a lake house dock

Five Mandates of Highly-Effective Teams

My family owns a lake house in a gated golf community. For the first 20 years the resort existed, it thrived. Most of the owners had primary residences elsewhere and used their lake homes or condominiums at the resort for weekend golf outings or boating on the lake. The resort had golf and tennis professionals, who organized tournaments and gave lessons. The restaurant had fine dining and a pub, and they catered weddings and events.

The resort’s next 20 years were tumultuous. It underwent several management changes and the community’s population shifted to working class homeowners and renters. No one played tennis, and the courts fell into disrepair. The golf course wasn’t well maintained. The restaurant had a hard time finding staff and patrons to fill the tables. Food quality and offerings declined.

In one final blow, the last owner was a crook. He bankrupted the business and was convicted of fraud, which landed him in jail. The community, which desperately wanted to save the resort, came together and bought the resort at auction. And, while the association’s volunteer leadership had only the best intentions, how they proceeded nearly landed them in bankruptcy court.

Leadership lacked five things: trust, conflict resolution/cooperation, strategic goals, inspiration and good communication.

The first big concern was the lack of trust. The association’s leadership was not familiar with running a resort. They created a board to oversee operations, but the golf club and restaurant managers were not given goals or held accountable. By the time the association was alerted to the vast financial losses and lack of accountability by its management, the resort had blown through its line of credit and the bank declined their request for additional funds.

When leadership updated the community (whose dues and investments had helped purchase the resort), the community was outraged. Not only had they been bamboozled by the previous owner, they felt betrayed by the current leadership who had dropped the ball. If they had garnered any support in the years following the resort’s purchase, they had now squandered it.

The association had not built relationships with the staff or community, they had no knowledge or expertise in running a golf course, and they had not shared plans for interviewing organizations that did. And, for months, they had not done what they had promised (i.e., run the resort business effectively.)

Without first rebuilding the community’s trust, leadership announced unexpectedly at a Community Meeting that they wanted to hire an outside golf management company to take control of the golf course, restaurant and catering. While leadership had done a great job of researching and interviewing management companies, and it was clear hiring help was the best path forward, without the community’s trust, the backlash was swift and harsh.

At this urgent community meeting, I stood and said, “I think I can help you.”

The next week, I met with the association’s president, and we developed a plan. First and foremost, leadership needed to get the community involved and focused on a common mission: To make the resort and community financially viable. Each homeowner had a vested interest, and leadership needed to inspire them to support the hiring of the management company.

They also had to inspire existing staff — whose morale and commitment were low — to commit to the mission. Moreover, they had to instill excitement that in five to seven years, the resort could be a fabulous destination (a long-term strategic goal.)

If leadership, the management company, the professionals, and the community members came together and worked toward their common mission and goals, they could all take great pride in their work. They would feel like competent and capable members of the team.

With this refreshed and intentional approach, leadership worked with the management company to develop a three-year plan to turn the businesses around. They prioritized resolving conflicts quickly and building cooperation between the new management company, the golf professional, the restaurant manager and the community. They adopted a communication regime, or discipline, to ensure ongoing alignment among stakeholders.

As a professional communicator, my role was to craft and deliver these clear and consistent communications from leadership to the community. We developed key messages, and they were delivered at a regular, deliberate frequency. We used various modes of communication, including social media, email marketing campaigns, and the resort’s website. Leadership made keeping everyone up-to-date a priority and they held community meetings every couple of weeks instead of quarterly, or worse yet, at an urgent community meeting.

When these five components – trust, inspiration, cooperation, strategic goals and communication — come together, a team can operate like a superorganism, achieving things they couldn’t do as individuals. Highly-effective teams require leaders, who are self-aware and aware of their team’s needs.

While it remains to be seen if our family’s beloved lakeside community and its business ventures will be successful, its leadership has at least taken initial steps to unite and inspire its team. How are you implementing the five components of highly effective teams in your organization?

Val Yaw, SHIFT CEO

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