Teamwork Part 2: The Team, The Team, The Team

Before I jump into volunteering and actually engaging civically, I need to self-assess some of the fundamentals. With so much frustration, anger, and even hatred out there in the world, I want to make sure I’m starting out on my journey with a clear head, a map, a plan, and hopefully a few friends at my side. To get the party started, in this 3-part series I want to analyze my own notions of a teams and teamwork, so I can ensure I’m suiting up for the right team on my journey. The sooner we come together on this topic the sooner we become a team. OK, let’s get to work.

In Part 1, I looked at some of my own notions of a team, my civic/political teams, and my teammates on those teams. Personally, I’m a member of many teams and sub-teams within them. It’s easy for me to get side-tracked pushing for agenda items that address the goals of the sub-team, rather than high-level team. In particular, I need to do a better job of thinking of myself as a member of Team America or Team Earth. Only after determining your team and teammates can the real work begin…

Part 2

The hallmark of a great coach goes beyond the wins, tough play calls, and highlight reels. Exceptional coaches are remembered for their words and leadership styles. Through powerful coach’s speeches, sprinkled with words of leadership, motivation, and inspiration, they encourage peak performance for the game ahead, in-progress, or just completed. One of my favorite such speeches was delivered by legendary University of Michigan head football coach Bo Schembechler. “The team, the team, the team” has become his most famous locker room speech and summarizes his championship-winning coaching style. Certainly great athletes, superstar performances, and luck can win many games in any sport. Yet, Bo’s leadership style called upon the Wolverines to put aside negative team dynamics and win by being the best team. I believe each of us wants to feel part of something big, to row in the same direction with a set of peers, and to push ourselves toward a common goal(s). We want to be part of a team or even a Team of Teams. Bo’s speech highlights the kind of leadership we need today, not just in sports, but in all aspects of our society. I bet even Ohio State fans agree with a rival’s message on teamwork and the need for more leaders today. In a world full of rampant, negative team dynamics, we need more focus on the team, the team, the team.

Bringing a group of people together and calling yourself a team is easy. In fact, I could pick 10 random people on the street, tell them they’re on my team, and for a very short amount of time it is possibly that they’d all work together as a strong team as they figure out why they’re on my team. I’m 100% confident I could form such a team in this fashion, especially if I was dressed properly, looked like I had prizes or money, and/or represented some reality show (or other known/respected entity). Once they realized I was just a kook pulling their legs for a blog post this “team” would quickly disband (although they work together to kick my butt first). Creating a team is easy, but the real challenge is creating teamwork.

“Building a strong team is both possible and remarkably simple. But is painfully difficult” (Patrick Lencioni). From my vantage point, teamwork is at the heart of every successful marriage and is missing in those the either flounder or fail. Couples that find a way to work together end up staying together. Successful start-ups also find a way to work together by keeping founder issues, and other team breakdowns, to a minimum so they can focus instead on the real issue of finding product-market fit. Like a good marriage or startup, it takes hard work to make any team work with itself.

“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success” (Henry Ford). Teamwork is when a team and its members work together as a collective entity. A team lacking teamwork spends too much time/effort fighting itself rather than accomplishing the team’s goals. Pointless effort, bickering, or feuds within the team exemplify wasteful effort spent on team dynamics. Good teams work to improve the team from the inside, focusing most effort towards external goals. Purposeful tension, arguments, and conflict within the team can be beneficial if aligned with external team goals. In order to dive in a bit more, let’s look at teams from a systems-thinking perspective.

Imagine your team as a black box drawn on white paper. Everything internal to your team, e.g.., teammates, team relationships, processes, expertise, and dynamics, resides inside the box and outside of the box is the rest of the universe, including the environment, the enemy, the (virtual) opponent, the market, or whatever else with which the team (as a whole) interacts. The goal of a team (at this high-level) is to minimize the wasted effort inside the box and focus that effort on accomplishing its mission, which ALWAYS lies outside the box.

The team has little (possibly indirect only) or no control outside of the box, but it can leverage effort to optimize the systems within the box. The goal is not the removal of any internal effort as training, policies, annual reviews, quality assurance, and other internal efforts can be used to improve the external results. In fact, this is exactly what management and leadership strive to accomplish! These good uses of internal effort build a better team, make the black box stronger, and optimize the effort needed within the box to achieve desired external outputs. Largely these effort deal with getting everyone to row in the same direction, i.e., teamwork.

Groups of people naturally tend towards chaos. There will always be a market for coaches, team captains, and the so-called team players. Hopefully, you’ve been on teams with one of these individuals, even if their title didn’t portray their impact. They pull people together, deflect pointless conflict, push to keep meetings on topic (or cancel the meeting if it boils down to elementary drama), and hold both themselves and others accountable for ONLY goals/metrics that indicate the team’s success. Our world is likely full of these individuals, perhaps you’re one of them (at least on some of your teams), but I bet you agree with me that we need more of them, especially within our government and societal institutions. The trick to being a team player is as simple and difficult as just changing your personal mindset to consider the team rather than personal goals. If your decisions/actions/words/support tend to be focused on the team, then you’re probably a team player.

Have you read my best-selling book or heard my motivation speeches on this topic? Me neither, because they don’t exist (yet..??..). I’m not an expert in this area, I don’t have years and years of experience coaching couples or founders or government officials to build great teams, and I’ve failed at being a good teammate many times (even recently). Like you, I’m a living, breathing change agent and I happen to be on some teams that need a coach, captain, and/or team players. Today, the only thing I can do is change myself. I’d like to say “done” and proclaim myself a better team player, but we both know it will take effort, time, and learning to truly change. Since I want to see more teamwork in the world, I’ve got to start with myself, then work to spread the message. If I happen to find myself in a (named or not) position as team captain or even coach/mentor, I will push for better teamwork, culture, and leadership. Hopefully, you too will make this change as an individual, then spread it through your teams. The action plan is simple, just keep these three concepts in mind: the team, the team, the team. Regardless of your path, let me know how I can help, we are teammates after all…

More Information

Small teams are easier to establish and maintain than larger teams. Leaders within large teams, organizations, and communities have the challenging task of removing silos by creating teams, teamwork, and collective action. A great resource on how to scale the benefits of a small-team to larger teams is General Stanley McChrystal’s Team of Teams. In Part 3, I’ll explore prioritization between teams and how team civic engagement often gets the shaft.

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