6 Secrets to Building Teams in a Stack Ranked World

Bell curves bring out the worst in your best. Rewarding individual performance drives individual behavior. Yet, most performance management systems so just that.

Bell curves, stack ranks, 9 box succession planning grids, all encourage selfish choices. Unless you’re running HR you can’t change the system. You can build great teams within it.

Lead past the curve to greatness.

6 Secrets to Building Great Teams

Secrets from 20 years of watching, listening, leading, and being a member of great (and mediocre) teams.

1. Inspire Vision that Motivates Sacrifice

Build excitement around an important vision. Make the mission bigger than “me” or “you.” Ensure everyone feels vital. Make the mission so attractive that everyone feels like they’ve won.

2. Define extraordinary

Define “leading” in terms of extraordinary behaviors.

  • Expose mediocrity tenaciously and compassionately. Teams rise when mediocrity is courageously rejected and excellence pursued.
  • Honor self-less actions.
  • Establish systems, rules, rewards, and consequences.
  • Rise above results. Build integrity, loyalty, and vulnerability.

3. Reward teamwork

Reward collaborative behaviors early and often. Create infrastructure for peer recognition. Celebrate “how” over “what.” Begin meetings with informal peer recognition.

4. Create opportunities to cross-train

People will remember the years they grew professionally. The memory of a 5% higher bonus will fade. Vital skills last forever. Encourage cross-training. You can’t resent a peer who made you remarkably better.

5. Involve the team in evaluation

Have the employees rate themselves and one another on behaviors. Conduct the assessment several times a year, and use as appraisal input. It’s tricky, but worthwhile.

6. Eliminate coasters

Require teamwork as a foundational job requirement. Inspire and teach teamwork. When a member refuses, help him find a more fitting job.

Posted in Career & Learning, Communication and tagged , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, Founder of Let’s Grow Leaders, helps leaders around the world achieve breakthrough results, without losing their soul. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she has over two decades of experience in sales, customer service, and HR. She was named on Inc's list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers and American Management Association's 50 Leaders to Watch. She’s the author of several books: Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates (Harper Collins Summer 2020), Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul, Overcoming an Imperfect Boss, and Glowstone Peak.


  1. Keeping systems simple.

    All organization naturally drift towards complexity. Don’t institute a new policy because of one person’s mistake or misstep.

    Whenever possible, instruct and education over train. Training is teaching someone to do something without variation. Instruction gives them the skills to do a task, and the understanding to adapt to unseen variables. Education gives them the skills and the ability to adjust plus the knowledge to leverage opportunities and threats while connecting to the big picture.

  2. Karin, instructing rather than training is a wonderful concept, however, if you are going to instruct rather than train, you also need to give people the freedom to make decisions on their own and trust those decisions. Many managers are not comfortable with letting go of the reins a bit so their folks can make their own decisions.

  3. Patti and Karen; indeed.

    Karen, it’s interesting you questioned renaming training. I was working on the packet we are about to send to our new hires for this summer. We’ve decided to switch the word training to orientation…not earth shattering or creative…but I also spent time creating a pizza topping scavenger hunt. That got the creativity efforts today. The life of a camp director.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.