The Mood of the Team
A Conversation with
Chris Majer

By John Milton Fogg

Chris Majer

We can all have more passion, excitement, fulfillment, and satisfaction. We can all be more creative, innovative, powerful, and productive. We can all be, do, and have more than we ever imagined." If you're doing a fist-pump with a "Yes!"

Now, you'll be very interested in what else Chris Majer has to say. He's the creator of the Human Potential Project (www.humanpotential; getting to the optimum of people's potential is Chris's life's work--and he's superbly good at doing exactly that.

Chris Majer has trained and coached world-class athletes (with his company SportsMind), big businesses like AT&T, Intel, Capital One and Nike, and elite military units of Army Special Forces, Marines, and Navy Seals. Chris and his team once took a major US corporation from losing money to a $3 billion profit! The key to realizing our potential, says Chris, is learning--not learning as you have ever known it, but transformational learning.

-- JMF

Chris, what do you do first when you start working with a team?

The first thing we're always on the hunt for is the mood of the team. That determines everything that we're going to do from there. The moods you want to see are: ambition, confidence, camaraderie, trust, cooperation and esprit de corps. What you don't want to find are moods of distrust, resentment, resignation, arrogance and cynicism.


Once you ascertain the mood, what does that tell you?

The mood is the embodied conversation people have in relation to their future; it determines the team's future. It's through the mood that the team sees the world; it's the basis upon which they coordinate action--which is what a team is all about. Teams exist only for the sake of accomplishing a particular mission. To do that, they've got to be able to coordinate action effectively and consistently--and that's not possible if they're in one of those unproductive moods.


It seems that having everybody clear and in agreement about a team mission is required--and often missing.

Absolutely: nine times out of ten, when we're attending to a breakdown within a team, the fundamental missing thing is that there's no clear collective ownership of the mission. In the absence of a clearly owned mission, you don't have a team. You've got a group, a gaggle, a gang, or something--but what you don't have is a team.


How do you establish that?

There's only one way: you have a series of
conversations about it until everybody owns the mission--which is very distinct from "understanding" it.


Is that always a co-created kind of thing, or something the team leader creates and then gets agreement about?

It depends on the nature and history of the team. Let's say we were putting together a brand new company with four or five others, because we had some new product we wanted to offer to the marketplace. We would sit down and say, okay, what is it that we're up to? We would get really clear about the particulars of the mission: we're going to have an organization that looks like this, we're going to generate so much in sales, so much in margins, etc.

This is what happens in the birth of all companies--but then you start adding new people to the soup. You can't go back, recreate the whole conversation and give each new person the same level of voice that you did the founders. So you say, okay, here's what we're up to, here's our mission. Let's talk about how you can support this--and how, by your supporting it, you can have something critical for you achieved as well.


What you describe is very practical and down to earth. What about more inspirational, high-minded aspects of the mission, such as values?

They're crucial--and it's important to distinguish them from your mission. The team starts with vision and then values.

What are we up to on a grand scale? Do we want to create a financially viable future for everybody on the planet? That would be our vision.

Then, what values are we going to hold? Do we want to do that with integrity, with honesty, with impeccability, with authenticity? Are we going to generate an organization built on trust, dignity and respect?

Our mission is much more tangible: We're going to move X amount of product and take X share of the marketplace. A mission has to be measurable, objectifiable and achievable, so you can grasp it tangibly. A vision is much more global and doesn't have measurements or benchmarks.


Is the vision part required?

Absolutely. If you're not truing to something of a higher nature, it's easy to get caught in the more mechanical or even mercenary aspects of the mission. If you're not pursuing your mission for the sake of something at a higher order, it's easy to lose sight of the more critical, more noble aspects of what we're up to.


What are moods that you commonly encounter in a team that needs some work?

You invariably bump up against some combination of distrust, resentment, resignation, and/or cynicism. You observe this by listening to the conversations people have and watching the way they interact, as well as by keeping an eye on their "somatic way of being"--how they hold their bodies in relation to each other as they move through the space.


What do you observe in teams that are working well?

Walk into a place where there's a high performing team and you immediately notice that you can feel the energy of the space. That happens when you have people working together in a mood of trust, ambition, confidence, esprit de corps, "we're all in this together," along with a set of management, coordination and communication practices in place that enable them to keep those moods alive.


What is an example of these practices?

I might have a weekly or biweekly team or company meeting. I'll give reports and my assessments about how we're doing, who's doing a great job, where we are in relation to our benchmarks...but I really have just one simple purpose: mood management.

I'm the guy keeping our eye on the future that we want for ourselves, and continuously pointing people toward that future, as well as managing whatever little mood breakdowns naturally arise along the way.

Management is doing something different. They're in charge of the consistent practices that successfully coordinate actions. In the old mode of management as supervision, the job was to check up and see what everybody's doing; that's so outdated it's kind of pathetic. What management looks at is, what are the conversations of the team that are missing? How are we doing here in terms of our standards, accountabilities and roles, how are we doing in terms of our performance, action cycles, work flows? When you've got those kinds of practices in place, things hum.


How do you translate that management role into working with a group of independent business owners in a network marketing organization?

It transfers directly. If I want my downline to work, I've got to do more than just feed them information. Just getting them on conference calls and making sure they get blast e-mails isn't going to do it. I've got to be in communication with these people in a way that allows us to coordinate effectively. I need to learn the distinctions of promises and requests, and how people build their power and competence within those, while taking care of each other's dignity. And that's up to the leadership of that downline, not the people in the downline.


What do you mean by "promises and requests"?

People make promises and requests all the time; for the most part, though, we don't do it well and we don't take it seriously. We tend to say, well, it's obvious what I promised--and it's precisely in the "obviousness" of it that all the breakdown occurs.

The business practice of managing promises is all about making sure that every time somebody speaks a promise, we're all completely clear about exactly what is being promised.

In a business context, a promise has certain elements. It has "conditions of satisfaction": what is it exactly I am promising to produce, such that when I do it, you are promising to be satisfied? And it has a "by when," so there's no open-endedness to it.

If I say to you, "John, I promise to get this article written for you by the close of business next Tuesday," you're now abundantly clear about what to expect.

If I say, "John, I'll work on that article, and get it to you as soon as I can," you are not abundantly clear. To you, "as soon as I can" might mean tomorrow, while to me it might mean June 30. You're living in your assumptions, I'm living in mine; never the twain shall meet--and in that absence of rigor, we've set up the certainty of breakdown!

You start getting resentful because I didn't fulfill your expectation; out of that resentment comes an energetic gap between us, which the mind interprets as "distrust." Now you don't trust me, because you think I'm flaky--I didn't get you the article! Suddenly I'm noticing that you and I are relating differently...and I've no idea why. At the end of June, I hand you my completed article, very proud to have it done--and you're dismissive, pissed off, not even interested in it any more! I'm completely at a loss as to what's going on with John.

A request is simply a promise initiated by the other party: instead of my coming and offering to do the article for you, you request it of me: "Chris, could you please write me an article about high-performing teams?" Out of that, I'll either make a promise to you or not.

It is the connected set of promises that actually makes up the network organization.


What do you mean by that?

When I'm managing you, I'm not coming around and saying, "John, tell me how many calls you made this week, tell me how much product you moved"; that's old-style management. I'm going to say, "John, let's check in on our mutual promises here. You've got a promise to generate X. Are you on track? Are there any breakdowns you anticipate? What--if any--assistance do you need from me?"

Management isn't about what people are doing, it's about the network of promises and whether or not the actions are fulfilling and supporting those promises. What you've been doing is, frankly, of little concern. All I want to know is, can I still count on your promise--or do we need to renegotiate something?


And if I'm off track, what happens then?

We have a conversation about it. "Okay, John, let's get at the root of this breakdown. You've moved only half the amount of product that you said you were going to. Let's figure out what's missing here; what conversations have you not been having that you need to have; what coaching do you need that I might be able to provide you with; and if I can't provide it, let's get somebody who can."

We're always on the hunt for two basic things: what's possible, and what's missing?--as opposed to the old management style, which is, what or who is wrong?

I'd much rather know you were off track now than find out the day before you were supposed to fulfill the promise, which is how most people operate.


Two things come out of this that seem very important: accountability, and a high level of specificity.

It's very popular in our society right now to talk about how we all want to be on a team. The truth is, once people find out the rigor required to really function on a team, most people don't want anything to do with it! Because it does require a high level of accountability, a willingness to take ownership of the results.


And specificity?

Specificity is part of accountability. In the old style of management, it was up to the manager to make sure that things got done. On a high-performing team, each team member is accountable for his or her own performance, as well as the overall performance of the team. It's not up to my manager to manage my promises, it's up to me.


So are you holding yourself or me as individuals responsible for other people's work?

Not responsible: accountable. I'm not responsible for your work, you're responsible for that. Accountability is simply my willingness to take complete ownership for everything that goes on; it's me holding that I am the source of what's going to make this team successful.

I take care of my stuff first, with the best effort I can produce at any given moment. I don't fall into any victim conversations about--"Well, I would have done it, but he, she or it did something to me..."--no, I'm the creative force here. I'm going to generate the action. Once I've taken care of my piece of the business, I'm going to look around to see what other assistance I can offer, so we can collectively pick up the load.

If you and I are on a football team running a play on offense, and because you slip and fall down, the guy you're supposed to cover is about to tackle our quarterback, what am I going to do? Do I sit there and say, "Oh well, that's John's fault." Of course not, I'm going to move over and block your guy! That's being accountable for the success of this play.


Teamwork is inherent to network marketing, yet there's also tremendous emphasis on the individual. How do we bring those two together?

In fact, I haven't seen a lot of networkers really build teams--at least, not teams in any highly coordinated sense. What I've seen in network marketing are more like ski teams or golf teams: everybody's wearing the same colored shirt, but in a sense, it's almost as if they're competing with each other.

It's worth asking, are we as networkers just paying lip service to this thing about teams? Because not everything in the world works best when we set a team at it. Teams are really lousy at some things; innovation, for example, tends to be an individual phenomenon. Teams also are not particularly good at writing projects: you start off looking for a race horse and end up with a camel, because everyone has his own point of view.

What teams are good at is mobilizing focused action inside a certain kind of narrowly defined boundary. I'm not necessarily sure that it makes a lot of sense to try and hold the downline as a fully functional team. They're geographically dispersed, usually, and rarely come together in one coordinated function. Again, it's perhaps more like a ski team--a collective of individual performers.


What about the concept of some people being good at some elements of the business, other people being good at others, and bringing them together to support each other's strengths and weaknesses?

That makes good sense: the "exchange of best practices." Back to sports for an analogy: Shaq makes a real lousy guard, and Gary Paten is going to get hammered if you put him in there at center. Everybody has his unique talents and strengths, and it would be highly useful if you could get people to exchange some practices.

On a real high-performing team, one reason people perform is that they don't want to let the team down. They've always got someone they're performing for who's bigger than or outside of themselves.

I've done a lot of work for the military. When those Navy Seal teams go into action, yes, they're doing it for the United States--but I promise you that when people are shooting at them, they're not thinking about American foreign policy or our commitment to freedom and democracy in the world. They're going forward and risking their lives because they don't want to let the team down.


How do you see well-functioning teams changing the way this world operates, in business, life, all of it?

We don't get much done by individual effort. It's great to have an idea or an invention, but it's who you're able to gather around you to put it together and launch it that enables you to make a difference in the world. You can't do that on your own, I don't care who you are. Gates might have been a good software writer, but in the absence of the team around him, we'd never have heard of him.

Because of that, it's essential that people learn the competence of building teams. If you don't have that competence, you can forget about being a leader or manager.


Chris, we asked our editorial panel a simple question for this issue: "Teamwork or teamplay?"

It takes work to really make a team function well together, and by "work" I mean focused effort, not "suffer and struggle." At the same time, you want to have a spirit of playfulness. You don't want it to get so weighty and serious that it's not engaging any more. If that happens, the stuff you want to happen isn't going to happen. You're not going to keep the players.

It comes back to mood. You want the team to work--but to do so in such a mood that they are excited, satisfied, thrilled to be part of the endeavor.


Anything else to create and keep in place that team mood?

The critical thing here is the distinction between making sure people are happy versus making sure they're satisfied.

You can't keep anybody happy; that's not your job. What you can do is create a set of circumstances where they constantly feel satisfied. Where they have the experience that what they're doing is making a difference. Where they're getting reasonably rewarded--and not only in a financial sense, but also in an emotional and spiritual sense, which includes impeccable acknowledgment and appreciation--for the level of contribution they're making. When people are profoundly satisfied, they stay engaged; to a certain extent, they will do whatever it takes to make sure that more of it occurs.

If you look for what people are doing right, instead of looking for what they're doing wrong; if you're committed to generating a mood of ambition; if you keep them engaged in a conversation that includes appreciation and acknowledgment, that includes showing people how they're contributing to the vision, how they're making a difference as we go forward--then you're going to have the kind of mood that generates stellar productivity and a high-performance team.