Scoring member impact through your leadership team

My daughter MacKenzie started playing basketball last year. She’s tall and vastly more coordinated than I am on my best day. It was fun to watch her play. The joy came from watching her gain confidence as her skills grew and her team started to gel. One speedy team member moved the ball down the court rapidly. Another team member shot the ball consistently. One other team member supported others no matter what happened on the court. MacKenzie’s height and stamina made her a solid defender, blocking the opponent’s efforts to score.

I have had the good fortune during my career of working across a few organizations that put teams first. I felt skeptical when I started working for organizations that cared deeply about teams. Until then my most recent experience with teams had been at the University of Michigan on class projects, and those teams did not have the healthiest dynamics. Typically, one or two people did the majority of the work for the rest of the group.

According to “Enhancing the Performance of Senior Credit Union Management Teams,” by Barrick, Kristof-Brown, Colbert and Kelly, published by Filene Research Institute, “A True Team is a group of highly interdependent members who: work together toward common goals for which all team members are mutually accountable; concentrate on building strong team processes and dynamics in communication, personal and task conflict resolution and cohesion; and receive rewards based upon overall team performance.”

I began to see the power of these “True Teams” as my tenure grew within credit unions. I watched as one of my mentors, John Normandeau, built an executive team by pulling in skill sets that complemented his. I observed that when a new set of expectations was introduced, one team member mastered those and from there a healthy team would learn together and become stronger, growing from the experiences of the speediest learner. I watched under Kirk Kordeleski how the strategic language shared with a team can bring a shared vision to life and focus hundreds of people toward a common goal. I learned through coaching from Todd Marksberry how values like humility and “putting others before self” can become so powerful that opposing behaviors become a warning beacon that something needs attention and ultimately ensures that teams continue to perform exceptionally over time.

As I started my journey at Community Financial Credit Union, one of the first things I did was spend time with the executive team, individually and collectively. In fact, during my first two weeks, we held an offsite meeting to develop our leadership charter. Several people asked me, “Why would that be a priority as you onboard as a new CEO?” The answer was simple: Our organization, in the long term, will only be as successful as the unified strength of our executive team.

In Harvard Business Review’s “The Secrets to Great Teamwork,” authored by Martine Haas and Mark Mortensen, they report on the work of J. Richard Hackman who studied teams for years. He identified three conditions teams need to thrive: direction, a strong structure and a supportive context. During my early days at Community Financial Credit Union, developing our leadership charter firmed our strong structure. We aligned on the behaviors that would lead us toward success. Equally as important, we determined the non-acceptable behaviors that could destroy our team and the outcomes we work hard to create.

This leadership charter lives as a guide for our team. We cascaded the contents throughout the organization and shared the commitments we were making to one another. We regularly call upon the charter to celebrate when we manifest our shared expectations. We also use the charter to guide difficult conversations when we are not rising to our commitments. The language we crafted has become a part of who we are as a team.

Beyond a solid structure, I felt strongly that I needed to lead our executive team toward a future where we work as a coalesced unit with varying perspectives, skill sets and backgrounds with complementary strengths. We had a long-tenured team and as the opportunity arose to add two new people, I looked for the competency of the role along with strengths and behaviors that were not currently represented on the team. Adding players to a team is not only about finding the talent to execute a position. It is about finding the talent to make the team exponentially stronger.

For example, before filling the last role on our executive team, our team was largely filled with introverted individuals. It was essential to find a powerful leader with the experience, acumen and capabilities to lead in a senior role, in balance with considering the team dynamic and how adding more extroversion could support the organization overall.

This example illustrates just how powerfully the overall needs of a team must rise beyond any individual. My considerations in adding a team member had to elevate the team’s needs. Ensuring our long-term success is both about the individual and how he or she would bring value and add new strengths to the whole team.

In early October we had an all-team meeting called C3, standing for Collaboration, Community & Connection. Our executive team shared time on a panel, and one of the most significant pieces of feedback from more than 320 team members was how much fun it was to see the executive team together with such engagement and alignment. This shows the power of the team coming together and how visible and visceral that can be.

Alignment does not mean we always agree. At a recent Board Working Session, our board chair, Don Bain, invited us to watch “The Abilene Paradox.” This classic learning tool crafted by Dr. Jerry B. Harvey illuminates the negative outcomes that come through group dynamics when we fail to share our differing perspectives. One of our commitments through our leadership charter is “building trust and authentic harmony, evidenced by healthy debate.” Our outcomes will be stronger, and our members will have even more value when we openly discuss different approaches to issues and come to an aligned path forward. An invitation to openly share differing views, a solid structure, a diverse team and cohesion grown from nurtured relationships make that possible.

Our future at Community Financial Credit Union depends on a host of things: putting people first, strong financial performance, an iterative strategy, a commitment to learning and curiosity, using listening to drive innovation, dynamic storytelling, investing in shaping the future of work, and growing member engagement. That will only come to life with a dynamic, unique and fully engaged leadership team. Like MacKenzie’s basketball team, each individual brings something special that makes the team even more epic. Winning as a team means putting the team first, caring for one another and keeping our leadership charter in sharp focus. What does your team need to elevate its game even further?

Tansley Stearns

Tansley Stearns

Tansley Stearns is the president & ceo at Community Financial Credit Union. “No” is not a word in Tansley’s vocabulary. If there is an opportunity to bolster Community Financial Credit ... Web: Details