D. Green

Model the Way

World hurdler, Jackie Coward (University of Central Florida, West alumni)

Track does not lie. Watching our children compete with the Knoxville Track Club, I learned this important lesson. An athlete needs to have substance, and coaches need to be proficient in their strategies.  All the smoke and mirrors in the world will not change an individual’s time or measurement.

Likewise, leaders emerge and falter by the examples they set before the team. Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, authors of The Leadership Challenge, evaluated over hundreds of high performance organizations to determine how they were successful. One of the ingredients was managers ‘model the way.’ In fact, leaders set the right example. I saw this example symbolized in two athletes at West High School.

The West High School Track Team has built a solid name for itself, with All-American hurdler Jackie Coward at the helm.  While many people around the area figured West would faded into the wilderness with the graduation of Coward, West got better by creating a talented and deep squad.  Coach Mike Crocket and Coach Greg Allen led a group of young and gifted athletes who were inspired to compete for a state champion. Over the last decade, the girls track team has been pretty amazing: 2006 AAA State Champion, 2007 AAA State Runner-up, 2008 Champion, 2009 AAA State Runner-up and 2010 AAA State Champion. Yet, I attribute their success this year to the two team captains, Aurielle Sherrod and Patavia Lowery.

Aurielle Sherrod, Prepxtra Track & Field Female Athlete of the Year

Going into her senior year, Aurielle was one of the top sprinters in the state. In the early track season, she got a hamstring injury: “I knew it was really bad.” It would hamper her all season. In fact, it was questionable how she would perform at state with little practice. The critics were wrong. Aurielle won the 100 and finished seconded in the 200 meters. She also led the Lady Rebels to wins in the 4 x 100 relay and a second place finish in the 4 x 200 relay. She refused to let her setback prevent her from success. She was voted the Prepxtra Female Track Athlete of the Year. With a 3.9 GPA in high school, Aurielle heads to University of Alabama – Birmingham on an academic scholarship.

Patavia Lowery, Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame’s Female Athlete of the Year

Patavia could be the mascot for overachievers.  Since 7 years old, she competed with the Knoxville Track Club and has been characterized by her hard work ethics.  Entering high school, her goal was to make it to state. Unfortunately, things didn’t happen as quickly. It would take her junior year to make it there. Loaded with a host of unproven talent, West High was looking for something special. At state, Patavia won the 800 meters, anchored a bronze finish in the 4 x 800, and helped provide West with another dominated performance and its 3rd State Championship. At the annual Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame Banquet on August 5th, she was selected as one of the Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame’s Athlete of the Year.  Patavia will be joining South Carolina State University on a full track scholarship and will bring her Tennessee work ethic to this program. Clearly, these ladies set the example for excellent at West. The team responded.

Sadly, many managers are unable to inspire today’s workforce toward greater performance. Manager guru Peter Drucker argued for several decades that managers must understand their employees as well as their customers. Few executives listened. Drucker concluded, “Business tends to drift from leadership to mediocrity. And the mediocre is three-quarters down the road to being marginal.” Yet, emerging leaders need to know how to rekindle such emotions in the workplace. Setting an example is one of these keys.

 How do leaders foster the proper examples in organizations?

 © 2010 by Daryl D. Green