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Taking Your Team to the Top: How to Build and Manage Great Teams like the Pros

Taking Your Team to the Top: How to Build and Manage Great Teams like the Pros

by Ted Sundquist, Justin Spizman

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Ted Sundquist was educated at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He played and coached football for the Academy, served as a flight commander in Germany, and went on to become General Manager of the Denver Broncos. In other words, Sundquist has spent his entire adult life building powerful,



Ted Sundquist was educated at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He played and coached football for the Academy, served as a flight commander in Germany, and went on to become General Manager of the Denver Broncos. In other words, Sundquist has spent his entire adult life building powerful, effective teams that get things done.

In Taking Your Team to the Top, Sundquist gives you the knowledge, skills, and motivation to replicate his remarkable success.

Whether you run a global corporation or small business, you'll learn how to accurately evaluate new hires from enormous talent pools, quickly implement them into your organization's existing team culture, and create a dedicated mission statement to maximize team success.

In this groundbreaking guide, Sundquist combines the sum total of his vast and diverse leadership experience with lessons and insights from some of today's top leadership experts, including:

  • DANA PERINO, White House Press Secretary for President George W. Bush
  • DR. TOM OSBORNE, Head Coach of the University of Nebraska football team and U.S. Congressman
  • DR. HARVEY SCHILLER, Commissioner of the SEC and Secretary General of the U.S. Olympic Committee
  • ED ROSKI, one of the Forbes 200 richest people in America
  • JEFF PASH, Executive VP and General Counsel of the NFL
  • CHAD HENNINGS, three-time Super Bowl Champion and defensive tackle for the Dallas Cowboys

You can have the best business strategy available. But without the best and brightest people collaborating in a healthy way to execute that strategy, it's only worth the paper it's printed on.

Taking Your Team to the Top offers the fundamentals you need to unlock individuals' abilities and talents while adding to team synergy to accomplish any business objective, in any business--large or small.


"Ted Sundquist outlines in detail how to organize and lead a corporation to real success. He provides a plan to reach this success while always emphasizing the importance of personal involvement, compassion, and caring for your people (employees). I highly recommend Taking Your Team to the Top for all CEOs of every level." -- Lt. General Winfield W. Scott, Jr., United States Air Force

"Having had the opportunity to play under Ted's leadership on the Denver Broncos, I came to highly respect him not only as a person but for his managerial skills that lead us to two Super Bowl championships.... If you are seeking insight into how to best build, manage, and lead your team to success, this book is an absolute must-have." -- Jason Elam, All-Pro Placekicker, NFL 1993-2009

"In a world quick to measure short-term performance, we often get fleeting temporary results. I love how Ted challenges some of these norms and embraces a leadership style that is others-focused: built around compassion, chemistry and ultimately a long-term lasting impact. This book is a great read for the leader who is looking to leverage his or her position for real impact and influence on others." -- Jeff Nolde, Vice President, Values Based Wealth Management, Morgan Stanley

"Ted has drawn on his experience as an athlete, military officer, and NFL club executive to create a valuable and practical guide for anyone in a position of leadership, whether it be business or sports executive, a head coach or entrepreneur." -- Jack Mills, President, Ascent Sports

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McGraw-Hill Education
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The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Copyright © 2013 Ted Sundquist
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-07-180545-2




For any employer, manager, or business owner, the first step in the team- building process is to identify the best team members. If you have a limitless amount of cash flow, this can be very simple: just go to the best companies in the world and offer their leaders top dollar. You will get people whose résumés show proven success, and they will get raises, making everyone in the new company happy. However, we all know that in reality, money matters, and leaders have to work with limited resources when it comes to sculpting a team.

Even more important, just because someone is qualified for a position does not necessarily mean that he is the right fit. You would never hire a CEO with 20 years' experience to run your books, would you? And I can bet that you would never pay top dollar for an expert computer programmer to lead and implement strategic ideas in a new business, right? My point is that you have to find the right person for any position. It is not just about experience, résumé, credentials, or past success; it is about finding a round peg for a round hole. As we move through this chapter, you will begin to understand exactly how to build the right team and spot the best talent at a discount. This means that while your competitors may not have seen the potential in an employee, you will be able to spot the diamond in the rough.

Spotting the talent is a tool that all great leaders understand. They have specific ways that they use to evaluate and screen candidates in order to locate the best and the brightest. This is not easy. In fact, it may be one of the hardest jobs any business owner will have to do. But the good news is there are insightful and helpful hints and resources out there that you can utilize in your own business.

The Fundamentals of a Team

During my time with the Denver Broncos, one of my greatest responsibilities was finding talent that other teams had passed over. It might be the young man with the questionable background but enormous potential, or the guy with poor collegiate statistics but great intangibles, or even the veteran whose skills were diminishing, but who still had hunger and a willingness to lead and mentor. Some teams would pass on these players, which made it easier for me to get them at a discount. But you should not take the plunge on these future employees without assessing them and ensuring that they fit your team's mold. Spotting the talent and building the team starts with understanding the team concept and exactly what your end result should look like. So before we dive into the basics of building a team, it is imperative that we first define a team, discuss the value of synergy, and talk about the importance of consistency. Only then will you have the fundamental principles necessary to begin designing the blueprint for your team.

Defining a Team

We often hear the word team, but we rarely think of its deepest significance. It has many meanings and, depending on the context, can include numerous different ideas and concepts based on who you are and where you came from. However, the basis for most of my life's work, as well as this book, is this word that we all know and this concept that we have all surely been a part of. Whether you are an employee, a family member, an athlete, a coach, a manager, a business owner, or anything and everything else, in essence, you are part of a team. A team is defined as two or more people combining their innate skills, abilities, and strengths to accomplish a goal or mission that would be unachievable by an individual.

Ed Roski is president and chairman of the board of Majestic Realty, one of the oldest and largest privately held real estate companies in the United States. He also is co-owner of the Los Angeles Kings and Lakers. Combining his love of sports with his passion for business, he is recognized as having played a critical role in developing the Staples Center, a landmark in downtown Los Angeles. Ed is also one of the Forbes 200 richest people in the United States. He takes an active role in the city's cultural and educational development, serving as chairman of the board of trustees at the University of Southern California and being on the boards of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), the Bowers Museum, the California Science Center, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, and the Los Angeles Sports and Entertainment Commission. In addition, he serves on the board of regents at Loyola High School and has joined the board of the National Geographic Society, serving on the executive committee. In 2007, he cofounded the Land of the Free Foundation to help veterans' families and now serves as its president.

He said, "Whether a team consists of two, five, ten, or hundreds of people, I always look to put together a team with complementary skill sets. It is very important to have individuals with varied outlooks, experiences, and abilities. I do not want all accountants or attorneys on my team trying to solve a problem. This practice compounds weaknesses and inhibits strengths. Too much familiarity and similarity prevents the team members from challenging one another, while stifling creativity. You have to search for a mixture of talent that complements each other."

Defining a team is about finding the best mix of people who will work together and nurture one another to promote growth and provide support. Many times, teamwork is about survival. Take nature, for example. In its simplest form, individuals in certain breeds of animals work together as members of a team in order to live. That is the goal and the mission. Without this teamwork imperative, an army of ants could not build an anthill, a swarm of bees could not create a beehive, and a pack of wolves could not hunt. Teamwork is the pursuit of survival and the quest for success.

Consider the example of a flock of geese. As the geese flap their wings, they create an uplift for the birds following. When they fly together in a V formation, the flock's flying range is 71 percent greater than that of any bird flying alone. Furthermore, when a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to fly alone, and quickly gets back into the formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the birds in front. The geese in formation honk to encourage those up front to maintain their speed. When the lead goose gets tired, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies out to the point position. When a goose gets sick or is wounded, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it either is able to fly again or dies. They then launch out on their own to find another formation or to catch up with the flock. These survival techniques are second nature to this flock of birds, but they also demonstrate a powerful example of teamwork and epitomize the definition of a team. The geese stand strong together, working to bring about a common goal, but also being aware that they are better able to do this if they simply stick together. This is the crux of any team.

My entire life's work has been dedicated to studying teams and building the best ones possible. But it all starts with understanding exactly what a team is, what a team does, and, ultimately, what a team is capable of. Michael Jordan once said, "Talent wins games, but teamwork wins championships." What kind of team do you want? One that peaks, or one that continues to climb? This book is about the climb, and that ascent starts with the synergy of your team.

The Synergy of a Team

The natural order of things suggests the survival of the fittest. Some achieve this through mutual coexistence and strength in numbers. However, the best and the brightest know that a team is the sum of its parts and that a group of people who actively focus on synergy will blow away the competition. Most people think that the bigger and stronger the team, the better equipped it will be to reach its goals, but in reality, the more interwoven and structured the team (independent of size) is, the greater the likelihood of consistent success. The team mentality is imperative for the team structure. A team uses its numbers to alleviate stress on an individual. No one person alone can accomplish what a team can, even with endless time and resources.

Vern Abila runs Abila Security & Investigations Inc., a high-profile and extraordinarily successful security company. Vern has developed a diverse client base that includes the U.S. government, Fortune 500 firms, private individuals, CEOs, and Hollywood megastars. Vern has personally consulted and/or worked on a multitude of contracts, both domestic and international, providing security and vulnerability assessments, surveillance and countersurveillance operations, riot control tactics, overseas courier services, and private and corporate investigations, along with a wide variety of low- and high-threat protective details. Abila is considered a subject matter expert by the U.S. Department of State in VIP protection, critical infrastructure, and national leadership and diplomatic security for its Antiterrorism Assistance Program.

Abila has served on several high-profile, high-threat protective details for the U.S. Department of State. He received several letters of commendation from Ambassador Robert Frowick and other entities involved for his role in stopping an attack on the motorcade carrying Ambassador Frowick, Muslim-Croat federation president Kresimir Zubak and Bosnian Muslim president Alija Izetbegovic. Needless to say, when Vern builds a team, it is truly a matter of life and death. The synergy of his team can save his client's life.

Vern told me the story of a time when he assembled a team of 50 agents for a corporate job overseas. He told his client that it would take two to three weeks to train the team. The corporation was concerned and wanted to know why the team members had not been previously trained. Vern explained to his megaclient that even though these team members came from backgrounds such as Delta Force, Navy SEALs, and Recon, it was essential that they take the time to mesh and ensure that the synergy was correct, because if it was not, they could fail. He assured his client that the individual team members were trained, but that they still needed to become a team.

When it comes to the group mentality, teamwork enhances the limited productivity of individuals in certain areas while maximizing it in areas in which the individual might otherwise excel. Coordinated efforts on a grand scale can suffocate an opponent or a problem by focusing the massive energy of a number of people, outmaneuvering the larger issues that a team may face. A strong team ensures stability and maintains the very survival of the group, which in turn usually leads to success, while also ensuring maximum efficiency in the use of resources (physical, intellectual, emotional, and so on). The sum of the parts can help strengthen even the weakest link, preventing one chink in the armor from causing the entire man to fall.

Good teams incorporate teamwork into their culture, creating the building blocks for success. Just look at the organizations in the NFL that have withstood rocky periods and maintained levels of excellence over the course of time. They are capable of meeting challenges on and off the field as a result of the cohesiveness and synergy of their members. This creates stability in the face of crisis and is more apt to build long-term success, which is desired in both business and sports. In the business setting as well, synergy is a leading indicator and has a strong correlative relationship with how far a team can truly go. The idea of taking a group of different people from various backgrounds and intricately weaving them together to form a harmonious and congruent end result is the ultimate goal of any leader. So as we navigate this book, we will work together to not only understand the power of synergy, but also study and evaluate how to implement synergy in building and nourishing team efforts.

The Consistency of a Team

The basic essence of teamwork has never changed. For hundreds of years, the definition and concept of a team have remained consistent. The best teams are those that remain steady and dependable in their makeup, behavior, and results. Leaders of teams have to stay true to the definition and role of teamwork in achieving their goals and mission while being flexible in their techniques for building teams and motivating and developing their members. What works well with one group of individuals, in one environment, with one set of circumstances, influences, and dynamics won't necessarily work for another. However, there must be a fundamental consistency in your blueprint, morals, and overall mission. Great teams maintain predictability and rarely experience large swings one way or the other. In the business world, people want to work with and for teams that preserve a direct and straightforward approach to success.

Consistency is one part reliability and one part cohesion. Think about the most successful companies in the world— Coca-Cola, Apple, Microsoft, General Electric, Home Depot, and many others. While there are numerous differences among them, from product lines to advertising campaigns to upper management, these companies all have developed ways of producing an unwavering and steady consistency. It starts from their leaders and trickles down to the team as a whole.

A team is like a stock. There are many types of stocks, just as there are various types of teams. However, most investors look at stocks as being in two categories: low risk and high risk. Low-risk stocks are often referred to as "blue chips" and are generally consistent, with few price large swings. High- risk stocks can be those of start-ups and can see big jumps and big dips on a daily basis. You can make amazing amounts of money in these stocks, but you can also lose your entire portfolio. If you were investing all your money, where would you want to be? My guess is, in the comfort of the low-risk stocks. The same is true with teams. People do not want to work on teams with unpredictable swings. Sure, the team can hit a home run, but it may strike out plenty of times first. A team is only as good as it is consistent, and as we move forward in learning how to build the best team possible, remember that reliability is the backbone of any team.

That being said, let's begin to explore exactly how to spot the best and the brightest. As we move forward through these concepts, remember that understanding the definition of a team, the power of synergy, and the importance of consistency should be at the front of your mind.

Step 1: Blueprint Your Team

Before you interview the first candidate or read the first résumé, you have to create a blueprint for your team. I would surmise that you would not build a large home blindly. There's no way you would wing it. My guess is that you would have a detailed blueprint created by a qualified architect to bring this great project to fruition. Well, when it comes to building a team for your business, you are the qualified architect. It is your job and your responsibility. But the great news is that if you do a good job, you will reap the rewards from your informed and diligent efforts.

Dr. Charlie Palmer is known to most people as a smoke jumper. Smoke jumpers are wild-land firefighters who parachute into remote areas to fight wildfires. They are most often deployed to fight fires in areas that are extremely isolated. An exceptionally well-developed training program that has evolved over the course of more than 70 years mitigates the risks associated with this method of personnel deployment. The smoke jumpers are a highly skilled and intensely trained workforce that can be mobilized quickly for a myriad of work assignments in forestry, disaster relief, and emergency management.

He told me, "Smoke jumpers work off of a rotating list. Essentially, the U.S. government draws names out of a hat from its list of registered smoke jumpers. Less than 10 percent of the firefighters who apply to become smoke jumpers actually make it. It is of integral importance that the people selected are quality team members and meet the guidelines. Theoretically, two people who have never met each other could be deployed into a raging fire one day. If they cannot work together and were not properly screened for their skills and attributes, the end result could be disastrous." The U.S. government has a detailed list of qualifications and standards that potential candidates must meet before they are qualified to become smoke jumpers. The government follows its blueprint to the last detail when choosing team members because it is a matter of life and death.

In most major corporations or businesses, there is probably a well-oiled human resources department. Regardless, the people leading the team still have the responsibility for finding the best and the brightest. Whether the team involved is at a small business or a Fortune 500 company, the task is still the same; it's just more involved at the larger company. To start with, you should have a big-picture understanding of the current makeup of your team and the manner in which it is organized. Most companies already have some structures and teams in place; however, if you are a start-up, you may be attempting to assemble a team from day one. In any event, there is always a fluidity to team building. Sometimes you will be in a position to start the team from scratch, whereas other times you will have to rebuild a team, fill an empty spot, or even create a contingency plan in case one of your vital team members leaves.

Excerpted from TAKING YOUR TEAM TO THE TOP by TED SUNDQUIST. Copyright © 2013 by Ted Sundquist. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

CARL M.T. "TED" SUNDQUIST II is a former football player, collegiate coach, Air Force Intelligence Officer, pro football scout, and NFL Club Executive and General Manager. A renowned leadership expert, he is currently a blogger, television analyst, radio personality, and commentator.

JUSTIN SPIZMAN is the bestselling author of numerous books, including The Business of Being the Best and Don't Give Up ... Don't Ever Give Up.

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