Estimated Lesson Time: 7 minutes
To this day, when I think of the ultimate display of teamwork I can’t help but think of the Harlem Globe Trotters. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the basketball team, they are a group of some of the most talented athletes in the world who focus on entertainment rather than competition. When they perform, they are like one person with one common mission. It appears as if each one of them knows exactly what the other is thinking at any given moment. By winning over 98% of all games played since 1927, the Globetrotters own the best winning percentage in the history of professional sports. Teamwork is the key to their success.
Teamwork is defined as cooperative effort by the members of a group or team to achieve a common goal. Effective teamwork benefits from synergy or the combined energies being greater than the sum of the parts. Although obviously vital to team sports, teamwork and success in virtually any part of life go hand in hand. If you are one who can create, manage and/or lead teams effectively, your skills are in high demand. If you can participate in, and more importantly, excel in a team environment, you will find more opportunities for success. Organizations worldwide are beginning to realize and profit from the synergies an effective team can create. Teamwork is a trend, not a fad.
Many managers and leaders who stress teamwork are often scoffed at because they fail to sell the benefits of teamwork to the team members. Teamwork is viewed by these members as just another way for management to get them to do something they really don’t want to do. This attitude is detrimental to everybody, including the overall success of the team itself. Here are some suggestions on how leaders and team members alike can ensure effective teamwork.
- Make sure each member knows their role. Each member of the team must be clear on exactly what he or she should be doing. Each member must see themselves as a piece of the puzzle, without which, the puzzle would not be complete. Encourage all team members to step forward, in private if necessary, and ask if uncertain about exactly what they are supposed to be doing.
- Make sure everyone is on same page. Each member of the team must not only know what he or she should be doing, but know what the team is doing in general. This includes overall goals, mission, and purpose. More important, each member must believe in and support the purpose of the team.
- Look out for the team’s best interest. The most effective teams are those with members that are looking out for the teams best interest, not their own. In team environments, members often find themselves in situations where they can make choices that benefit them but hurt the team. Here are a couple of examples of a member looking out for his own interests: a basketball player who hogs the ball all night in the presence of a talent scout even though the team would score fewer points and perhaps lose the game. Or a member of a business team who takes a vacation during a critical time for the team when his presence is needed.
- Think communication. Good communication is vital to the success of any team. Not only does the team leader have to be an effective communicator, but each team member must communicate his or her thoughts, problems, and ideas to the team as well.
- Think of the needs and wants of each team member. An effective team leader will recognize the team as a group of individuals, even though the goal is to perform as a single unit. The team can be most effective when each member’s needs and wants are being met, and each member can connect their personal success to the success of the team.
- Motivate. Motivation can spread more easily than the common cold. Not everyone is a “natural” motivator, so do not rely on the team’s leader to be the only source of motivation. Any member who shines with enthusiasm and can share that enthusiasm through words of encouragement can be a great source of motivation for the team. Motivate any chance you get.
- Learn from your team members. Everyone is your superior in some way. Think of a team as a pool of knowledge that you can draw from at any time. Never be afraid or embarrassed to approach other team members and ask advice or for help. This is a sign of strength, not weakness.
- Be flexible. The team must be prepared to function effectively without all of its members. The team should be structured so the absence of any one team member would not cripple the team. This is best done by ensuring that the team consists of members with a variety of talents, skills, and abilities.
- Be open to new ideas and suggestions. Team members who are closed-minded do not do well in a team environment. Think of any team as a learning experience. Even if you are the star member of the team, there is always something you can learn and always room for improvement. If you do feel you are the star, then why not take what you know to the next level of learning and take the initiative to teach the other members?
- Be able to give and take criticism. A good team is one that is constantly evolving and changing. This requires giving feedback and acting on feedback given to you. Criticism is an art that very few people bother to study, yet the importance of giving constructive feedback versus destructive criticism can easily make or break any team.
- Socialize. The stronger the personal bond between team members, the stronger the team. It is important for the team and its leaders to take the time to get to know each other on a personal or social level. Friendships may not always form, but a certain level of respect will.
Keeping teams strong is a challenge. There are members who seek individual glory, members who think nobody works as hard as they do, members who find it difficult to trust others, members who do not believe they are an important part of the team, and members who just have issues. Follow the above suggestions, and you will find that most of these issues can be minimized or even eliminated.
Teamwork is the ultimate act of coordination and cooperation that, through synergy, can accomplish fantastic things. Building an effective team is not easy nor is keeping one together, but it is done every day by leading sports organizations, businesses, and other groups that know the power of an effective team. So next time the Harlem Globe Trotters are in town, catch a game and see for yourself the “magic” that good teamwork can create.
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Some discussion questions (some may not apply to this lesson):
- Have you implemented this idea in your life? How has it been working for you?
- Do you have any interesting stories related to this lesson? Do tell!
- What do you admire most about this person? (success biography days)