Individual commitment to a group effort--that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.
Several years ago I was trying to complete a fairly ambitious home improvement project, namely finishing my garage by hanging drywall.
Now nailing up drywall might not seem all that technical to most seasoned handymen but to a novice like me, the task seemed daunting.
It wasn’t as though I didn’t know what to do... as a college student, there seemed to be ample opportunity to patch many a hole left by some unruly partiers visiting our fraternity house.
This project was different. It involved full sheets of half-inch drywall
weighing slightly more than 50 lbs. each. This meant that I needed to hold up the drywall against the studs with one hand while swinging a hammer with the other hand.
After struggling with the cumbersome large pieces, I decided that it might be easier to cut the gypsum board in half.
While it was certainly easier to manipulate the smaller drywall pieces, I had added a few extra steps to my work.
I had been working for about 4 hours and I was only about 20% finished.
Shortly after lunch, my brother Joe stopped by the house while he was out on errands.
After watching my contortionist "drywall yoga" for a few minutes, he asked the words every "do it yourselfer" wants to hear...
..."Do you need some help?"
Soon the both of us were working together... one of us held the sheet of drywall in place while the other quickly tacked it to the wooden studs.
With the both of us working together, we finished the remaining 80% of the work in about 2 hours.
The only time I generally think of the word "synergy" is when I picture some self-titled thought-leader interlacing his fingers on stage in front of a crowd... but here in a musty old garage on a Saturday afternoon... I witnessed synergy in action.
The idea of synergy (or at least as it has been told to me), is the idea that the resultant sum is greater than its individual parts.
It took one person, working alone, 4 hours to complete just 20% of the project.
Conversely two people, working together, took only 2 hours to complete 80% of the project.
This idea leads to the "team" concept versus "individual" effort.
Trying to accomplish a large endeavor is typically more efficiently managed when there are several people working together, each lending their own particular talents and skills to complete the project.
Although we’d all like to imagine that our overall success is directly due to our own singular efforts, the reality is more likely that there was/is a team of people providing us with essential support to help us.
Oscar-winning movie stars have make-up artists, costumers, directors and a team of talented professionals providing them a support structure and opportunity to ply their craft.
Doctors have nurses and hospital staff... athletes have coaches and teammates... writers have editors... musicians have roadies and sound engineers.
These talented beings would be nothing without a team of highly talented people who support and foster their success.
Functional teams are important to all organizations because they tend to operate more efficiently than individuals acting alone.
It is the team work that ultimately contributes the most to a leader’s success or failure.
In Jim Collin’s seminal book, Good to Great, he describes where great companies are less concerned as to where a metaphorical bus is going but are rather focused on who is actually on the bus.
These great companies understand that it isn’t a great strategy that ultimately brings a company success but rather who will actually be developing and implanting that strategy.
Success comes not from what... it’s comes from who.
Whether you’re putting together a sports team or a management team... the first question is always "who will give the team a greater opportunity for success?"
By selecting team member with similar talents and skills, a leader puts themselves at a significant disadvantage.
A football team won’t win a single game by fielding 11 quarterbacks on offense and defense. Non-similar players, each with differing skill sets, should be selected in order to make the team better overall.
The same goes for any management team. An effective management team should be comprised of people who provide wide array of divergent talents and ideas. By selecting people with a wide-range of specialized skills, the team will have a greater breath of knowledge and typically more overall experience.
Once the team members are selected, the team leader or coach is responsible for making sure that all of the team members understand their role on the team.
Each person was brought to the team with a definitive role to play and it’s up to the leader to communicate what each team members’ are, how they will be measured, and what are the expected results.
Each team member is charged with their own duties and tasks and should only be concerned with their own work and/or helping to coach other members of the team.
Every member of the team understands that the team is only as strong as the weakest member and therefore there needs to be trust among the team that each member is doing their own small part to help the team.
One of the most important things that a team leader or coach contributes to the team is measurement and feedback.
This feedback is critical because it ensures that the team is heading in the right direction to accomplish its mission.
It is said that a great leader understands that the only difference between a pat on the back and a kick in the butt is only a few inches. Sometimes it takes both to spur a person into doing their best work.
Good feedback is tailored to each individual of the team and it consists of a dialogue not a monologue.
Through a system of two-way communication, the team can learn to grow and add expertise in other areas helping the team to get better.
Lastly, a great team will ultimately find a certain amount of success along the way.
These moments of success should be celebrated. Everyone worked hard together as a team and together they should celebrate their achievements as a team.
The actress receiving the Oscar acknowledges all of those who were members of her team... and she thanks them for their contributions and help.
After all of the drywall was hung and the garage cleaned of debris... it was time to open a cold beer and sit down with my team (Joe) to reflect on a job well-done...