You have probably seen the “Shark Tank” TV show on the ABC television network. The show features 5 wealthy entrepreneurs that are called “sharks.” Startup entrepreneurs present their idea with hopes of negotiating an investment in the company by one of the sharks. The sharks all have different personalities and different criteria for investment. Some of the common questions the Sharks have for the startup entrepreneurs:

• What makes your product or service different compared to what is on the market? What is your advantage vs. your competition?

• Have you protected the intellectual property of your idea?

• What is the market for your product or service?

• How much revenue and profit have you generated in the last 12 months? What do you sell the unit for and how much does it cost to produce it?

• Is this something I would buy?

In this show, the Sharks invest their own money. The challenge for the startup entrepreneur is to passionately make a business case about why the idea is worth investing in by one or more of the sharks. For some ideas, the Sharks are not only negotiating with the startup entrepreneur but are often competing against each other to make the deal with the startup entrepreneur.

Why Invest in Team Building?

Based on my experience in working with organizations, I see two common motivators they have for team building:

• Training and development –to help team members grow/develop around communication, collaboration and common goals

• Get along better and reduce conflict – Help team members strengthen trust, be able to have more productive discussions and work collaboratively with each other when they need to

Although these are great motivators, as your team development “Shark,”, I would advise you that the real reason to improve teamwork is to “Deliver business results that can ONLY be achieved collectively by working together as a team.” What I look for is a team or the leader of a team that sees the potential in business terms if the team members work together well as a team to deliver. Examples of how leadership teams define that potential or goal in business terms:

• Increase average customer wallet share by 5% as measured by new revenue from additional product lines (from existing customers)

• A 50% reduction in end-to-end delivery time for a customer order -- unprecedented turnaround time in the industry

• Deliver on “stretch” targets for a major plant expansion project – safety, cost, schedule, reliability, and operability.

The Shark Tank Concept in Team Building

Maybe your company/organization should be looking at an investment in team building in a different way. Most organizations only have a limited amount of dollars they would consider allocating to an investment in team building. That investment might take the form of training, “interventional” consulting or even incentives to reward the achievement. So why not make decisions about what teams to invest in like the “sharks” do.

For larger organizations (usually a minimum of $1 billion in revenue) with many functional (HR, IT, Finance) and business unit leadership teams, let them compete for the limited investment dollars in team building – based on the business impact the team can make if they work better together as a team. You will want at least 5 teams competing (by making their case to your Sharks) for every 1 unit of “investment” (additional budget). Even if only one team building gets funded, you now have 4 other teams that either have a clearer focus on what value can be achieved ONLY by working together as a team OR they will have received some direct, constructive feedback from the Sharks on what is expected of a leadership team in terms of articulating/driving towards common goals and that “ONLY” value. Some other organizational benefits of having your own Teamwork Shark Tank might include:

• That competition for limited capital should result in a capital allocation to the team with the most potential.

• Help in changing the culture into one that makes team building something you have to compete for based on the potential business impact.

• If you don’t have many teams competing for this limited capital, you won’t be spending money on training/team building that the team doesn’t need (or isn’t ready for). On the flip side, it might also raise the question about whether the organization can begin to set better expectations of your leaders on the leadership they provide around the business impact they can make by working as a team.

• The organization now has a basis for evaluating the ROI on their teamwork building investment as well as a basis for incentivizing the team on what they achieve collectively.

If your organization is not that large (probably less than $1 billion in revenue) and has a limited number of leadership teams (or maybe only one executive leadership team), the potential impact is the same of competing to make the best case for investing in the potential business impact that a leadership team can achieve ONLY by working together better as a team. One options would be to have your company form an external Shark panel in consortium with other organizations of a similar size. Executive leadership team could then confidentially compete against the other companies to “win” the recommendation by the Sharks as to the company they would invest $XXX based on the business case made.

Teamwork Shark Tank Options

A Teamwork Shark Tank as I have referred to above might have some similarity conceptually to what you see on TV but would likely operate quite differently. Here are a few options that could be considered:

Internal Shark Review Board -- For a larger organization, form an internal panel of Sharks that could be a cross section of executives that widely represent the organization in terms of function or business. The units of investments (number of teams to be invested in), to collectively achieve the goals as a team, would be determined in advance and the Shark Panel would collectively decide which teams would be awarded those units of investment

Internal Shark “Investors” -- For a larger organization, form an internal panel of Sharks similarly to above but each Shark would be allocated a unit of investment and they would be the “investor” much like the Shark would be. This option presents some interesting organizational dynamics but provides an opportunity for some constructive “friction” between the “teamwork investor” and the executive that the team reports to just as might happen between management and their Board of Directors or investor.

Contract With an External Shark Committee -- For a larger organization, utilize an external panel of Sharks that would collectively recommend the teams they would allocate the investment units to.

Compete Against Other Companies -- For a mid-sized organization, find out who an independent, external panel of Sharks would select as a team they would invest in.

Contract With a Shark -- For a mid-sized organization, utilize a teamwork expert (a Shark) to provide an independent, objective recommendation on whether or not an investment in building a team should be considered or not.

* * *

If you are not familiar with the Shark Tank television show, you may want to watch some recent episodes of Shark Tank. The real value to your organization in utilizing the Shark Tank concept is that it could challenge your leadership teams to clarify their focus on the strategic value/results they can deliver ONLY by working together collectively as a leadership team – especially if the team is “incurring” lost opportunity costs.

The Shark Tank concept for organizations is worth considering. As David Blaine said, “As they say about sharks, it's not the ones you see that you have to worry about, it's the ones you don't see.”

Mike Goodfriend is a teamwork engineer, executive coach, and meeting facilitator. Since 1989, Goodfriend & Associates has been helping leaders and leadership teams increase their strategic advantage through achieving higher levels of competitive advantage, teamwork/alignment, leadership competency and excellence/customer satisfaction. Mike Goodfriend can be reached at 713-789-6840 or via email at


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