“A single twig easily breaks, but a bundle of twigs is strong.” ~ Chief Tecumseh
What a classic illustration Chief Tecumseh’s words are for teamwork. Standing alone we may be easily broken but with the support of a team, we become strong. The dictionary defines teamwork as, “a joint action by a group of people, in which each person subordinates his or her interests and opinions to the unity and efficiency of the group.” On the surface, that sounds simple enough, so why do so many teams fail to accomplish their goal? I believe the main factor that keeps teams from reaching their ultimate goal is ego; the inability of a person to subordinate their interests and opinions to the unity and efficiency of the group.
Think of all of the sports teams with a roster full of superstar players that began their season with the expectations of winning it all, only to fall short to a team with far less talent. It happens consistently in sports and in business. When you think of the great coaches, the Vince Lombardi’s and John Wooden’s, they did not always have a roster filled with superstars, yet they both regularly won championships. They did so by convincing their players of the necessity to subordinate their interests and opinions to the unity and efficiency of the group.
This doesn’t mean the individual is no longer important. What it does mean is that effective and efficient teamwork goes far beyond individual accomplishment. Teamwork recognizes individual accomplishment rarely happens without the support of the group. When Terrell Davis won the award for Most Valuable Player of the National Football League, the star running back gave an engraved Rolex watch to each of the offensive linemen. He recognized that his accomplishment would not have been possible without the group effort. Is it any wonder the Denver Broncos won their first Super Bowl that year?
Teamwork is just as much an important part of the culture of a business as it is any team sport. It is also something few businesses are able to attain given the “it’s all about me” society in which we live. Businesses exacerbate the problem by administering individual performance evaluations and often very little in the way of team recognition. So if you are tasked with being either a team leader or a team member, the question becomes, “How do I overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of building a better team?”
Every leader and coach has visions of a “dream team”. So I’ve developed the DREAM acronym for team building.
=Development – Team leaders and team members must be devoted to development. No single person possesses all of the necessary skill sets. Regardless of age or time in your current position you are still a work-in-progress. This is how great coaches like Vince Lombardi have been able to take a group of players with only average talent at their level and turn them into champions. Devotion to development never stops. Lombardi was known for having one of the smallest playbooks in the NFL, but they practiced the same plays over and over until they perfected each one. Outstanding team members dedicate themselves to constant development. They never stop learning and looking for ways to improve.
=Respect – Team leaders and team members must have mutual respect. They recognize that every team member is important to the overall success of the team. Personalities may have conflict from time to time. A team member may “rub you the wrong way” with their style and attitude, but it is important to remember that they are team members just the same and share an ultimate goal. Never ridicule a team member because of personality conflict. Good team members find ways to work around their personalities and find ways to overcome their differences for the unity and efficiency of the group.
=Empowerment – It may sound contradictory, but personal empowerment is an essential ingredient for building a successful team. For people to feel a part of a team, they must be empowered. They must know they have a specific place on the team and that they are part of the collective voice of the team. The concept of empowerment is power and effective empowerment requires that power can change. Power exists within the confines of the relationship between people and things. If team members know their collective choices and input will influence desired actions and outcomes, they become invested in the team and its ultimate success.
=Agreement – Getting individuals to agree can be like herding chickens, but team members must agree on team goals. Without agreement on team goals, individual aspirations dominate. This is why so many superstar sports figures are not on winning teams. The prima donna personality in them takes over and their focus is on their own personal success rather than on team success. Without agreement and buy-in for a shared vision, there simply is no team. Team debate is a critical element of improvement, but in the end there must be resolve and agreement on the desired outcome.
=Mentoring – As individuals, every team member has certain skills. A good team member recognizes their skills and weaknesses. They develop a servant attitude about helping others and are open to accept mentoring from others who possess skills in which they lack. This is where there is simply no room for ego. A superstar wide receiver may have extraordinary hands and be known for making amazing catches, but may be virtually useless when it comes to down field blocking. They must be open to the time when a player of lesser known status suggests, “Would you mind if I showed you some blocking techniques that might improve your game?”
Developing a DREAM Team is no easy task. It requires dedication from every team member, no matter how great or how small their role might be. If the water boy spills the Gatorade, the whole team suffers. Alone, you are only a twig that can be easily broken, but together as a team, you can withstand more than you ever thought possible. What can you do today to become a better team member?