6 Powerful Ideas for Building a First-Class Team on Campus

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“To build a high performing team is a daunting and noble task, and such teams are as rare as blue diamonds. This paper offers six practical strategies.”



The silo mentality that often exists on our campuses often limits our collective actions, and creates redundancy and replication. Given shrinking resources and the rapid pace of change, the siloed approach to team building and decision making is neither strategic nor feasible. We must work collaboratively to utilize the collective talents of our campus stakeholders. And learning to build high performing teams is one of the most effective ways we can meet the many challenges that confront us.

If a senior leader can build a stellar team, the organizational leverage that can be achieved is powerful and can be a game changer for a campus. In this scenario:

  • Stakeholders understand that cross-boundary collaboration is expected and supported by the actions of the senior team, because they model the way.
  • Campuses are able to solve complex challenges because people work together to manage these challenges.
  • People share resources, ideas, attention and effort, recognizing that the team, not just some individuals on it, really matter in serving the mission and vision of their campus.

We have had the opportunity to work with scores of senior teams in higher education. Almost always, these teams were comprised of highly intelligent, dedicated, honest, and mission-driven individuals. But few of them ever became a first class team.

When you witness a high performing senior team being transparent with each other, asking for help, dealing with conflict effectively, and listening carefully to each other, it is something you never forget. We need more of this type of senior team on our campuses if we are to deal effectively with the complex and adaptive challenges facing higher education.

This informal paper is an attempt to explore how a leader can build a great team and is informed by the research on high performing teams and our own experience with great teams on the campuses we worked on over the past twenty-five plus years. We have been interested in how excellent teams actually function and have recently written about them. There are a lot of prevalent “myths” about teams (see the paper  for examples) and we hope to share with you the “realities” about building and creating a stellar team.

This paper will examine:
  • What did Google learn about high-performing teams?
  • Understanding each team member’s gifts and strengths
  • Clarifying the decision rules
  • Establishing team norms
  • Conducting an After Action Review (AAR)
  • Managing team transitions
  • Conducting meaningful conversations
About the authors:

Patrick Sanaghan – Dr. Sanaghan serves as the head of The Sanaghan Group, an organizational firm specializing in leadership development, executive coaching, strategic planning, and leadership transitions. Pat has worked with over 200 campuses and hundreds of organizations in the last twenty-five years. He has taught leadership to thousands of leaders in higher education, and helped over one hundred campuses conduct collaborative, transparent strategic planning processes. He is the co-author/author of six books, numerous articles, and several monographs in the fields of strategic planning, leadership, and change management. His most recent books include: Collaborative Leadership in Action and How to Actually Build an Exceptional Team. Dr. Sanaghan also serves as a board member of the College of Saint Benedict in St. Joseph, MN.

Clint Sidle – In addition to his current position at Cornell, Clint Sidle is the Immediate Past Director, Roy H. Park Leadership Fellows Program, Johnson Graduate School of Management. He is widely sought as a keynote speaker and consultant in leadership development, executive coaching, and managing strategic change. He has worked with Fortune 500 companies, state and local educational systems, and some of the nation’s leading universities and nonprofit organizations. His leadership program in the Johnson School at Cornell has earned national recognition as a unique and powerful contribution to management education. His developmental approach is based on a unique experiential learning model that is the topic of his book The Leadership Wheel: Five Steps to Achieving Individual and Organizational Greatness released in September 2005. He elaborates on the inner aspect of leadership development in his most recent book, This Hungry Spirit: Your Need for Basic Goodness, published in December 2009.