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The Unbreakable Team

Think big, start small, iterate fast.
Chris Laping
Contributing Writer
The knotted rope symbolizes the strength of unity.

In behavioral science, there’s an important concept, keystone habits. In a nutshell, they’re routines that have a halo effect on everything. As an example, nutrition. If people want to turbo charge their overall well-being, they can mindfully focus on what they consume.

Eventually, their vitality will change, and they exercise more. This leads to more restful sleep, and the benefits go on and on. In essence, less Oreos lead to more zzzz’s. I believe this concept can also help us build stronger teams.

In fact, after 18 years of executive experience, and many more years of extensive research and field work, I’m certain it’s the holy grail to teamwork.

A Win-Win

Flavor-of-the-month management theories and one-size-fits-all methodologies have little to no impact on sustained growth. Instead, keystone habits can unlock productivity and performance and create The Unbreakable Team.

The Unbreakable Team doesn’t have a perfect record. In fact, they make plenty of mistakes and frequently fail.

But they’re resilient when things don’t go as planned. They bounce back with stronger ideas and confidently move forward knowing their teammates have their back.

Finally, The Unbreakable Team gets better results for their stakeholders in less time while growing relationships and trust. Clearly, a win-win.

7 Keystone Habits

Based on the meta-analysis of 50+ studies and thousands of hours of field work, I want to share the 7 keystone habits of a highly functional and resilient organization … aka The Unbreakable Team:

1. They define the real problem. When you listen closely, you realize The Unbreakable Team is focused on a specific and concrete problem they can act on. They don’t generalize problems. “Sales are down. Turnover is high. Profit margins are decreasing.” Instead, they double and triple-click on a problem and expose detailed nuances.

2. They design simple solutions. When teams solve a specific and concrete problem, they don’t tend to over-architect the solution. With precision, they can quickly experiment or implement. But when problems are generalized like “turnover is high,” you can see how quickly the solution grows larger and more complex. No one is quite sure what action or solution will solve the problem so they roll out 10 things at once.

3. They always know the top priority. Whether a team has a long-term strategic plan, or they operate in a more agile manner doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that on any given day, every contributing team member has line-of-sight visibility to the top priority. There is no ambiguity. However, when leaders roll out a one and done strategic plan with no discussion of sequence or stack ranking of priorities, it’s a recipe for dysfunction and execution nightmares.

4. They solicit other people’s opinions. The Unbreakable Team never takes for granted they know the real problem or the right solution. Instead, they seek the feedback and input of their stakeholders or customers. And they don’t do this with disingenuous surveys. They ask open-ended questions resulting in uncomfortable truths and deep insights.

5. They experiment. Recognizing every great idea is just a hypothesis that needs testing, The Unbreakable Team designs and executes thoughtful experiments. They don’t rely on arbitrary sample sizes or fall into the trap of selection/confirmation biases.

6. They know when to quit on an idea or project. Based on their experiments, they have a strong sense of “kill criteria.” Meaning: they know what outcomes to directionally expect. This helps them make effective quit decisions which prevent a resource suck.

7. They deeply care about each other. The science is clear. When a team has vulnerable trust, and they feel like they have a best friend at work, it creates psychological safety. Teams with psychological safety enjoy more innovation, less workplace injuries, and higher stakeholder satisfaction.

Like any keystone habit, any one of these can ignite productivity and performance on any team.

The Wrap

Don’t fall victim to all-or-nothing thinking. If your team isn’t doing any of these things today, you don’t have to go all in. Every little change can have a massive halo effect on your organization.

Think big. Start small. Iterate fast.

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