Winning Team Development and Performance

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Recently, my family and I sat down to watch one of our all-time favorite movies, Miracle. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about the 1980 U.S. men’s ice hockey team and the “Miracle on Ice” they achieved when they beat the Soviets and advanced to later win the gold medal. It’s one of our kids’ favorite movies, especially now that we live in Minnesota — home of Olympic Coach Herb Brooks. We usually watch the movie once every couple of months and this time, I found myself finding inspiration from Kurt Russell’s portrayal of Herb Brooks as it relates to team development and performance. So much so, I sat down to put it into an article.

The “Miracle on Ice” was achieved by a group of young men who were college hockey players. At the previous Olympics, NHL players were recruited to represent the United States and still lost to the Soviets. So how could this group of amateurs possibly keep up with the best team, captain and goalie in the world?

People at the center

“My recruiting key — I looked for PEOPLE first, athletes second. I wanted people with a sound value system as you cannot buy values. You’re only as good as your values. I learned early on that you do not put greatness into people…but somehow try to pull it out.” – Herb Brooks

It seems like it shouldn’t have happened, but it did. Yes, they had fantastic leadership, great communication, a unique bond as teammates, but they also had a strategy. The coach knew what it would take to beat the Soviets and he was looking for each player, every position, who could best execute their role in his strategy to win. He didn’t recruit the NHL stars. He specifically wanted college athletes. Some, never played hockey again. But their role was defined before they were brought on. They already had a specific purpose and were recruited to execute on that with their teammates.

This reminded me of our own approach to helping organizations design and develop “Dream Teams”. It all starts with a goal: What do you want to achieve? Whether it’s to win the gold medal or surpass the revenue goal for 2021, you need a strategy to get there. And, sitting right in the middle of the strategy and the goal, are your people.

Design with data

Herb Brooks had the benefit of game film to review as he created his Dream Team. He knew how they would react in a game, even in certain situations he anticipated from the Soviets. He saw how they engaged with teammates as well as their college coach, so all that was left was to see how they would react to each other once they were on the same ice as a team, not as rivals.

Unfortunately, in business, we don’t take game film of important meetings but we’ve learned that our head, heart and briefcase all impact our ability to succeed in a role. From cognitive and behavioral assessments, to our experience and education, employers have perhaps even more data than Coach Brooks had in 1980 to help identify the right team members within and outside of an organization.

And, with data we can shine a light on leaders’ own strengths and blind spots as well as their team members’ when considering how they do and don’t align with goals. Because the entire team needs to understand what everyone brings to the table before they can take action and begin to communicate and work together more effectively.

As Coach Brooks said,

“You win with people, not with talent. So the quality of the people is very important in building your team.”

Is your team performing at its highest level? Find out by signing up for a free 1:1 Talent Strategy Session with one of our Leadership Consultants.


Interested in learning more about team development and performance? You’ll enjoy “Taking a Scientific Approach to Team Effectiveness” by ADVISA’s President, Heather Haas.

You can read more from Lauren Littlefield by checking out her previous article, “Data is a Catalyst for Change.”