Teams and Champions

image copyright: <a href=''>caeccles / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

[Originally posted on Linkedin on May 7, 2015]

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.”

- Michael Jordan 

A group is a number of people or things that are located close together or are considered or classed together. A team, on the other hand, is a group that unites together to achieve a common goal.

Which do you have in your workplace?

The Spartan Team

 Not long ago, several work friends encouraged me to join them in participating in a “Spartan Run”, which is an event that combines a 5-8k run with intermittent constructed obstacles (and they do get in the way!), mixed with a generous supply of mud to create a recipe for a fun yet very dirty and challenging morning or afternoon!

As sometimes happens, shortly before the race, conflicts came up for others planning to attend which left me as the only participant from our original group. Undaunted, and probably partly because I didn’t want to forfeit the hefty registration fee, I loaded up my personal cheering section (aka my awesome wife and kids!) and we headed over to the course. When we got there, we were greeted by thousands of other participants, mostly in teams of four to six. I was placed in a starting area, and after a brief warmup and orientation stressing the necessity to help each other along the way, about a hundred of us in a wave were sent out onto the course. This was my first Spartan race, and it was brutal from the start!  But forward we pressed on, with my wave spreading out over the first few obstacles.

Seven obstacles into the race, and I was exhausted. I came to the next obstacle – a “trench pull” that basically required the participant to with a rope pull a bucket filled with sandbags through a 20 yard trench that had multiple ridges in it to a certain point, and then drag it back to its original location. As I briefly surveyed the site I saw another participant struggling, and so I suggested that we try him pulling with a constant pressure, while I gave the rope an extra “yank” every time a ridge was in the way. We gave it a try and success! We were both amazed and thrilled - we had done it!  We gave each other a couple of High Fives and congratulated each other- one more obstacle down! 

It was only when I heard more cheering that I turned and realized that our activity was being observed with great interest by a young group of 10 or 11 participants that were outfitted in the same red and black outfit that my task partner was wearing. The team was also thrilled (and probably amazed, too!) to see the success of the effort! 

After a brief rest and water break, I was off to the next obstacle- a completely unreasonable rope climb up a steep ridge to a plateau above. I began the ascent but clearly was having difficulty. Just as I was about to lower myself down to seek an alternate route, I heard shouting from above – YOU CAN DO THIS - YOU'RE ALMOST THERE!!! – and then from behind, others providing encouragement….it was this same team – they had waited at the ridge for me to get through this next obstacle. Their enthusiasm and confidence lifted me to the top! From then on through the rest of the race, I felt I had been "adopted" by this well-trained team in gratitude for my very small act of service to one of their members. They believed in me and so I believed it too - it was what made all the difference! 

Ya Gotta See it to Believe it

As managers and executives, we talk about teamwork….a lot, don’t we? But a major key in our supporting a successful team is helping them believe that they can be successful in the goals and objectives we set out for them, which means we need to create a clear, consistent and achievable image of what the goal is so that they can visualize it in their minds and can readily grasp how their contribution assists the business as a whole. If they can’t see the larger picture, how can we expect them to fully believe they can really make the difference that we need them to make?

Think about it- before you buy a product or service, someone at that company has created an “image” of what that product is or does for your mind to attach to, right? If you can visualize that image and believe in it, you’ll likely buy that product, or at least the company hopes you will. When we as leaders organize a team around an effort, we expect them to win, but in order to do that, they have to see victory (the vision we create) and believe it can be done!  And they will believe it if we are providing the right levels of support, guidance, defense of their efforts, and enthusiastic celebration of their successes. 

The Principles

Picking the right team is important, but as long as team members have core skills and a willingness to cooperate, great synergies will develop and champions can be made!  But it will only truly happen with great vision and support from you. As Michael Jordan said, “teamwork and intelligence wins championships”…both on and off the court.

In the next day or so, quiz your team on what they see is the goal of the work that they do. Their answers might surprise you….if they are not in sync with your image of the goal, it’s probably time for a recap of where you are heading!  

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