Authors and Consultants | GP Strategies Corporation

Clear Secrets to Successful Teams

Image by ddpavumba at

Image by ddpavumba at

Butler recently had the great pleasure of going to an athletic reunion at the small high school he attended in Norlina, North Carolina. The invitation simply stated, “Open to all who participated in athletics from 1915 when the school opened through existing freshmen in 1981 when the school closed.” Over 300 people, showed up and many old relationships were rekindled. Top athletes from every decade reminisced about championship teams and standout coaches and players.

Though Butler had heard of the last speaker of the night and knew he was from his county, not until he was introduced did Butler realize that the speaker was a junior at Norlina High when it closed. David Henderson had been a basketball superstar at Norlina for three years and then at Warren County High School during his senior year. He went on to play for Duke University, serving as a cocaptain his senior year as the Blue Devils made it all the way to the final four.

David’s message was excellent. Let’s paraphrase the key points:

  • The best teams have clearly defined roles and match players to those roles
  • Some coaches only coach—the great ones also teach
  • He remembers where he’s from and takes his community with him as he travels the world
  • All of us should reach out and help raise up those in our community who may be disenfranchised

All four key points are powerful and relevant. Given our work with the TOPS model, the first two bullets were especially germane for us. As we have reflected on them, their applicability to the business world couldn’t be more pertinent.

The first point, the fact that best teams have clearly defined roles, speaks exactly to what Aimee discovers from her brother in our book. Role clarity provides great insight on every aspect of performance. It points to whom to recruit to fill the role and what skills to focus development efforts on, and, most importantly, it defines the specific outcomes the role must successfully produce for the team to win.

Defined roles lose much of their power, however, if they are not followed up with the subtle distinctions David points out about coaches and coaching. Some coaches focus solely on the game plan and the tactics required to carry it out. They are good tacticians. The best coaches also focus on teaching individuals how to be great in their specific roles. The teaching transforms a collection of individuals from a group of talented athletes into a high performing, winning team.

Butler is very proud to have grown up in the small rural town of Norlina, and, like David, he takes the community with him wherever he goes. Butler found it uplifting to hear David’s message and refreshing to witness the humility with which he delivered it.


Questions to ponder:

  • Are roles clear on your team?
  • Are coaches as teachers prevalent in your organization?


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