The Road Map to Great Teamwork

Special Interest


Don Yaeger
New York Times Best Selling Author


The great Vince Lombardi who won five NFL championships with the Green Bay Packers was well versed in the understanding of what made teams function at an optimal level. One of Lombardi’s most memorable quotes really puts into perspective one of the most important elements that any group of people should look to foster in a team-oriented environment.

“Individual commitment to a group effort — that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”

These insightful words from one of greatest team-builders of all time resonate with me and shed light on what I’ve come to see from the best teams of our generation in my 25+ years as a sports journalist. Lombardi was a pioneer to the development and study of great teams in the realm of professional sports. The legendary coach saw all five of his championship teams with the Green Bay Packers produced in a span of just nine years during the ‘60s.

I too have found patterns that consistently appear in the habits and characteristics of the most prestigious teams that I’ve had the opportunity to study first-hand. Taking meticulous note of what has led these teams to success has helped me develop what I like to call a road map to great teamwork.

Following is an excerpt from my book Great Teams: The 16 Things High-Performing Organizations Do Differently that provides context on this road map, as well as additional insight from other leaders in sports and business:

Long before he won 10 NCAA men’s basketball titles with his UCLA Bruins, Coach John Wooden developed his famous Pyramid of Success as a visual to instruct his players on how to win on the court and in life.

The “blocks” of Wooden’s pyramid were important attributes a winning player and a winning person must exemplify. The foundational bottom row included industriousness, friendship, loyalty, cooperation and enthusiasm — key characteristics everyone must embody. Stacked on top of these basics were upper-tier qualities such as self-control, initiative, skill, confidence and poise.

Wooden told his players to adopt each quality into their characters as they worked toward competitive greatness, which is the block at the top of the pyramid. Competitive greatness, in Coach Wooden’s mind, was reached when you were able to “be at your best when your best is needed.” To get there, he believed, you had to work through the blocks of the pyramid — and do so consistently.

This kind of road map to individual and team success has been the model for leaders attempting to push themselves and their organizations to reach the highest levels of achievement for decades. Simply put, you’re a lot more likely to reach your destination if you plot the course ahead of time.

Whether in the world of sports or business, a road map is vital to reaching a team’s full potential. A road map also allows a team to plan on managing future company growth and use it as leverage to move into new areas of business.

Since its creation in 2004, tech juggernaut and global sensation Facebook continues to take the market by storm, and with each passing year it shows no sign of slowing down. In 2014 alone, the company earned an incredible $12.5 billion.

Although business is presently booming, CEO Mark Zuckerberg envisions a future in which Facebook is a global leader in the next technological revolution — and he has a three-, five- and 10-year road map to get there.

One of Zuckerberg’s major three-year goals is to continue investing heavily in video production (with services like Facebook Live). Over the next five years, he plans to build up the business acumen to connect billions of people with next-generation versions of Instagram, WhatsApp, Search and Messenger. Ten years from now, Zuckerberg hopes to have fundamentally changed the world with artificial intelligence and developed next-generation computing. Presently, Facebook has completed construction of Aquila — a solar-powered, unmanned drone capable of beaming down internet connectivity—as part of its effort to connect even the most remote regions of the planet.

Instead of keeping the company’s ambitious goals confined to top executives, Zuckerberg has invited contribution and criticism from his employees by freely sharing Facebook’s road map. Such transparency is literally embedded in the company’s culture; at the company’s Palo Alto, California, headquarters, employees work in large open areas rather than being confined in offices, and boardrooms are encased in glass.

“We want to create this very open and transparent culture in our company where… everyone can see what everyone else is working on,” said Zuckerberg in a video tour of those offices. “We think that this facilitates this very open and transparent culture, which again enables us to do our best work.”

Creating a winner culture is a hallmark of all great teams. A great team outlines expectations for all members of an organization and for the organization as a whole. This clear-cut set of objectives — a road map — enables the organization to set benchmarks and goals and ultimately to lay the foundation for its own success.

A corporate road map should be nonnegotiable. That said, it should also be regularly revisited and updated due to the changing needs of the company and unexpected market forces. (Such is the nature of business.)

For Cheryl Bachelder, CEO of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, this re-evaluation process proved difficult, but necessary, in order to continue moving the company forward.

After joining Popeyes in 2007, Bachelder crafted a “Roadmap to Results” in an effort to turn the company in a more profitable direction. She structured her vision around the company’s four core business strategies: brand-building, running great restaurants, growing profits and accelerating new unit growth. For four years Bachelder and her leadership team were tenacious in the application of their plan, until a board member suggested that maybe she was missing a few items in her long-term vision.

Bachelder resisted the thought of shifting direction, but the feedback of the Popeyes board member was enough to prompt her to revisit her established road map. After careful analysis, Bachelder realized that they were, indeed, missing two important objectives: 1) a proposition centered on friendlier customer service and 2) a stronger approach to developing a people-centered culture.

With the Roadmap to Results updated and the two new focuses added, Popeyes grew its market share, improved guest ratings, and increased restaurant margins both in the states and abroad. In the past six years, the enterprise market cap increased from $300 million to more than $1 billion.

Bachelder says leaders must remain objective enough to acknowledge progress with a grain of salt and be willing to tweak their plans.

Great teams who do this can manage adapting to change and updating the road map to compensate for the growing needs of the organization.



Don Yaeger is a nationally acclaimed inspirational speaker, longtime Associate Editor of Sports Illustrated and author of 25 books, nine of which have become New York Times Best-sellers. He began his career at the San Antonio (TX) Light and also worked at the Dallas Morning News and the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville before going to work for Sports Illustrated. Don left Sports Illustrated in 2008 to pursue a public speaking career that has allowed him to share stories learned from the greatest winners of our generation with audiences as diverse as Fortune 10 companies to cancer survivor groups, where he shares his personal story.
Learn more at or contact Don at




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