Lesson I’ve learned from NCIS on building high-performing teams



Sometimes, on those frustrating days, it can feel that the world would be a lot easier if it were just you at work. But the truth is, you just can’t be as good alone as you can be with help from others.

This year we launched a new training series called “Becoming a Great Leader.” One of the sessions in that series focused on building a high performing team. As an effective leader it is your responsibility to ensure that you put together the best team and then work on empowering the team members’ to achieve peak performance.

One of my all-time favorite shows is NCIS, in which the fierce leader, Leroy Jethro Gibbs, puts together a highly competent and committed team to investigate and defend against threats. Below are just a few of the key lessons that I have learned from the show, as well as other research on what we as leaders can do to create a high-performing team.

1. Engagement: In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins talks about “getting the right people on the bus and in the right seat.” Essentially this means making sure that you hire right. When you are selecting team members think about what strengths you need on your team. Do you need someone who is analytical, a wooer, or a connector? On NCIS, Gibbs selects his team members based on their strengths and then learns how to maximize them. Consider, for instance, Abby Sciuto, the forensic specialist on the show. She is very competent and yet has some highly eccentric characteristics which in a different position may not be able to shine. Gibbs gives her the autonomy on how she does her job as long as she achieves the results. He lets her use her strengths to help solve the cases.

2. Rules: If you have every watched NCIS, you have most likely heard about “Gibbs’ Rules.” These rules are the unwritten rules that Gibbs’ uses and expects his team to use when working a case. What are your rules at work, whether written or unwritten, that guide your behavior and decisions? Great leaders know that they have to help the team formulate ground rules or norms that guide behaviors. Now you might not have 50+ rules like Gibbs’ does, but we all have things that drive our behavior and as a leader we need to be able to communicate on an ongoing basis what those rules are.

3. Ownership: Have you ever heard someone say or maybe even you have said yourself, “That’s not my fault” or “They didn’t give me what I need” or “You should have told me?” Those statements demonstrate a lack of accountability. High performing teams take accountability not only for what they do, but also for what they don’t do. Gibbs’ Rule #51 states that “sometimes we are wrong,” which demonstrates that effective teams are willing to admit when they make mistakes. They are able, not only to take ownership of their errors, but also to focus of fixing the problem and resolving the situation.

4. Appreciation: Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, once said, “Everyone wears a sign around their neck that says make me feel important.” Great leaders know that even rock star employees need to feel appreciated and recognized. The question becomes how do you make the appreciation meaningful to your employees, because a one size fits all does not work. Once again Gibbs’ recognizes this fact and tailors the appreciation he gives to each employee. For example, to Abby he gives her a “Caf Pow,” her beverage of choice, and a “way to go, Abs” whereas to Tony DiNozzo he shows appreciation through the infamous “Gibbs’ slap” and using movie references. How do you show your team that you appreciate them?

These are just a few of the lessons to remember when building high-performing teams. Gibbs’ Rule #15 is “Always work together as a team”, so we as leaders need to realize we cannot do things alone. We need teams, so our overall goal should be to build a dream team that will take the ordinary and make it extraordinary. And, remember, the “strength of the team is each individual member and the strength of each member is the team.”

[More articles from The Village Business Institute.]

Author Bio
As an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) Trainer with The Village Business Institute, Dawn Kaiser lives her passion to energize, encourage and equip individuals to live stronger. She is an inspirational educator, writer, blogger, speaker, leader and positive-thinker extraordinaire. Dawn draws on more than twelve years of experience in the Human Resource/Organizational Development field and has a Bachelor’s of Business Administration and a Master of Education. She is also a certified HR Professional. Dawn specializes in communication, leadership, high performance teams and personal development. Dawn also enjoys unleashing hope in her community and around the world through her speaking, writing and volunteer opportunities.

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