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Building a Winning Team, Of People

Beyond the Track

By Shawn Stewart, U.S. Motorsports Association

Spring has finally arrived. And that means the racing season is starting. Soon we will be loading up and heading out to the track hoping our team can find success with a fresh new season. But are you sure that you have the right team of people?

How do we build a great team? In the words of the great NFL coach Vince Lombardi, a great team is, "Individual commitment to a group effort--that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work."

Using Lombardi's theme, outlined are two initial criteria you can use for choosing your team's people. These tips apply to any race team, track or business.

#1 - People on your team must be ADAPTABLE.

Racing is a unique environment. Things can change fast. Our race car was once headed out for qualifying when it died. The track worker jumped in his truck and went to give us a push to bump start the car. He accidentally drove way too fast into the back of the race car smashing it. Anything can happen. And at the race track, the unexpected is to be expected. If you've been around racing a while then it's certain you have your own stories of times when plans didn't go as planned.

Some people simply can't handle these situations. They panic, they get anxious, they get upset and they breakdown often pulling the entire team down with them. People on your team must know how to find ways to move forward no matter the circumstances they are faced with.

Nothing will teach a person more about being adaptable than racing in the famed Baja 1000. You prepare for weeks or even months. But then you find yourself using a rock to cut a piece of metal off a rusted out fence post in the middle of the desert to fix your race car. Or after your dirt bike engine blows up and you're so determined to finish the race, you convince a Mexican Frito Lay delivery truck to pull you across the finish line. All true stories and there is not enough room in this article to list all the other unexpected circumstances one faces in a 30+ hour race through grueling terrain south of the U.S. border. But all racing has unexpected circumstances. Racing is about finding ways to move forward.

Summary: Pick people to be on your team who are comfortable with rapid change, controlled chaos, and uncertainty. Have a team that is willing to "figure it out", while working cohesively together.

#2 Team members should NOT have a job on your team they should have RESPONSIBILITIES.

Determine the various roles needed and clearly define each person's responsibilities. Some might wear ten hats and others just one. Be sure people on your team are wearing hats that fit them. Your team should be passionate, not about their job, but their responsibilities.

Jobs and Responsibilities have very different definitions according to the dictionary.

Job: a task or piece of work, especially one that is paid.

Responsibility: the opportunity or ability to act independently, being accountable for something.

Your team members should be self-managed and independent, taking on their responsibilities without much or any supervision. They should have a passion for what they are contributing to the team no matter how small or large that task is. The egos must be left at home.

One of my very first "responsibilities" in racing more than 20 years ago was simply to clean the race car. While it seems it was a pointless job I took the responsibility seriously. As I cleaned the car I looked for broken parts or anything that looked out of the ordinary. There were several times I found issues. Had I just done my job and cleaned the car we likely would have not finished some races.

You'll notice everyone on a successful team blaming themselves not others when things go wrong. Individuals on successful teams are constantly looking for ways to improve their responsibilities. Good teams have team members who are independent in their work and do not need to be told what they did wrong. However, they can also take criticism when appropriately presented to them.

Summary: Find team members who are passionate about their specific responsibilities no matter how large or small. Build your team with people who are independent and don't need much supervision. Surround your team with people who can take constructive criticism and are always eager to improve their position on the team.

Bonus tip: If you're the leader who's responsible for building the people on your team don't forget to look in the mirror as well. Do you meet the criteria that you're looking for in others?


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