Robert DeMarzo offers takeaways for Midsize Enterprise Summit attendees from Don Yaeger’s preview of his MES Fall keynote at the recent Xchange conference in Orlando.

When the Midsize Enterprise Summit team first suggested to the MES Advisory Board that author and motivational speaker Don Yaeger deliver the MES Fall opening keynote, it was met with business-like approval. After all, Yaeger is a well-known speaker who has written numerous books on successful athletes.

When the Board found out that Yaeger would be speaking about how to build great teams, the response got a bit more enthusiastic, with the topic quickly becoming the event’s theme.

MES Advisory Board members, who represent a cross-section of senior IT leaders at midmarket companies, said team building is one of their greatest challenges. They look at team building from several different angles, not just the internal IT they manage.

For these leaders, the team concept expands to the outside IT consultants and suppliers they rely on for tech solutions, the vendor partners they work with directly, and application developers, not to mention the tech-focused individuals embedded in business groups across their company. So, these executives have an ecosystem of teams they must manage. They know well that juggling the deliverables of all these teams is critical to success.

Yeager gave a preview of his MES Fall keynote at the recent XChange conference in Orlando, where he addressed several hundred solution provider and vendor executives. (Read's coverage of XChange.)

One man’s journey

Yaeger’s platform is his recently published book, “Teammate: My Journey in Baseball and a World Series for the Ages,” which chronicles the career of baseball journeyman David Ross who played catcher for numerous major league teams, including World Series championships with the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs.

This is not just another sports book about a supreme athlete, but a book focused on Ross’ journey from an average ball player to an indispensable teammate. That is what is so compelling about the story. Certainly, books about great athletes document their God-given talent, skills and accomplishments, but this tome focuses on what Ross gave to his team versus what he did for the team.

Lessons for leaders

There are immediate takeaways for any business leader who is trying to understand how to better manage teams of diverse people and develop the right chemistry. In the case of the midmarket IT leader, their job is to orchestrate internal and external teams into an effective, efficient group that delivers results to help the overall business achieve its goals. Not so easy.

Yaeger’s point is that every team will certainly have its MVPs, but managers must understand the characteristics of people who put the team first instead of themselves.

I had the honor of introducing Yaeger doing so with words pulled from the book that describe great teammates. These words included unselfishness, accountability, connectedness that truly resonated with the crowd. Lots of heads nodded.

I then said great teammates are viewed as friendly, funny and caring. More nodding.

“What about magnetic?” I shouted. The audience got it.

But when I quoted from the book’s foreword written by Cubs executive Theo Epstein and said great teammates are also edgy, stubborn and authoritative, the audience grew a tad uncomfortable.

Suddenly, everyone realized that to harness the power of an individual who can become a great teammate won’t be so easy. Important, yes. Easy, no.

Still, as Yaeger said, great teammates that support all those MVPs prioritize winning and put the group first. They also study the competition helping to educate the entire team.

Winning takes teamwork

Think of someone on the IT team who may be the first to study a new technology like hyperconvergence and then help the individuals responsible for that technology implement it without taking credit. Maybe there are individuals on your team who are helping line of business managers accomplish their goals. In that case, the MVP is the business leader who suddenly has a great teammate from the IT department. Guess what? The CIO looks good.

Well, this only scratches the surface of a big, complex topic for today’s leaders. Using baseball as the proxy can help. Players from different positions, nationalities, ages, skill sets and backgrounds must all come together to do one thing—win.

Sound familiar? It should.

We will cover this topic in more detail after Yaeger’s keynote at the MES Fall conference. The former Sports Illustrated writer left attendees with 16 ways great teammates distinguish themselves. Among those are two that should resonate with any senior IT leader. Communication was No. 10 on Yaeger’s list, but it should rate higher for any CIO. He defined it as someone who seems to “always have the right words at the right time.” The other characteristic of importance to business tech leaders is that great teammates are relationship builders who build camaraderie with all members of the team.

This discussion should give you pause to take a hard look at your team. It will, no doubt, consist of MVPs, but the real glue is those who serve as great teammates. Find those and it will ensure your individual, department and company success. Make sure you have plenty of those individuals on staff. In fact, it might be the key to success as the team leader to become the greatest teammate. Here’s a little secret. This guy Ross was a terrible teammate for many years. It wasn’t until a savvy manager saw through his veneer that he ultimately become a great teammate.

If this topic is of interest CIOs can order Yaeger's book.

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