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How to Create a Great Team

How do you not only create a great team, but one that epitomises your business? In this fantastic introduction to team building, Head of Distribution, Georgina Smith, looks at the how and why with a more holistic view than usual.
8 min read

One of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received in my career is, “The INN8 sales team epitomises the spirit of what INN8 stands for; from the culture and behaviours they live by to the dedication they show to our advisers.” I’m not going to lie, I felt like a proud mum on sports day whose kids had just cleaned up. 

 In the face of lockdown and COVID-19 it’s even more important that our team is totally focussed on serving our advisers from helping them navigate the ins and outs of virtual meetings to making sure their clients can transact as and when they need to. 

So how do I manage to build the team of my dreams? 

It starts with recruitment 

I was lucky enough to be able to build my team mostly from scratch and whilst that may seem daunting, the upside is that you can start with a blank canvass and define what you want. I’ve outlined below three of the main characteristics I look for, but all of these are trumped by attitude. In fact, I see time and time again that organisations hire people based on their skills but then fire them based on their attitude. My solution is therefore to hire on attitude; I can teach anyone to do anything if they have the right attitude. 

When I was building the team, I remember an interview I had with a lady in one of the coastal regions. She was bright, sparky, outgoing, personable and just what you would expect in a great salesperson. I really liked her and felt I was onto a winner. On the second interview I asked her about her expenses and who does them. She told me she hadn’t done her own expenses for years and certainly wouldn’t be able to do them herself now. She implied she would always expect an admin person to do them for her as she needed to use every available minute to be out selling. I retorted that the New Zealand rugby team, one of the best rugby teams in the world (after the Springboks and England of course!) sweep their own changing room. She looked at me as if I’d grown another head and I proceeded to put a cross through her name. 

After attitude, these are the characteristics I look for: 

Can you make me feel special? – I (the customer) am the centre of your universe, what are you doing to get to know me? At an interview you can see this not just by how well they’ve researched INN8, but by what they’ve found out about me and how well they steer the conversation onto topics they think I might like. If they’ve any sense they’ll look beyond LinkedIn profiles and derive interests from photos they may find or articles I’ve liked. 

Persistence and resilience – You will be trusted to work on your own; have you got what it takes to keep at it day after day? This really manifests itself as self-discipline and I look for anything the candidate as done that has been really, really, really hard. It’s a running joke at the office that I’ve recruited a load of gym bunnies but in all seriousness, the self-discipline required to excel in sport is exactly the tenacity I’m after. It could just as easily be demonstrated via dedication to a religion, a charity or a school, I just need to see that you don’t give up. 

Do you invest in yourself – The advisers you look after are entrepreneurs. They are curious and always looking for ways to improve their business. You need to walk in their shoes by understanding the latest trends, industry thoughts and ideas. What have you done to invest in yourself? What are your favourite business books, blogs, vlogs, ted talks, apps? The list goes on. Be interested and interesting. 

Attitude is everything 

Note how I’ve not looked for financial services experience or a traditional corporate CV. To this end my team is very diverse and includes some pretty maverick recruits such as: 

  • Someone who spent a sabbatical leading a project to build mountain bike trails in northern South Africa and is using them to raise money to save the rhinos 
  • An ex-military man who had just finished his professional rugby career before joining my team 
  • The guy who sold us our office telephone communication system and did such a great job I hired him 

You’ve got the team, now what? 

What do you need the team to do? How can you create accountability without being a dictator? I take a lot of ‘team building’ lessons from high performing teams I’ve either been part of or observed, particularly in the sporting arena. 

On a macro level… 

To use the words of Seth Godin, you create a culture that says ‘People like us do things like this’. For me, it’s ‘This team behaves and shows up like this’. There’s a way of work that’s expected and there’s no getting away from it. You show up, give 110%, do the hard things because they’re the things worth doing.

But as a leader how do you get your team to want to be like that, particularly when the going gets tough? 

Simply ask them 

I don’t have all the answers and I don’t pretend to either. In fact, I have a lot of people in my team who are far more intelligent than me and know a lot more about financial services than me. And that’s great. My job is to define and get alignment on what needs to be achieved, then get the hell out of the way to let the guys spread their wings and show the business how great they are. My role is the WHY and the WHAT, they come up with the HOW and I unblock whatever needs unblocking to ensure their success. 

Building good habits is imperative to being a progressive learner and gaining long-term satisfaction from your job – and to that end there is only one mandatory book I insist my team read / listen to / watch on YouTube (because everyone learns differently): Atomic Habits by James Clear. Together, using the framework of this impressive and practical book, we nail the HOW that I’ve described above. 

That’s all fine when things are going well, but what about when things are tough and targets or objectives are missed? 

Inevitably there will be difficult conversations to be had when things don’t necessarily go according to plan. Without exception, my difficult conversations are centred around behaviour, not output. If the task isn’t done as expected or objectives have been missed, what’s the behaviour I’ve observed along the way? How is that going to change going forward? How will you behave next time when faced with the same or similar situation? 

There’s no sugar coating it. Sometimes a person’s attitude and behaviours aren’t up for changing. Then get rid and get rid quick. A bad apple will do far more damage to your team than a great team player will do good. 

Behaviour builds culture. Culture brings success. Once you have the right culture in the team it becomes self-regulating. They provide their own benchmark as to what acceptable is and isn’t. I very rarely have to step in and have the ‘what is acceptable behaviour’ conversation anymore because the team do it for me via the culture that they’ve built around the right kind of people. 

Day-to-day management 

You can’t build the culture on your own, all you can do is provide the WHY and the WHAT, hold accountable a framework of great behaviours, then put in place the structure to let people get on with the HOW. 

Think of a traditional sales team with a traditional sales manager at the helm. A traditional sales manager would have everyone pitted against each other. To use Stephen Covey language, a traditional sales manager would often create a scarcity mentality in the team of ‘win / lose’ rather than an abundance mentality of ‘who can I collaborate with to help me get this over the line?’. 

 The traditional sales manager would have everyone working in silos in competition with each other. He would call each team member every couple of days to find out how they’re doing (read that as check up on them). The conversation would be all about targets and funnels and outputs. There’s a small place for this but doing this only builds a two-way relationship that doesn’t necessarily help with building the team. 

 That’s not the INN8 way and it’s not my way either. If the team is functioning well, they can hold each other accountable and ask me for help when they need it. 

This is how it looks:   

A buddy system. Every few weeks each salesperson gets a new buddy from within the team. These buddies are expected to chat together during the week and share their ideas, successes, and blockers. The buddies help each other overcome these blockers and also celebrate the successes by sharing with the rest of the team. Some of the questions buddies might ask each other are:

  • Who are you planning to see (reach out to) this week? 
  • What conversations are you planning to have? 
  • Where are you stuck? 
  • What’s going well? 
  • Which was your best meeting / conversation of the week? 
  • What questions did you get that you couldn’t answer? 
  • Did you achieve what you said you would when we spoke earlier in the week? 
  • What ideas do you have as to how to solve this problem?

A weekly touchpoint questionnaire. Every Friday the team completes a survey that I devise and send out on Thursday evening. It’s short and takes no longer than 10 minutes to complete and includes such questions as: 

  • How many appointments (virtual conversations) did you have this week? 
  • What were your numbers for the previous week? 
  • Did you achieve everything this week you said you would? 
  • What were your biggest wins of the week? 
  • What were your greatest challenges and what are you going to do about them? 
  • Were there any questions you encountered that you couldn’t answer? 
  • How was your buddy this week, what did you learn from him or her? 
  • Is there anything that George can help you with right now? 

Note the last question here. So many managers I encounter think they have to have all the answers, all the direction and all the knowledge. In my experience, as soon as you reframe your role to one of ‘unblocker’ as opposed to ‘know it all’, the team flies – on their own. 

Get together regularly. Never underestimate the importance of this. Outside Lockdown, my team all meet once every 6 weeks for 2 days. This may sound a lot and I’m often asked how I have content for 2 days every 6 weeks. It’s not hard, the content comes from the weekly survey monkey responses and because these are collected from the team every week it’s relevant, insightful and valuable. We try to make these get togethers as memorable as possible and in fact our last one included a hike up Skeleton Gorge followed by a few isotonic refreshments!

A team call twice a week. For one hour every Monday and Wednesday to find out the issues and to convey information. Job done!

A third meeting on a Friday afternoon. With a drink, only 30 minutes and only one agenda item: Tell us all about your buddy’s wins for the week. 

A well-run Microsoft Teams channel. This where we share useful collateral between the team. Email is banned between the team to ensure everyone sees everything that concerns us, and email is then freed up for important incoming messages from advisers. 

The obligatory Whatsapp group – for banter – and this is by far the busiest channel. 

These are my secrets to building great teams, but I’m not going to pretend it’s easy. It’s time consuming and there is plenty of heartache along the way. 

I’ll leave you with three parting shots: 

  1. Spend a lot of time and effort recruiting people on attitude and the characteristics you want to embody in your team, not on their CV 
  2. Habits take work and effort; as soon as you let the good habits slip, the numbers will start to drop. Stay focussed on the habits and the rest will follow 
  3. As long as the team know the ‘why’ we’re doing this and the ‘what’ needs to be done, if you’ve recruited the right people and have put in place the right habits, they’ll figure out the ‘how’ themselves 

Written by

Georgina Smith

Georgina Smith

Before joining INN8 as Head of Training and Development, Georgina was an entrepreneur in the UK, successfully building and transitioning her businesses into a larger corporate. She has experienced first hand the trials and tribulations of running a small business and all it entails. Throughout her career she has specialised in training and coaching across a range of subjects such as Financial Management, Building Great Teams and Great Customer Journeys for clients such as British Airways, British Telecom, Unilever and Mars.