How to Build a Team

I recently had the opportunity to speak with my friend and colleague, Jim Burda. Jim is the Executive VP and Chief Revenue Officer for GF Sports in New York. We discussed the transformation he is currently leading as GF Sports moves from owning sporting events to purchasing and operating a sports team. That team is the professional lacrosse team, the New York Riptide. Their opening night is December 28 at NYCB Live, home of Nassau Coliseum on Long Island.

Steve: What does it mean to you to be a transformational leader?

Jim: There are several elements to this. You must recognize that you do this with your team both individually and collectively. You are taking your team on a guided discussion to create a new culture. You help them move out of their respective comfort zones by sharing the why’s and then the how’s. Listening skills are critical. It’s also critical to keep a positive attitude.

Steve: Tell me how acquiring and integrating Riptide was particularly challenging or rewarding for you.

Jim: As with any transformational change, it begins with having a clear vision of success. In this case, we wanted to create an organization to support the Riptide and help it be hugely successful. There were setbacks such as temporary poor office space, marketing challenges, and technology issues. I instituted a program from a previous role dubbed “PS2” – “problem spot / problem solve.” We created a problem-solving culture, as only problem spotting creates complaining without solutions.

Steve: How did you clarify purpose?

Jim: I’m a fan of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits, particularly “begin with the end in mind.” We collectively defined that the goal for 12/28 was not just to have a financially successful first event, but to have a collaborative culture in the organization. We discussed why this was critical to our success, and then we identified how we would achieve this. By doing this collectively I was able to engage the entire team.

Steve: In what ways did you experience cross-functional dysfunction, and how did you address it?

Jim: I had an advantage since I was building the organization from the ground up. When I hired new team members, I looked for basic technical capabilities, but more importantly I looked for key traits. Did they demonstrate a willingness to work collectively? Were they humble in their approach?

I also meet one on one with every team member. I listen non-judgmentally which in turn allows people to express themselves and feel confident about their work. This supports the notion of enrolling each employee individually. This also allows me to address issues that I don’t even know exist.

Steve: Were there cultural attributes that made the transformation easier or more difficult?

Jim: The parent company, GF Capital, has been highly successful for 20 years. In creating this new division, we perceived their expectations that we resolve issues faster since they had a long-established team. This was not the case at all. They helped with problem-solving. They demonstrated a human side suggesting we are all in this together. Sometimes our perceptions prevent us from seeing and acting on reality more quickly.

Steve: Please comment on any organizational challenges you faced, both structural and behavioral.

Jim: By having one on one discussions balanced with team discussions, I demonstrated that I was going to be as open as possible. We made decisions quickly and encouraged everyone to be entrepreneurial. While all of this was positive, it caused some disbelief among new team members, so it took some time to convince them that this openness was real.

Steve: How did you become more of a coach?

Jim: In the areas we were struggling I needed to ensure I am going through the same challenges. For example, we were struggling with ticket sales, especially with a late launch to our marketing, so I started making phone calls to sell tickets to experience the same obstacles. We had morning huddles with the group to discuss feedback we received from our calls. As we discussed these struggles together, it gave me a great deal of insight and it increased my credibility.

Steve: What is advice you would give to aspiring transformational leaders?

Jim: Trust your people yet verify their results. Don’t assume that no news is good news. Conversely, don’t assume that when you hear something that it means you have an issue. Listening and giving feedback shows that you care.

Steve: Jim, thank you so much for sharing your insight on transformational leadership, and best wishes for great success at your opening night, December 28.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

Steve

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