Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The "I" in Team

It's a staple of interviews with star players on team sports:

“There is no ‘I’ in team.”

This is particularly significant here on the day after the NCAA Finals (and a tip of the hat to Kentucky for their victory, for Kansas for a great game, and for every team involved in March Madness for great basketball, great sportsmanship, and great entertainment).

College sports are perhaps the best example of the “I” in Team. If you don’t think there is an “I” in team, ask yourself who was responsible for UCLA’s winning streak? John Wooden had a career record of 664 – 162, won 88 games in a row, had four perfect 30-0 seasons, between 1962 and 1975 went to the Final Four 12 times, a won the national championship 10 times. The obvious point here is that, while he had great players, no player ever played more than 4 years with him. Every year there was turnover. Every year he had to make a new team. Perhaps my favorite Wooden saying is that: “It takes 10 hands to score a basket.”

Basketball is a team sport. (Fill in your favorite team sport). The team wins, not the individual. And particularly in college sports, making a bunch of players into a team becomes the essential element, the one irreplaceable ‘ingredient,’ to success. And that is the coach.

But beyond sports is where you start to get into real ‘team events.’ For nearly any business to succeed the members of that business need to act as a team. For a military command or police squad or fire department to succeed, teamwork is essential. And for elite units, the combination of training and unit cohesion represent all the difference in the world. Simply put, the more cohesive that team, the better the performance.

And who provides that cohesion? Who takes the individuals and makes a team? The coach, the CEO, the commander, the team leader – call him what you will – is THE essential ingredient. The leader – YOU – have to make the team. That is your job. They come to you knowing how to: play basketball, fly airplanes, swim, run jump, sell cars, make satellites, drill oil wells. You need to make them into a team.

So what does all this mean?

Very simply, you need to recognize when you are the ‘I,’ the key ingredient, for creating the coherent vision, for pushing through with the production of a real, workable plan, for building the team and keeping it motivated. You need to recognize when that situation exists. And then, while making certain you never share that one thought with anyone except perhaps your confessor – and certainly NEVER with any member of your team, you need to move your team, your organization beyond you, you need to make certain you are not indispensable by building up your followers to be leaders, by making the vision so compelling that you are no longer needed, and by finally, stepping out of the way.

I’ll close with one more quote from John Wooden, apropos of preventing a big head just because you may be irreplaceable right now:

Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful. 


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