The Dance of Teams

by Chris Majer

Up for some "heady" stuff about teams in Network marketing? Then read on. Chris Majer is a leading-edge consultant in organizational development and team-building. What he has to say about teamsand their leadership-- in this "think piece" may fly in the face of what you know about creating Networking organizations. Fly away. I predict Chris' approach will find its way into some of the fastest growing, biggest Network Marketing teams of the future. --JMF

The business world of today is changing at an astonishing rate. In a historical flash, we have seen companies re-engineered, flattened and re-deployed. We've witnessed the push for total quality, empowerment or one of the other cure-alls that seem to spring up annually.

The result of these collective efforts is that hundreds of thousands of jobs have been eliminated, layers of management have been removed, and people at all organizational levels have been called upon to take new initiatives and additional responsibilities. It now seems as if larger historical, technological and economic forces are at work, and the very idea of the "job" is on its way to the organizational dustbin.

The global economy is now a reality. What was once the friendly development of technology has become an explosion of new changes impossible to keep pace with. In short, the game of business we grew up with is gone and a new game has taken its place. Network Marketing is one such new game. And...

The New Game Is a Team Sport

One of my fundamental claims is that the new game of business requires a new set of skills. Foremost among these is the capacity to coordinate individuals as teams. Everywhere you turn today there is a new claim being made about the importance of teams, yet the question remains: How do we create and lead more effective teams?

In the evolution of my work, I've had the opportunity to coach and work with a variety of high-performing sports and military teams. I've spent over a decade working to identify the essential components of a championship team, and I've invented new practices that have proven their worth on the playing fields.

With that work as a foundation, I began working with business teams and produced the same success that resulted with athletes and soldiers. So when I come to the discussion of producing teams in Network Marketing, it's not as one more opinion holder with an interesting point of view, but as a proven professional with a solid record of performance.

From this vantage point, it seems to me the lack of competence in building and leading teamsand the lack of agreement about how to develop this competencestems from a fundamental flaw in people's understanding of teams.

Current common sense says a team is a group of individuals interacting to achieve a particular objective. I take issue with that. It doesn't illuminate the means by which effective teams are made and maintained. Nor does it allow you to gain competence in building and leading teams.

Why should you be interested in building and leading teams?

Because if you were to design and lead your downline organization as the kind of team I'll be writing about, you just might create the most powerful and productive Network in history!

What I'm after here is a new interpretation of what a team is, and the role that leadership plays in the workings of an effective, successful team.

My interpretation is based on these three fundamental claims:

  • Teams are created when a leader declares a mission and creates a team to fulfill that mission.
  • A team is a commitment-based phenomenon that exists in conversations betweenthose people whose actions fulfill the mission.
  • Leadership is a linguistic competence-- not a skill, or an aspect of character-- occurring in the conversations of the team.

The leader is the person granted authority by the team to make sure the conversations that create the commitmentswhich are the foundation of the teamare developed and maintained.

What Type of Organization Do You Have?

I want to begin our work here together by first turning your attention to a quick examination of the three basic types of organizations: teams, communities and families. There are also three basic variables that distinguish each one. These are:

  • The horizon of time over which non-performance and/or non-conformance are tolerated.
  • The set of commitments that makes up each organization.
  • The role of leadership.

As this article is focused on teams, I'll only get into a little here about communities and families.

The Horizon of Time

Perhaps the most important variable in distinguishing teams from communities and families is the horizon of time over which non-performance and non-conformance are tolerated.

In a family, the horizon of time is infinite. There may be all sorts of violations of family norms, even declarations of disownment, but this doesn't change the fact that family members retain their status forever. Unconditional love is a given in most families, even when unconditional like (because of non-performance and/or non-conformance) is impossible.

In a community, the horizon of time, although not infinite, is still fairly long. Depending on the nature of the community (anything from a social club to a city to a nation), non-performance and non-conformance can be tolerated for years, even decades. Yet at the same time, there are guidelinesrules and laws which, if violated, will eventually be cause for sanctions.

But on an authentic team this horizon of time is extremely short. If you look at the simple yet classic example of sports, you can see that the players who do not perform are quickly retrained or replaced.

The same is also true for non-conformance. A successful coach knows that a player with a "bad attitude" must be removed before he undermines the leadership of the coach and brings down the morale of the entire team.

You hear much talk of wanting to have a sense of "family" in Network Marketing. But today, if you're going to win in this increasingly competitive marketplace, you must operate as a team and abandon the idea of "family" in your Network.

This may sound contrary to much of what's currently being written about creating a Networking culture of values and empowerment. But I say the blindness to the real differences between team, community and family is what's causing confusion and attrition, as people struggle to figure out which type of organization they are really part of, and therefore the basic nature and character of that organization.

What Is a Team?

A team is a commitment-based phenomenon. What I mean is, a specific set of commitments form the foundation of an authentic team.

The basis for a solid team is not a set of skills or techniques you can get from a book or seminar, but a set of commitments that generate the actions that make up the team's work.

The Nature of Commitment

A commitment is a conversational move someone makes. Commitments do not exist except in your speaking and listening. They do not exist in the "material" world. Rather, they are a phenomenon of language.

Teams cannot remain teams and succeed in the projects they undertake unless people on the team make commitments and take actions that are consistent with those commitments.

It's not enough to assemble individuals side by side and call them a team just because they're all in the same company, using the same products or wearing the same buttons at a rally. Nor is it sufficient to provide the same set of individuals with some great tips and techniques garnered from those (trainers and authors) claiming wisdom in these matters.

To be and remain an effective team, there must be a set of shared commitments. These commitments will generate the desire to learn and maintain new practices, to stretch comfort zones and to carry on in the face of rejection and adversity.

In the absence of commitment, method and technique become hollow moves in an uninspiring, lose-lose game.

Teams that are consistent high performers share the following three commitments:

  • To Own the Values, Vision and Mission of the Team
  • To Produce and Evoke Trust
  • To Generate a Mood for Success

Let's look at each one in detail.

1. To Own the Values, Vision and Mission of the Team

In successful organizations, there are clearly defined values and visions. Leaders declare missions based on these values and visions. And they create teams to take the actions necessary to fulfill that mission.

For a team to exist, the members must own the values, vision and mission of the team. This is considerably different from the traditional understanding of a team as a group of people pursuing a common purpose.

To take ownership means that the members of the team don't just talk about "supporting" the mission or "buying into" the values and vision. It means they commit to consistently coordinate their actions as a team to ensure the success of the mission.

Here's an example:

Distributors in the same downline-- even those who see each other every week at an opportunity meeting-- may have widely different opinions of what the mission of their Network organization is.

This is clearly not ownership of the mission.

If distributors in the same downline use the identical words to say what their Network is all about but are not coordinating their actions together as a team, they are not owning the mission either.

In order to ensure ownership, the upline leader must request each distributor's commitment to the team's mission. She will also have to make constant assessments of the downline's performance in fulfilling the mission-- as it shows up in each individual distributor's actions. The key question: Is the distributor's action contributing to, or jeopardizing, the team's overall performance?

The upline leader must also make sure her assessment about the team's ownership of the mission and performance is shared with everyone else on the team.

Most importantly, to own the mission means that all team members make and speak about their concerns, breakdowns and opportunitieshonestly and openlyfor the team to be able to fulfill its mission.

2. To Produce and Evoke Trust

Teammates commit to be sincere, to act on the basis of competence and to be reliable in taking action. At the same time, they commit to have public conversations when they have negative or positive assessments about other teammates' sincerity, competence and reliability; i.e., they tell the truth.

The upline leader must ensure that each teammate's commitments are managed rigorously. When people are incompetent or unreliable, the leader must take action to redefine the various roles in the team and/or provide coaching.

When the leader reaches an assessment of insincerity about someone on the team, she asks for an apology and for repair of the damage. Repeated insincerity must result in separating that person---and his or her immediate downline organization---from the team.

An insincere person poses a real problem for any Networking organization, because he or she can't be counted on to share the team's mission, values, vision or actions. In such cases, the leader will lose the respect of the team---and the team will lose cohesion, integrity and momentumif the leader fails to act appropriately and in a timely manner.

3. To Generate a Mood for Success

All teammates commit to continually create a mood consistent with succeeding in fulfilling the mission. Key moods for a powerful team are ambition, acceptance, serenity, respect, belonging, partnership, pride, pro-activity, camaraderie and celebration.

The leader is the "guardian" of the team's mood. This is of the greatest importance! This is one area where a Leader MUST be competent!

This doesn't mean that "negative" moods, i.e., moods that shut down possibilities, will never be triggered. Negative moods can happen to anybody, including the leader.

The commitment here is to observe the resignation, resentment, anger, arrogance and so on, simply as moodsnot as "reality"and to intervene and shift the negative mood to one of positive possibilities.

As the leader, don't hesitate to address the team's moods. At any time, they might jeopardize your teammates' commitments.

If you feel you don't have the competence needed to intervene or to design a new mood, don't hesitate to request help from somebody with proven skills in this area.

Network Marketing Team Leadership

To be the team leader, it is not sufficient to create and communicate the mission for the team. You too must develop your commitment to the mission and keep people engaged in the conversations and actions of the team.

Leadership only becomes apparent when people grant the leader the authority to lead. The authority of a Network Marketing leader is granted by the downline he serves.

Invested with the authority of a leader, the upline's role is to be the designer of practices that ensure the conversations and actions of the team are taken care of. The upline is not presumed to be "the best" at doing all of the team's work, nor to be competent in all areas of Network Marketing, nor to always have all of the answers and immediate solutions to all problems.

An effective upline leader does not need, and should not aspire, to be "perfect." In a team with an excellent leader, the upline sponsor is not necessarily a virtuoso in every one of the team's different domains.

To excel as a leader is to put together and orchestrate a team with the talents and skills to be successful.

To excel as a leader is also to be competent in building alliances and bringing in help where competence is lacking.

A team that relies exclusively on the leader's virtuosity is, in the long run, a weak team. It will not grow and produce other strong leaders for future teams. This failure will eventually kill the viability of any Network Marketing organization.

In the end, if the upline distributor is to be a successful team leader, she and the team both need to be clear about their roles.

The team has been called forth to fulfill a mission. To be a team member is to commit to take actions to fulfill that mission. To be a team leader is to take on the responsibility to ensure that the commitments that empower the team are always alive. These commitments live in your conversations.

The leader must also be clear that she is not responsible for producing permanent happiness, agreement, harmony or consensus among the team members. Instead, she must produce satisfaction amongst the team and in the fulfillment of the mission.

In this case, satisfaction is the assessment on the part of the team that their work has value, that they have been able to make a contribution, that they have had a chance to learn, develop and grow, and in so doing, have advanced their Network Marketing careers and been rewarded rightly for their efforts.

This assessment of satisfaction is what a Network Marketing leader strives to create. All true leaders in this business take on this challenge.

This is a domain of rich, ongoing learning I call "the dance of teams."

Chris Majer and his Human Potential Project team have worked for over 20 years in leadership development, team building and increasing productivity & profit with people, organizations and industries from senior managers at AT&T, Microsoft, Cargill, EDS and American Airlines, as well as Special Forces commanders and Olympic athletes. To learn more about him and his company go to

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