Building a Winning Team

Author John C. Maxwell writes, “To collaborative team members, completing one another is more important than competing with one another.” A collaborative team is essential to getting the job done, and research supports that team building is one of the most important things you can do in management.  In the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, University of Michigan professor Kim Cameron and his colleagues found that teams who exhibit positive practices are more productive. Positive practices include inspiring one another, providing support, and treating one another with trust and respect.  Collaborative team dynamics can be fragile and hard to create, especially if there isn’t a natural chemistry in the team. Here we asked experienced local business leaders how to build a team that works well together and gets the job done.


Jim McKenzie

City President, First Bank

I have heard my good friend Mitch Patel say this on more than one occasion, “the fish in the seas and the birds in the trees.” In other words, people are different. People have different levels of talent for different things. Part of building a high-performing team is simply recognizing what people are best at doing and allow their gifts to benefit the organization. Although building a team is certainly about positioning people in places where their creative talents can add value, one will always do well to bring in people with a naturally positive attitude and outlook on life. Not all people possess this outlook. Positive attitudes are contagious though, just as negative ones are. I believe there is a multiplier effect to the camaraderie of any good team when you have a person with a positive attitude. Conversely the opposite effect takes hold on a team too.

WinningTeam.SanfordKeith Sanford

President and CEO, Tennessee Aquarium

Have a plan and fill your team with those people who believe in it and can help you fulfill it. Pay your team a fair wage and give them authority to make decisions. Stick up for them, support them, coach them, and help them when they don’t make the proper decision. Celebrate when they do. Most of all, respect them.

Don’t rush to fill vacant team positions. Take time and get it right, and if you don’t have the right candidate, don’t think they will change. Start over and wait until you find the right fit. Use diversity to make your team stronger. If you choose people who look like you, think like you, are your age, race, religion, political spectrum, sexual orientation, or gender, then you have no differences of opinion and are missing out on a lot of great ideas. Lastly, take the blame for the tough decisions, share the credit and the glory, you did it together.

Have a plan and fill your team with those people who believe in it and can help you fulfill it.

– Keith Sanford


Steve Cox

President, Steam Logistics

At Steam, our referral program is essential as the base of building a team. Our people know if their acquaintances can cut it in our environment. I would say the way we have built a culture of trust and collaboration is very unique. We have a very transparent compensation and accountability program. Everyone can see how everyone else is compensated. Everyone can see everyone else’s daily KPIs in real time. These are displayed on TVs around our office. This eliminates seniority and favoritism. You come to work each day knowing that if you make the most effort, you will make the most money. Knowing someone is along for the ride and isn’t making maximum effort to move the team forward can crush an environment of collaboration, trust, and teamwork. We have built a team of exceptional performers because of this culture of transparency and accountability.

WinningTeam.HarrellMike Harrell

CEO, Latitude Advisors, LLC

In my experience, there are three critical ingredients needed to create a high performing team:  1) Vision – there has to be a clear picture of the team’s reason for being, where it is going, and a clear line of sight of how each member contributes to the overall purpose; 2) Role alignment – getting the right people, with the right skills and abilities, in the right position, is essential; 3) Strength integration –it is critical to leverage the diversity of strengths of each team member to achieve the goals of the organization. Even when a team has skilled people in the right roles, they must understand each other’s strengths and be vulnerable enough to combine those strengths as they move toward the vision of the organization. Goals can still be accomplished by having just one or two of these ingredients, but true high performing teams will have all three. 

WinningTeam.SteelePatti W. Steele

President and CEO, First Volunteer Bank

For any team to work well together and get the job done, you need more than just their participation, you need their commitment. Getting that commitment in the midst of the daily routine is the hard part. In my experience, defining a common goal and then working with all the team members to define their actionable part can create an alliance among them. This alliance builds trust among the team because most people want to be held accountable. Once a team’s collective energy is focused on the common goal and a trusting environment is created where everyone is held accountable for their part, the success of the team can be unlimited.

WinningTeam.DoakBob Doak

President and CEO, Chattanooga Convention & Visitors Bureau

Building a great team starts with hiring smart, capable people that know their industry and have great growth potential. We are fortunate at the CVB to have a great staff with top-of-the-industry team leaders. With the right leaders in place, comes trust, transparency, and teamwork. Everyone builds off each other’s skills and understands how they fit into achieving the organizational goals. Finally, I believe in rewarding high-performers so that they can become the next generation of leaders on our team. In the end, the team can achieve anything they set out to do because they’ve earned all the tools necessary for success.


Joe Brown

Market President, BB&T

Beliefs drive behaviors. Behaviors drive results. Leaders often first look to the results of a team to determine their effectiveness. Good leaders look to the behaviors that drive results, like collaboration, trust, and teamwork. Great leaders understand that people behave in ways that are consistent with their belief system. Advancements in research have created the opportunity to have something more than a gut feeling or blind luck when placing and developing a team. At BB&T, we are able to employ empirically proven diagnostic tools to evaluate beliefs and predict behaviors and competencies based on those beliefs. Combined with expert analysis and our experienced guidance, leaders can develop a strategic approach to confidently place talent in the right roles, reduce turn over, diagnose and address conflicts, and develop high performing teams. When a leader deeply understands the unique nuances of their team, they know exactly what their team needs to inspire greatness.

WinningTeam.PoulsonRhonda Poulson

SVP, chief nursing officer, CHI Memorial

The greatest need, and the hardest relationship to build, is trust. It’s something every high performing team will have. As leaders, we need to spend time training and coaching on the attributes that build trust – things like good communication, reliability, and timeliness. Being a good team doesn’t mean there won’t be conflict. Members must have healthy conflict and learn how to manage through it. To be a strong team member, you have to be willing to be coached. Team members must appreciate the diverse skill sets within the group. We can’t have an effective team without a variety of skills. And remember to celebrate your milestones – not just the big wins, but the little wins too.

WinningTeam.SarvisMike Sarvis

Market President, Synovus

Generally, winning teams have the best talent, so logically, filling your team with the best players should guarantee a win. However, that’s not always the case. Being the best talent-wise is not always a winning formula if you have team members who are not a great fit with your team and with your culture. If they aren’t a team player and don’t share your common purpose, they can erode the winning culture that you have worked so hard to create and build (there is no “I” in team). Another important aspect is clearly defining roles and responsibilities. It’s important to set expectations for what the team needs and also what the individual is expected to contribute to the cause. Everyone needs to understand the common goal and the impact that their performance has on the overall success of the team. When expectations are not being met, it’s imperative to make sure everyone is held accountable in a timely manner – for the good of the team. And lastly, celebrate often. The fun is in the winning!

WinningTeam.DyeJamey Dye

Chief Operating Officer, COS Business Products & Interiors

Over the years, we have found that that transparency is paramount to both customers and our team. When dealing with either group, this type of honesty creates a trust or bond that has allowed us to serve our customers and team for over 76 years. Many view the business world as a series of transactions. In reality, we are people. We are wives, husbands, sons, and daughters making decisions to the best of our ability for ourselves and our companies. We believe in what we do and how we do it.


Jan Keys, DNP, RN, FACHE

Chief Nursing Executive, Erlanger Health System

Building the right team means having an understanding of what makes a team thrive. Team members must demonstrate consistent and disciplined practices that meld together their skills, experiences, and insights with other individuals on the team. A leader who clearly articulates goals that develop a common purpose, challenge the team, and hardwire accountability for high performance will have a significant impact on the team’s success. It is essential the leader believes and supports the team’s purpose and recognizes what each individual brings to the table. As a facilitator, a leader will remove barriers and set an approach that will engender ownership and empowerment. By conveying positive and meaningful feedback and encouraging appropriate risk-taking, leaders build confidence, promote innovation, and standardize cutting-edge strategies teams need to be successful. Encouraging the use of affirmative techniques such as withholding conclusions until understanding and creating “space” for silence and active listening will teach a resolution process. A team that is high performing must also allow time inside the team to unwind and ease stress.


WinningTeam.WilkinsLisa Wilkins

Partner-Quantitative Research, Wilkins Research Services, LLC

Teamwork is the motto around here. WRS prides itself on being that company that works as a team, never working as a single unit. I know it’s cliché, but there couldn’t be a more true statement than together everyone achieves more.   Communication, respect, and support are key ingredients to teamwork success. My business partner and I both share the same philosophy that every job at WRS is important and plays a vital role. While we share in different aspects of the business, we both know that our teamwork ensures we are successful. Lastly, we know the importance of each employee and strive to recognize them for their efforts. Each person contributes in a huge way and we know that we could not do it without them! 


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