How to Build a Winning Team

In 2017, I went away with the Australian Men’s Beach Handball team to the World Games in Wroclaw, Poland. The World Games is basically the Olympics for sports that aren’t in the Olympics currently, which has an MOU with the IOC to decide if a sport should be promoted or not. As you might have guessed, Australia is not exactly a powerhouse nation in handball, so we have a small talent base to choose the national team from - roughly 80 players. In the previous year, we had made strides in improving our performance, but we still finished last at the World Championships.

So, we decided that we had to make a change in order to push ourselves to take the next step. We had a team meeting, where we all individually identified:

  • What does success look like for each of us individually?

  • What are we afraid of?

  • What will happen if our worst fears come true?

What this exercise showed is that individuals within the team were all coming to the tour from different places and experiences. Some really wanted results to be the benchmark for success and others felt fun should be prioritised as well. It allowed us as a group to better understand our teammates motivations and then shape that into a collective culture, one that had everybody’s buy in and input.

The story doesn’t have a Disneyesque ending where we became World Champions unfortunately, though what we earned was just as valuable; respect. All of a sudden, we went from being easily beatable to surprising the best teams in the world and making them work for victory. We made the best team in the history of the sport, and eventual winners of the World Games, Brazil, do punishment training as a result of our performance against them. The defending world champions, Croatia, suddenly wanted to swap for Australian jerseys. Withinthe team as well, we were buzzing. We ended up coming 6th, but to us, we felt like we had finally become a team that was capable of something more.

In my sporting career I have been involved in a lot of teams and have had a ton of teammates. I have been in teams that have been the under dogs, teams that have been the favourites and teams that have been completely written off.

There is a distinct difference between teams that have performed or over-performed in my experience and it has always come down to three main over-arching factors.

  1. Mutual respect throughout the playing group

  2. A shared desire to do more than expected

  3. A common goal

These are all pretty self-explanatory, but the teams where the playing group is homogenous and respects one another creates an environment where success can occur. Without it, infighting, backstabbing and feelings of inequality quickly take over. Successful teams almost always have the playing group willing to go the extra step beyond what is expected of them to try to achieve the team’s goal. Everyone takes it upon themselves to ensure that they have done every bit of preparation they can do and are willing to make sacrifices to ensure the teams success. Finally, a common goal unites the team completely. It eliminates any doubts about what the team is trying to achieve and sets the wheels in motion for the other two steps. Anyone who is not buying into the goal won’t have respect and I doubt they will be willing to go the extra mile.

Success is not always tied to winning in my opinion – you will lose a lot more in your sporting career than you win on balance – but to give yourself the best opportunity, you need to create the right atmosphere for success to occur. When building a team you go through four phases: forming, norming, storming and performing, and through following this process you will find that every team goesthrough ups and downs as it establishes itself. It’s about knowing the questions to ask of your teammates and getting those responses onto paper to hold everyone accountable.

If you need help to get your team on the path to success, book a call with me today and I can walk you through the process.

Scott Nicholson