The best -- meaning most productive -- team I ever worked on got along reasonably well.

The next-best team I worked on didn't get along well at all. We bickered. We clashed. We rolled our eyes at each other in meetings. We didn't socialize outside of work. We barely spoke, much less "socialized," at work.

Yet we out-produced every other crew in the building for the year we were together.

According to Suzy Welch, that should have been nearly impossible. She feels the best work "is almost always facilitated by relationships and understandings that only happen when people are together physically. The banter, the lunches, the late nights, the jokes, the asides, the shared ah-has!"

Without the bonding that comes from working together, hanging out, and "bonding" (my quotation marks), Welch says a team "can't soar."

And if you want to rise through the leadership ranks? According to Welch, "You need to be in the building. Leadership is an inside job, and it starts in the room where trust happens."

Or not.

Work No Longer Works That Way

Team members do need to work well together. But they don't need to hang out or "bond" to do it.

Great business relationships are created when people work together toward a common goal... and are able to count on one another to do their part, meet commitments, and get things done. Accountability is everything. When everyone feels everyone else is working just as hard to reach a common... that's chemistry.

Think the New England Patriots all like each other? Of course not. They don't have to. They do respect each other's effort and commitment to winning. And they win.

And winning creates chemistry. 

Where work relationships are concerned, the only great relationships are those produce tangible outcomes and achieve meaningful goals. Sure, you might get along great... but unless you also produce, who cares?

And here's the thing: You don't need to be in the room to produce tangible outcomes and achieve meaningful goals. A two-year Stanford study led by Nicholas Bloom showed employee productivity almost doubled, and employee attrition decreased by 50 percent. 

Other research shows that remote workers not only outperform office workers, they can also perform better as teammates because their work communication tends to be more work-focused.

And here's the other thing: Geographic proximity is not only unnecessary, it can even be counter-productive. Who would you rather hire: 

  • The best people in the world... 
  • Or the best people who live within a 20-minute commute?

Smart companies take the best people -- every single time.

Which is why many of the fastest-growing companies are wholly or partly distributed.

And is why nearly 70 percent of employees worldwide work from home at least one day a week, and 53 percent work from home at least half the week.

All of which means the best leaders don't see leadership as an "inside job." 

Leaders No Longer Lead That Way

When Suzy and I were young there were two basic types of leaders. 

Transactional leaders -- far and away the most prevalent kind -- led by command and control. A few leaders were transformational and led by vision, charisma, and inspiration. 

But there's a third type of leader. Network leaders lead by creating the conditions for employees to work as productively as possible with other employees. Building environments and cultures conducive to employee productivity. Helping people contribute to and take work from others. Helping people navigate complexity. Helping people build networks, and activate those networks.

Great leaders empower their teams, provide authority and responsibility, manage inevitable conflicts... none of which is new. 

But where those things take place grows increasingly distributed. 

Which means the idea of having to be "in the building" is outdated and counterproductive -- and devalues the skills leaders actually need.

Smart companies don't care where their employees work. They don't care whether their leaders are "in the building."

They know the best teams, the teams that "soar," are the teams that get things done. They know the best leaders, the ones whose careers "soar," are the leaders that help their teams get things done.

Wherever they -- and their teams -- work.