Four Keys to Team-Building Success from the Life of Sir Richard Branson Part 2 of 2

To build a successful organization you have to build a successful team. Building a great team can be challenging. Many people have tried and failed, but these insights can set you on a path to team-building success.

Last week, I presented two Keys to Team-Building Success from the Life of Sir Richard Branson, one of the most successful team-builders in business history:

  • Key #1: Commit to Building a Team
  • Key #2: Set a Compelling Direction

Now, I’d like to show you two more team-building keys that you can start to implement today.

Key #3: Build a Culture that Fosters Teamwork

  1. Richard Hackman, the late Harvard University professor and author of Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performances, observed that one key to leading great teams is providing “enabling structures.” Among these structures are organizational norms that guide how the team operates. They are central to creating an organizational culture.

Richard Branson has carefully cultivated three norms for the Virgin Group of companies: humility, creativity, and responsibility.

Humility

For a man with an outsized sense of adventure, Branson commonly refers to himself in the plural. He talks about what “we” have done. In 2000, by order of Queen Elizabeth II, Charles, Prince of Wales conferred the honor of Knight Bachelor on Branson at a ceremony in Buckingham Palace. He was dubbed Sir Richard Branson for his “services to entrepreneurship.”[1] Reflecting on that event in a 2007 interview, Branson put it this way: “I’d certainly never expected that…she’d actually knight us.”[2]

Branson isn’t affecting the so-called “royal we.” He is humbly and publicly acknowledging the contribution of his entire team to his individual success. Great business leaders build great teams, but none more than Branson give public, enthusiastic, and humble credit their teammates.

Creativity

Perhaps Branson’s greatest natural gift is his creativity, but he doesn’t create everything himself. He hires people with creativity, like famed French designer Philippe Starcke, who has contributed to the interior design of Space Ship One. While other business tycoons build their empires through mergers and acquisitions (M&A), Branson prefers to create new businesses:

“Above all, you want to create something you are proud of. That’s always been my philosophy of business. I can honestly say that I have never gone into any business purely to make money. If that is the sole motive, then I believe you are better off doing nothing.”[3]

Responsibility

Beyond humility and creativity, Branson places a premium on responsibility. George Bradt, founder and Chairman of executive onboarding group PrimeGenesis, noticed Branson’s sense of responsibility to his customers:

“When a Virgin train had an accident, Branson dropped everything to be in the hospital with those injured. He didn’t wait until the dust had settled, the analyses were done and he could answer questions. It’s not about answering questions. It’s about showing up.”[4]

Not all of the Virgin Group businesses has been successes; however, Branson has steadfastly refused to file for protection under bankruptcy laws. Instead, he has taken the losses in stride, paying off creditors in full. Why? Branson has a deep sense of responsibility to his brand and to his whole team: “Reputation is all you have in life, and I think it’s worth spending that money,” he said.[5]

Humility, creativity, and responsibility are norms that focus the efforts of Branson’s businesses. They are the beating heart of the Virgin Group. In short, Branson’s third key to team-building success is to build a culture that fosters teamwork.

Key #4: Provide Strategic Coaching

Finally, great team leaders are great coaches. They can motivate, educate, and collaborate with their teams, to hone performance to a keen edge.

Branson’s outsider perspective helps him to challenge the status quo, represented by more established business leaders. Hackman pointed out that one key function of a strategic coach is “to minimize thoughtless reliance on habitual routines and to foster…invention.”

The work of Branson’s Virgin Galactic is a case study in invention and creativity, as the team strives to become the world’s first commercially viable space tourism company. Branson believes that the space programs of nation-states are hidebound and inefficient. As a leader, he coaches his team to be innovative, thinking outside the box.

Beyond his natural creativity, though, Branson also coaches his teams to pay attention to details. He is famous for carrying a notebook in his back pocket and constantly writing down notes and observations. Branson sees attention to detail as key to success:

“One of the key attributes of a good leader is listening…making sure you write down the feedback that you get. …An exceptional company is the one that gets all the little details right. If you listen to [the people on the front lines], you can soon improve all those ‘niggly’ things, which turns an average company into an exceptional company.”[6]

Though Richard Branson was a failure at school, as an entrepreneur he has soared to amazing heights. His business accomplishments aren’t based on his gifts alone; Branson is a team-builder. To build a great team the Richard Branson way, remember these four keys:

  1. Commit to Building a Team
  2. Set a Compelling Direction
  3. Build a Culture that Fosters Teamwork
  4. Provide Strategic Coaching