Building Great Teams

I did some research on team building recently.  What I found were lists of qualities that define effective teams.  The problem is that these lists are typically filled with descriptions of characteristics that are superficial.  I can say, or do, whatever is necessary, when it is necessary, so that I look like a great teammate on a great team.

I believe that building a great team requires great teammates. It is much more personal than a list of qualities. You do not want to build a house on a foundation of sand and you do not want to build a team on a foundation of individuals whose sole focus is on their own personal value propositions.

Dwight L. Moody said that “Character is what you are in the dark”, meaning that you express your true character when your potential duplicity is difficult to discover. You express your character in what you do, not what you say.

I like to associate teammates to shipmates.  This association strengthens the concept of teamwork.  When at sea, if the ship sinks, everyone gets wet.  In the most powerful definition of teamwork, everyone succeeds together or fails together. There are no special cases, unless someone places their own goals above that of the team.  This would be called sub-optimization.

You cannot build a great team from individuals who make excuses, criticize, are too busy to help others, or are unwilling to step out of their comfort zone.  In Warren Bennis’s book “Organizing Genius”, he describes the characteristic of great teams like the Skunk Works, Disney Studios, Apple, and the Manhattan Project.  These teams were built on personal sacrifice, cross functional activities (folks worked on what needed worked on no matter whose job it was), a commitment to each other and the project, a lack of respect for outside authority, an intolerance for individuals who did not fit the culture, and a supreme belief that they comprised the best of the best as a team.

What kind of shipmate are you?  The quote below is from a man who served in every branch of the military.  He was known for his ability to build successful teams in difficult circumstances.

“You gotta stop and think about your shipmates. That’s what makes you a great person and a great leader – taking care of each other. You’ve got to think — team. It takes a team to win any battle, not an individual.”  Courtland R. “Corky” Johnson