Would you be shocked to read that the Dallas-based Cooper Clinic, which specializes in executive health projects, reported 64% of people with management responsibilities will die prematurely from chronic stress caused by their workplace.  Would you be surprised that the Palo Alto Medical Group, which provides mobile health exams for the employees for many tech companies in the Silicon Valley, reports an epidemic of 35-year-old engineers and program managers with 60-year-old cardiovascular health.

I am not shocked.

Almost every company I consult with is a hot-house of psychological madness mostly caused by  poorly led, dysfunctional teams. A lot of the pain is invisible to senior management, except for failure to deliver innovations that customers actually value when they were promised. Much of the time new products are created or software developed that does not resemble what the customer was sold. In these cases, when the product is implemented, they try to convince their customers that the crap they are delivering is what the customer really needs. All this creates massive stress and blame.

But this is normal.

Research is clear that sustained teamwork is one of the most difficult of human acts. Teams that are tasked to create and innovate have an even higher bar. Anthropologist, Augustin Fuentes, of Notre Dame University reports that creative collaboration is the highest human achievement…and the most difficult one. If you doubt this, just consider these questions, “How many high performing teams have you been on? How many frustrating teams have you been on?” Most people report they have been members of high functioning teams no more than 20% of the time they have worked on a team. And being on a truly great team seems to be a once-in-a lifetime work experience.

None of this is surprising.

Consider the variations of human competence, social intelligence, values and motives.

Then throw in the performance pressures, competing priorities, lack of goal clarity, poor resource allocation and changing external conditions. Finally, consider that virtually no designated team leader is trained to master the complexity of leading successful teams.

It’s simply amazing that teams work at all!

Yet, there may be no greater feeling at work than teaming creatively with other human beings you genuinely respect and trust to achieve a goal you all value. Teams are terrible when they don’t work, and highly energizing and deeply satisfying when they do. (A lot like marriage.)

Much of my work has focused on developing high functioning executive teams and highly successful innovation teams. What I have learned is that great team leaders intentionally create a team culture with norms, rules, and expectations that are explicit and consistently reinforced and if necessary, enforced. The most powerful message a team leader has is to cut people from the team if they are not keeping their commitments or violating team norms necessary for success…no excuses, no exceptions.

In order to create a powerful and explicit set of success values and mutual commitments, a team leader must hold a “Foundation Meeting” to establish the behaviors and mutual expectations needed to achieve team goals. A “Foundation Meeting” has one primary agenda.

First – State what the goal is, and how success will be measured.
This creates goal clarity and focus.
Second –  State why the goal is vital to strategic success and the beneficial impact of the goal on the ultimate customer.

Both are critical to team motivation.

Third- Answer the 10 Team Questions below.
These are questions I have developed from working in the trenches with teams tasked with extreme challenges. The questions are designed for discussion among the core team members but ultimately the team leader has to “own” them, communicate them and enforce them. The answers to these questions form a group constitution that empowers team members to behave in ways that empower the entire team.

10 Questions to Ask when You Start Working Together

  1. What are the things that make you trust someone’s competence?
    (e.g. education, expertise, experience, leadership position, achievements, personal characteristics, etc.)
  2. What behaviors and characteristics positively impress you when you are working on a team?
  3. How important are punctuality, time limits and deadlines? (1-10)
  4. What level of candor and directness are you comfortable with in a work setting? Polite Discretion (1) – Total Candor (10)?
  5. Is a commitment a promise to accomplish the goal, or a commitment to do your best?
  6. What kinds of concerns and opposing viewpoints should be aired in public and which should be discussed off-line?
  7. In what circumstances do you view failure as the means to drive progress?
  8. What’s the best way to deal with an under-performing teammate?
  9. What’s the most important thing your teammates could do to support your best contribution to the team?
  10. How do you holistically define team success?

So, imagine working on a team whose members explicitly agreed to a set of behaviors that

applied to everyone. Yes, it’s refreshing and generates trust and unrestrained teamwork because the need for self-protection and work-arounds is largely eliminated.

If you lead a team now, call a re-start meeting and reboot your team with a constitution based on discussing and answering the ten questions

If you are on a team, pitch this to your team leader and make a strong business case for

collaborating on a team constitution. The team will get more great things done faster.

The bottom line.

Mastering SMART team leadership is a critical 21st century leadership skill. People with high social intelligence need to exert more influence in the decaying authoritarian structures of problem filled organizations of our time. Anyone who believes that creative collaboration can thrive in an authoritarian culture better live in a state where smoking weed is legal because that’s a lazy delusion.

So, if you are feeling stressed by failing teamwork…out-smart and out-lead the dunderheads.  Help build kick-ass teams that change the future. If you’re reading this you are probably designed to lead teams, so lead.





Please join us for the launch of National University’s SMART Women Institute. National University is collaborating with leadership expert and women’s advocate, Will Marré, in developing the SMART Women Institute, a science-based organization and transformation, research, and development center.

The purpose of the Institute is to educate, equip, and empower women to lead in business, government, education, nonprofits, and start-up enterprises. Its mission is to train one million women in the next five years to be effective leaders empowered to create an abundant and sustainable future for themselves and the organizations they represent.

We scheduled three sessions to make it convenient for you to attend one of them. Each session is designed to introduce you to the Institute, engage you in strategic collaboration, and equip you with proven leadership skills that you can immediately use in your career.

Imagine that you could make a difference that really mattered to the world and mattered to you. Imagine that you could make a difference that would benefit humanity and create a future of sustainable abundance. Imagine that you are perfectly designed to make this impact.


Join us on one of the following dates:

Friday, November 17
The Five Habits and Mind-Tricks of SMART Power Women
Friday, December 8
Supercharge Your Career, Work Like a Genius, and Live Like a Butterfly

Torrey Pines South Building, Room 221
11255 North Torrey Pines Road
La Jolla, CA 92037

RSVP to Tiffany Andrade at tandrade@nu.edu or (858) 642-8151.
Please include the date that you plan to attend.