The year was 1992. I was on a cultural trip to Spain between my junior and senior year of high school. Because of the time difference, Game 6 of the 1992 NBA Finals started in the middle of the night. Even though I grew up in Illinois, I was not a Chicago Bulls fan. But I did admire Michael Jordan. He is why I woke up in the middle of the night to watch that game.
I remember that the Bulls got behind that night and were struggling to make it competitive. By the end of the third quarter, they were down 15 points. Phil Jackson, the coach, started the last period with one regular and four reserves who didn’t play substantial minutes. It was almost as if he was conceding the game and resting some of the other regular players for a Game 7. Something funny happened that night. With four reserves on the floor, a spark was ignited and they began a tremendous comeback. The Bulls pulled even and then ahead to win the game and the championship!
In the middle of the night half-way around the globe, I remember the enthusiasm generated within me as the Bulls made the comeback. I tried to muffle my cheers as others in the room slept. How could I sleep while this amazing comeback was happening!?!
Reflecting on that night in 1992 and looking back at my own basketball career I can see the importance of teamwork. What if those four reserves on the Bulls roster had not been ready to go when called upon? History may not have turned out the same. When I play pickup basketball I have the most fun playing with guys who approach the game unselfishly and who know how to play as a team. It has been my experience that a group of guys like that can beat a more talented team that is not working together.
Upon reflection, I have mined four items from my experience both watching and playing on successful teams that may be helpful. Here they are using TEAM as an acronym for the characteristics:
- T – High-performing teams take aim at a specific TARGET, and everyone is committed to achieving the goal within that target. That 1992 Chicago Bulls team had a goal to win the NBA championship, and all were prepared to play their part to make it happen. If the members of a team have their own individual goals that compromise the team’s trajectory, they risk creating division. Abraham Lincoln famously said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” A team that is unified and focused has a far better chance to succeed than one with many disparate individual motivations.
- E – Teams that make significant impacts pursue EXCELLENCE. I recently heard a definition I really like for excellence in this context – “doing the best we can with what we have.” I am reminded of one event from the movie Apollo 13. Reflecting actual historical events, the movie captured the drama as a team in Houston worked to create an air-filtration system using only items the astronauts had with them in the spaceship. The team worked through the night to come up with a solution in an imperfect set of circumstances. Great teams may not have all the best resources, but they make the best of the resources at their disposal.
- A – The best teammates are AWARE of where their teammates are on the playing court and know their strengths and weaknesses. My favorite basketball player growing up was Magic Johnson. He is well known for his tremendous passing ability. When I am on the basketball court, I love patterning myself after him. I am always looking to hit my teammates with a pass putting them in a position to score. In a business world application, this could relate to knowing who is better at handling certain situations or who has the most expertise with a particular type of project.
- M – Exceptional team members MULTIPLY the efforts of the whole team. When co-workers jump in, the most overwhelming of tasks for one person can be completed expeditiously. An individual can accomplish one amount of work while two people together may be able to complete three times the work. The teamwork is a force multiplier. A few years ago as the customer service manager at an insurance agency, I was tasked with cleaning up 20,000 emails after an employee was terminated. This was not a task for me alone! I had to enlist the help of my team to help me get it done. Their efforts multiplied exponentially how fast we could finish the clean-up process.
Teamwork is so very critical today. It has applications in the business world, in our families, and even recreationally. My favorite experiences on the basketball court are when I work in concert with a group of guys to secure a victory for our team. Those victories are much sweeter than the wins while playing with a team of guys who are in it merely for themselves.
Question: What characteristics of successful teams have inspired you? What traits of great teams have you observed? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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