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XChange 2017: Four Crucial Team-Building Lessons For Channel Leaders

Best-selling sports author and motivational speaker Don Yaeger told attendees at XChange 2017 how team members that improve those around them can be among a company's most valuable assets.

The soul of success in business, like sports, rests upon the ability to assemble great teams, but establishing team chemistry is easier said than done in both cases.

Best-selling sports author and motivational speaker Don Yaeger Sunday at XChange 2017 explained how team members that improve those around them can be among a company's most valuable assets.

"Championship-level MVPs are those that give us the opportunity to win," Yaeger said Sunday during a keynote address. "But if there's anything I know from studying MVPs over many years, they will tell you they didn't get to win without a collection of great teammates around them. They didn't get to win until they were surrounded by the right talent pool that allowed them to be special."

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Yaeger, who has covered legendary sports figures such as basketball coach John Wooden and footbal player Walter Payton during his career, used the 2016 World Series champion Chicago Cubs, their veteran catcher David Ross and several other sports-related examples to illustrate the power and benefits of effective team-building.

Specifically, Yaeger discussed four key lessons for channel leaders to consider when attempting to foster a more collaborative workplace environment.

The first: becoming a great teammate is a learned behavior.

In 2008, Ross lost his starting job with the Cincinnati Reds after management took issue with his selfish attitude. The Boston Red Sox gave the career backup a second chance soon after, but then-general manager Theo Epstein told Ross that he had developed a "me-first" reputation across the league.

The catcher, Yaeger recounted, responded by thanking Epstein, and Ross committed himself to becoming a better teammate moving forward.

The following season, Ross asked several key figures in the Atlanta Braves organization what they expected from an excellent teammate, and after coming up with 16 key traits, wrote them down on a whiteboard. The intention was for each person on the team to ask themselves whether they exemplified those characteristics on a daily basis.

"It was his responsibility to be engaged with his teammates," Yaeger said. "If he could be encouraging and remain humble, he would be valued as a teammate even though he was hardly ever playing."

By 2013, Yaeger said, Ross had become known as a "glue guy" – or a player who could foster unity and camaraderie in the clubhouse. He helped the Red Sox win a World Series that year, and did the same in 2016 with the Chicago Cubs.

"A lot of people think being a good teammate is just something that happens because you're a nice person," Yaeger said. "Truth is, David Ross had to learn how to become a good teammate. But he made an effort and he sat down, he asked himself, 'What does it mean in our environment to become a great teammate?' And then he went out and rocked it."

The second takeaway: Becoming the "glue guy" is difficult, he said, citing former Duke superstar Shane Battier as an example.

Battier didn't have the skills to become a top NBA player, but he still helped the Miami Heat to consecutive championships because he knew that those willing to do the "dirty work" can be of tremendous value to a team.

Yaeger noted that Battier, who is biracial and grew up in a neighborhood with few African-American men, learned this lesson at an early age.

"It's not easy. There's blood, sweat and tears," he said.

Thirdly, Yaeger described how the role of good teammate applies to everyone in an organization.

Former WNBA star Becky Hammon helped 11 different players make their first All-Star games during her storied career, he explained, because she was devoted to elevating the game of everyone around her.

"Here was the best player on the team, and her first comments to [a new teammate] were 'Here's how I can make you better?,'" Yaeger said. "The glue belongs with all of us."

Lastly, Yaeger emphasized the importance of celebrating great teammates who may not receive the same level of praise star players (or executives)often enjoy.

Three XChange attendees earned a shout-out from Yaeger during this portion of his address: Datto Manager of Channel Development Mike DePalma, VMware Marketing Manager Theresa McKeon and Intermedia Senior Events Manager Amy Hirsh.

"They're seldom the ones that get to walk across the stage, but each and every one of them make the people who walk across the stage possible," he said.

Mark Galyardt, president of Atlanta-based data solutions provider Xioss, said the themes of Yaeger's talk resonated with him in part because of their universal applications.

"All of those lessons translate across all walks of life and whatever you choose to do," Galyardt said. "How do you maximize your time on this planet? I think that's really what it means."

The address ended as it began, with Yaeger discussing the accomplishments of Ross and the 2016 Cubs. They enjoyed the greatest achievement in baseball, and the foundation of their journey was effective team-building efforts enacted by Ross and others who took cues from him.

Ultimately, Yaeger reiterated, business leaders must take into account how every team member contributes to any MVP-type. performance.

"If we can learn those four things, the one thing I'll promise is that we'll be flying the W [for win] above our building," he said.

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