Good day, team.
The 2012 Olympics are coming to a close, so I’d like to write about teamwork for this week’s challenge.
We hear the word “teamwork” so often that I think we forget how much it affects our lives. When people try to accomplish a common vision, mission or goal, they engage in teamwork. It can be as complicated as the teamwork accomplished by the NASA team members who recently landed the Curiosity rover on Mars or as simple as a group of children on a playground coordinating a game of hide-and-seek. Throughout our lives, we engage with others to work together and achieve.
During this year’s Olympic games, I’ve been encouraged by the spirit of teamwork I’ve observed among many of the athletes. For example, when the U.S. men’s swim team put Michael Phelps in the last position in the team relay race. His teammates were motivated most by Michael getting another gold medal, which make him the most successful Olympic athlete of all time. If they could get him a good enough lead, then he would have a better chance at winning in the last swim. As Michael said, “I’m so grateful to these guys, they just handed me the best position and without that, we might not have won the gold.”
I was amazed to watch Jordyn Wieber of the U.S. women’s gymnastic team rooting in the stands for her team within an hour after she found out she wasn’t going to compete in the all-around gymnastic finals. The woman was ranked No. 1 in the world this past year for her gymnastics abilities, yet she didn’t win out over her own teammates to compete in the overall competition. Individually, it was a stunning blow after training her entire life in the sport. But for the sake of her teammates, she rallied soon after the disappointment to cheer them on to victory.
When working with teams, I often relay the story of Michael Jordan when he first became part of the Chicago Bulls basketball team. Michael was the best basketball player anyone had ever seen. At one of his first practices, he made basket after basket, running circles around his new teammates. At some point, Phil Jackson, his coach, pulled him aside and said that he wasn’t interested in Michael just making points. He would need to become a team player if he wanted to play for the Bulls and that meant often sacrificing making the basket himself to give the ball to one of his teammates. Michael was stunned. Wasn’t it about winning? Yes, Jackson replied, but there is no “I” in team.
Babe Ruth once said, “The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.”
Teamwork is often what inspires us to keep going when we think we can’t. Individually, we may be motivated to beat out everyone else, but we are limited by our personal abilities. However, when we are part of a team, there’s an extra incentive to win, to go that extra mile for our teammates. To be a part of a team, we have to trust that our teammates are behind us and rooting for us, that they want us to win as much as they want to win themselves. There’s that extra bit of encouragement that comes when you hear your teammates yell out, “Come on, you can do it!” that can make all the difference
At the heart of trust is the understanding that someone is working his or her hardest for our benefit. It’s not completely self-less because when we work hard for the benefit of others, we often get the most benefit ourselves. But the victory is so much sweeter when we can share it with our teammates. It made me so happy to see the U.S. women’s soccer team crying, laughing and hugging each other in a big, joyous, chaotic pile of women on the field right after they defeated the Japanese team for the gold medal. Without teamwork, this never would have happened.
This week, check in to see how your teamwork is going. Have you had your head down so much that you haven’t been reaching out to your team as much? Maybe you feel like the lone ranger and need to find ways to reconnect with some of your teammates. How about the overall health of your team? Is there suspicion and gossip happening? Or do you see team members being considerate of each other and supportive in working toward a common goal? If someone on the team needs more direction, is there another team member taking the time to sit down with him or her to give support? Do you see someone drifting away from the team and if so, what can you do to help him or her feel more like a part of the whole team rather than just an individual contributor?
As human beings, belonging to a greater whole is essential for our happiness. The more connected we feel, the healthier we are physically and psychologically. This is your week to do a team check. Take a look at your team, whether at work or home. Are you a healthy participant? What can you do to ensure that your team will continue to thrive?
Mia Hamm, the great American women’s soccer player once remarked, “I am a member of a team, and I rely on the team. I defer to it and sacrifice for it because the team, not the individual, is the ultimate champion.”
Have a good week!
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