By Lourdes Coss, MPA, CPPO
It takes a team…! Whenever you see a successful leader, there is certainly a capable team beside that leader. As Dr. John C. Maxwell stated: “One is too small of a number to achieve greatness”. A leader can accomplish some goals but to reach significance a leader needs a team. Phil Jackson, the head coach of the Chicago Bulls back in the 1990s, stated: “The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” Team members contribute their talents, and the entire benefit from the collective contributions of each member.
Coming together is a beginning
Staying together is progress
And working together is success
Creating a cohesive team requires thoughtful consideration to bring together the talent needed to achieve specific goal(s). A team is as strong as its weakest link. Strong, successful teams have certain qualities in common.
Members of great teams are committed to high performance.
Each team member shares the responsibility for the entire team’s success and each of its individual members. Each team member’s performance determines the team’s success. I read a story that exemplifies the commitment to high performance for the benefit of another team member. The story is about the veteran Charles Plumb, a US jet fighter pilot in Vietnam.
Plumb was ejected from his jet and parachuted into enemy territory. He spent six years in a Vietnamese prison. After released and back in the US, he was sitting at a café one day, a man came up to him and said, “You’re Plumb! You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down!” Plumb was confused and asked how the man knew about that. “I packed your parachute,” the man replied. The man then shook his hand and said, “I guess it worked!” Plumb assured him it had and said, “If your chute hadn’t worked, I wouldn’t be here today.”
The story reveals the importance of skills and the ability to perform at your best when it matters most. In a good team, members are committed to the cause and its members. This story also unveils the element of trust.
In great teams, members develop trusting relationships.
In his book “The Infinite Game”, Simon Sinek makes an interesting observation about the difference between a trusting team and a team. He states that in a team where a group of people come together to achieve a specific result, the relationship amongst the team members tend to be transactional. In contrast, in a trusting team environment, the team members develop a trusting relationship. Trust is a feeling that develops in the layering of situations where team members feel safe to be vulnerable. Trust cannot be imposed, required or demanded. Trust and vulnerability go hand in hand. A violation of trust essentially eliminates vulnerability, which then shatters the possibility of trust.
In great teams, members are committed to working collaboratively towards a common goal.
The 1992 Olympic Men’s Basketball Team aka “The Dream Team” is an example of collaboration towards a common goal – to bring home gold. The Dream Team was comprised of the best players in basketball history. To win gold, they had to put aside their egos and unite on a common objective. They had to trust each other on the basketball court to attain greatness as an Olympic team. “The whole is better than the sum of its parts.” –Aristotle
Another example is a team that over time has seen the participation of the brightest minds in the world, The Royal Society of London. The Society is committed to a common goal: the advancement of science. Under his leadership in the 1700s, Sir Isaac Newton asserted the Society’s dominant role in science. With the help of Edmond Halley, the Society published Newton’s Principia Mathematica. It is one of the most influential books of all time describing the action of gravity. Through the Society’s photographic expeditions of the solar eclipse in 1919, astronomers confirm Albert Einstein’s relativity theory. Today, the Society fosters international scientific cooperation, innovative research, and better communication between scientists and the public.
Members of great teams listen, communicate, and connect.
Google led a research initiative on the qualities of the best teams, Project Aristotle, and concluded that the best teams are those whose members listen to one another and show sensitivity.
In NASA 1969 Apollo 11, for example, the team had over 400,000 scientists, engineers, and technicians. The astronauts of that mission were Whilst Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. These men made it a point of visiting the laboratories where these scientists, engineers, and technician worked in order to establish the human connection with the people on whose hands they were entrusting their lives.
The Manhattan Project, despite the controversial team’s purpose and extreme secrecy (developing an atomic bomb during WWII), is considered another of the most impactful teams in history. It is said that communication and collaboration made it one of the most effective teams.
Leadership and clarity are necessary to achieve greatness in a team.
The leader has a role in helping the team achieve greatness. Without effective leadership and clarity, it is very difficult for a team to achieve anything, much less greatness. Even when its members are highly talented and accomplished individuals who have enjoyed “solo recognition”, it is essential for the leader to create the right environment for high performance. Talent can be powerful in a team, but only if there is commitment to a common goal and collaboration. Where talent is abundant in the team, but self-interest guides team members actions, it is impossible to establish trust.
What undermines team success?
Research by The Ken Blanchard Companies concluded that teams fail due to a variety of reasons. Three of those conditions caught my attention:
- lack of effective leadership and support
- lack of clarity of purpose
- lack of talent or training.
There are many examples of failed teams even when their members were very talented. Enron, for example, was a highly regarded company. They violated the trust of many due to greed. They deceived over 20,000 employees who were left to face significant personal financial losses.
Another example is the changes to the LA Lakers Basketball Team after the 2002 championship that the leadership of that organization made. Two very talented team members who enjoyed individual recognition were unable to work collaboratively. There were a number of player trades made by the organization, which essentially created a new team. The new team did not possess the qualities necessary to maintain its champion status in the season that followed. The inability to collaborate was detrimental to creating a cohesive team environment. The organization may have overestimated the value of individual talent and did not put enough attention to the other qualities required to assemble a strong team.
In conclusion, some of the most impactful teams in history attribute their success to a strong foundation of trust, respect, communication, collaboration, and a commitment to a common goal. The qualities that make a team successful are interconnected. The leader must orchestrate well the resources, talent, and the environment in order for the team’s efforts to achieve high impact. The leader has an important role in creating an environment that brings out the best of the team collectively and individually. When there is clarity of purpose and effective leadership, the team can move the organization in the right direction.
About the Author: Lourdes Coss is a retired Chief Procurement Officer with 27 years of government procurement and transformation experience; the author of “Procurement Methods: Effective Techniques”; and an executive coach, speaker, leadership & procurement trainer, and procurement consultant