February is a unique month. The first noticeable difference is its length. Considering that it only has 28 days makes it a little odd and unique. It is also the only month that may not experience a full moon. In fact, this February 2018, we may not see one. February is also the month that marks the end of Winter for the year, for the Northern Hemisphere that is, which also gives rise to Spring, a time often associated with renewal and rejuvenation. February is also famous for love with Valentine’s day being recognized around the world on the 14th. Add the Super Bowl, and that’s five unique aspects of this special month.
At TheSchoolHouse302 we add one more aspect to February’s uniqueness with a focus on Teamwork. We are thrilled that the Eagles will face the New England Patriots this year in SB LII, and we know that it’s only unadulterated teamwork that brings a franchise to this level.
Reaching the ultimate competitive event in football is no easy feat, and it leaves us asking ourselves an important leadership question: what qualities must a team possess to be the greatest? Consider the Eagles’ 2018 season–many have argued that luck has a lot to do with their success and greatness this year. But as followers of the ancient Greek philosophy called stoicism, we fully embrace Seneca’s notion that “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” It’s only the most prepared teams that find luck when opportunity arises.
Who would think that a second-year quarterback, Carson Wentz, would have such a dominating season that catapulted the Eagles to a favorite by many. But only then to have those same hopes shattered by Carson’s season-ending injury. Yet, the Eagles persevered. No doubt the backup quarterback, Nick Foles, has stepped up and played well, but winning is never about one person, not Wentz, not Foles, not even their formidable competitor, the incredible Tom Brady. Teams that win possess certain qualities that set them apart, and it’s those qualities, like preparation, that must be distilled for others to replicate to make teamwork the focus of any organization who strives to do great things.
The following is a five-point model that we recognize as the critical aspects needed for teams to succeed and achieve, whether that be on the field, in the boardroom, or in life:
#1. Prior Preparation
There is no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure. ~ Colin Powell
There’s probably nothing more important than teams spending time together, preparing and creating the right game plan to win when the stakes are high. Solidly prepared teams are the ones that are ready to overcome obstacles as they present themselves, and when teams are pursuing their goals and tackling tough issues, obstacles are a given. It’s also preparation that allows teams to snap back after experiencing failed scenarios.
Practical Advice: Using a specified thinking process can help with the preparedness of your team to tackle big problems. For example, design thinking allows for ideation and iteration so that teams realize that each time they develop a solution they understand that it’s really only an incremental improvement and not the end result. Design thinking also promotes the development of questions over the creation of answers, which allows teams to dig deep into the problem to uncover the interdependent parts of something that might otherwise appear very complicated (Linke, 2017).
#2. Shared Vision
Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others. ~Jonathan Swift
For successful teams to win, regardless as to whether it is a corporation, a school, or an athletic club, they must be led by a shared vision–a clear destination of where they are heading. The problem is that this term vision is overused, misunderstood, and often nothing more than a superficial slogan created during a workshop. And, a vision can also be blurred by objectives and activities that don’t appear to be aligned to it or when no one really bought into it in the first place. Despite the reality of ambiguous vision statements in many organizations, a clear, concise, and powerful vision always serves as the heart of a winning team. Keeping the vision simple with a clear communication of the WHY allows for an extreme focus that drives success (Sinek, 2011).
Practical Advice: The result of a clear vision is actually freedom. Each individual within a team serves a specific and fundamental role whereby a clear vision allows individuals to thrive within their own “space” as long as they are heading in the right direction. The vision is not only the call-to-action, it’s also the ultimate unifier in terms of bringing people together even when their work might be done apart.
#3. Collaborative Spirit
Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much. ~Helen Keller
Great teams work together harmoniously and ultimately become incredibly productive. Collaboration alone is not enough, though. Teams must have a spirit, a mindset and belief, that when we come together, better things happen. This spirit embaces Covey’s Habit #5, seek first to understand, then to be understood. A critical aspect of high performing teams is for the members of the team to truly understand each other. It takes a deliberate focus on listening first, and providing feedback to others only once you know the true nature of their context.
Practical Advice: Collaboration is not something the leader can simply mandate and expect teams to do. Take time to actually develop team collaboration through specific exercises and activities. Lencioni’s (2002) Five Dysfunctions of a Team is a great book to use for professional development. The absence of trust section is especially powerful for teams to learn how to trust one another and give each other the benefit of the doubt, particularly during challenging times.
#4. Synergized Efforts
Synergy is better than my way or your way. It’s our way. ~Stephen Covey
Synergy is the byproduct of a collaborative spirit. When teams truly produce, it’s always an outcome with a combined effect that is greater than the sum of what the separate efforts of those on the team could have created individually. The result of a synergized team is something that no one person could have imagined without the collective efforts of the contributors. “When you communicate synergistically, you are simply opening your mind and heart and expressions to new possibilities, new alternatives, new options” (Covey, 2013, p. 275).
Practical Advice: In order for collaboration to be a strong part of the team dynamic and for everyone to experience synergy, individuals must find their own work meaningful and purposeful. Take time as the leader to ensure each individual is engaged by letting them know how she is contributing to the overall success of the team. This can be as simple as a “hello” and “thank you” with the specifics of your appreciation and how it’s connected to the big picture.
#5. Strong Trust
If you want to lift yourself up, lift someone else. ~Booker T. Washington
Build trust first before expecting an outcome from the team. Leaders build trust on teams with very explicit behaviors that they can both demonstrate as the leader and teach to the members of the team. The first way to build trust is to simply and clearly signal that you have trust and that you have confidence in every member of the team (Brower, Lester, & Korsgaard, 2017). Signaling trust means giving up control to the team and sharing the information that the team needs to work effectively toward the goal. When teams have the information and control necessary to take risks, they produce outcomes that are new and different than what they would have with constraints.
Practical Advice: Be upfront. Relationships, whether personal or professional, are based on trust, and if someone believes the other person is holding out, or not telling the truth, relationships are damaged. Of course there are levels of confidentiality, but we are referring to surprises, withholding unnecessary information, or seeking opinions when you know you’re not going to use the person’s advice. Being transparent and direct is always better than holding back or acting in a passive way toward the team.
That’s our #SH302 model for teamwork. When your team comes together with prior preparation, a shared vision, a collaborative spirit, synergized efforts, and a strong trust, you can accomplish almost anything. If your team needs strengthening, contact us, we can help.
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Covey, S. (2013). The 7 habits of highly effective people: Powerful lessons in personal change. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Brower, H., Lester, S., & Korsgaard, M. (2017). Want your employees to trust you? Show you trust them. Harvard Business Review.
Lencioni, P. (2002). The five dysfunctions of a team: A leadership fable. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Linke, R. (2017). Design thinking: Solve any business problem with this approach. MIT Management Sloan School, September.
Sinek, S. (2011). Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. New York: Penguin Group.