Recipe for Success: Managers Coach Employees

Ed Callahan and Bucky Sebastian outline the four ingredients managers need to develop and maintain functional, winning employee teams.


Successful managers foster a culture where employees function effectively together. The following excerpts from the May 2004 "The Callahan Report" provide managers with a recipe for cultivating functional, winning employee teams.

Four Ingredients for a Functional, Winning Team

Managers have teams. They are like coaches of a sports team, only their people are employees of a credit union.

Managers say they have assembled a team and run a team. This is certainly true of all managers, but the point is not to have a team but rather to have a functional team. You don't have to look too far to find examples of sports teams that hired a superstar and expected a division title only to then fall seriously behind…Examples crop up of a coach benching a superstar and then watching the team become successful. Why? Because the hotshot so many were counting on was really only playing for himself. He was not a team player and could not put his team above his own ambitions.

Requisites for a Functional, Winning Team

We think to make a functional, winning team, a manager needs four things.
First is to create a senior management team, a sort of executive team that provides leadership for the others in management. The number on the senior management team has to be small; otherwise it is unmanageable. Not everyone can be on the senior management team, and everyone has to understand and agree to this principle.

Second, a manager needs to find and keep people who are team players. They have to sublimate their own ambitions - for themselves and for the departments or subteams they lead - to the larger goal and greater good…This does not mean that team players cannot have large egos, only ones they can sublimate to the point where they are working for the greater good.

Third, a manager needs to find people who love to win, to be the best at what they do, but…that it is the team he wants to see win. He has to have a passion for seeing the overall team win, even if his own subteam is lagging.

Constructive Conflict

The fourth thing a manager needs in order to have a functional team is what we call constructive conflict. This is the accepted, expected, and trusted, frank exchange of opinion within the team that ushers up the best ideas and puts them into action with no lingering suspicion of countermeasures.

Let us take this up by discussing its opposite. Consider a management team that gathers for meetings and no one voices reservations or disagreements with ideas raised, as if no one was risking a challenge for fear of personal offense. No one risks ruffling feathers.

This is a "happy team" but also one that does not get anything done. Meetings adjourn without tough decisions having been made. Or when decisions are made, everyone has lingering doubts that some members of the team resent the decision and will seethe below the surface, a condition that can only impede progress toward the decision's goal.

A peaceful and harmonious team is very likely not leading as it should. Persons who are not voicing their feelings may honestly think they hold back out of interest to act as team players, but the long-term results are flabby ideas and decisions that limp along impeded by doubts.

The opposite is a team whose members trust one another enough to voice objections without making such objections feel like personal attacks. Issues are discussed and all points of view aired. In fact, this is the best way to test ideas before they are implemented. Objections do not scuttle good programs, they make their implementation more sure and determined because the management team knows what to avoid.

A good team gets all the objections on the table right away, debates them and makes its decision. That way it can go forward with a valid degree of confidence and support, even from the minority. No decision - the common practice of a "happy team" - is worse than a bad decision. Bad decisions can be corrected; no decisions set a team adrift.

For constructive conflict, trust is vital. People have to trust one another enough to both give and receive criticism without malice or resentment. Trust is built up over time but it also is built in candid, honest discussion and evaluation. In time, everyone knows that what others say - even if disagreeing - is honest, well thought-out and in the long-run best interest of the group.

With trust there can be constructive conflict. With constructive conflict there can be functional, winning teams. And that's how you move an organization forward.




Oct. 25, 2004


  • Most helpful..very cogent
  • It would be nice if everyone would abide by the four basic rules. Unfortunately there are those who are only interested in themselves. It really has a negative affect on the team concept.
  • It would be nice if everyone would abide by the four basic rules. Unfortunately there are those who are only interested in themselves. It really has a negative affect on the team concept.