Power Of Teams: Examples Of Great Teamwork
We’re all familiar with the myth: the entrepreneurial giants of the world – people like Elon Musk and Bill Gates – had to fight their way to the top, single-handedly and against all odds. And of course that’s the story we’re fed. The tale of one person’s trajectory is more engaging than an exploration of a team’s dynamics. It’s also easier to put one person’s face on a magazine cover.
We often hope for a hero to stride into a fearsome situation and, using a lifetime of skill and experience, solve all the problems in one fell swoop. The idea that one person’s expertise is enough to solve our problems is certainly alluring.
But such success stories mislead. Behind each successful individual is a team. Indeed, good teams are at the heart of every thriving business.
In complex and dangerous situations, it is the team that really counts. There was a time in engineering when buildings were completed by master builders who oversaw the whole project. These days, however, the completion of a single construction project requires interaction between professionals who deal with everything from mechanics and masonry to waterproofing and rodent control.
When we are faced with pressure or complexity, we must acknowledge that it is often the actions and skills of many, as opposed to those of one person, that make a complex procedure successful. Today’s complex tasks can no longer be left to a lone hero’s expertise; we need teams.
Here are examples of situations where teams have addressed complex challenges
Teams are especially essential when dealing with emergencies and critical situations. In 2009, after the Hudson River plane crash, the media eagerly saluted Chesley B. Sullenberger as “Captain America” – the hero of the miraculous crash-landing in which no one was killed. Yet Sullenberger insisted it was a team effort. As information on the accident came through, it became evident the plane would not have landed as safely as it did without the combined effort of Sullenberger, first officer Jeffrey Skiles and the rest of the crew.
In medicine, too, patients undergoing an operation require more than just a surgeon. Anaesthetists, nurses and surgeons must all work together and use their individual specialities as a team to successfully perform a procedure.
The Egyptian pyramids are one of the world’s great mysteries. Not only are they filled with strange traps and untold treasures, their construction is also hard to fathom. Our best guess is that they were built with sheer manpower: 10,000 workers built them over the course of ten years. The pyramids demonstrate that humans are meant to work together. Teamwork is a common thread that runs through our evolutionary history. By connecting and cooperating with others, humans have made their own survival possible.
This is even reflected in our very immune systems. Research shows that making genuine connections with other human beings boosts the genes that control our immune system. Further scientific investigations have also demonstrated that teamwork is what distinguishes us from other species.
In one study, chimpanzees, capuchin monkeys and human children were given a puzzle to be solved in three stages. The capuchin monkeys and chimpanzees, with, respectively, low and moderate levels of intelligence, attempted to solve the problem alone. The human children, however, chose to work in teams, teaching each other tricks to solve the problem together. They even shared the reward for solving the puzzle!
Of course, it’s no secret that we can work wonders when we work together. Think of open-source software, where tech whizzes all over the world collaborate to build new computer programs. The HTTP web server and Mozilla Firefox web browser, for instance, wouldn’t exist without such collaborative efforts.
Wikipedia is another great example of success through teamwork. The most viewed site in the world, Wikipedia is the culmination of efforts made by volunteer writers and editors that work together to make knowledge about our world more understandable and accessible.
Even our pop culture is filled with stories of great teams. Think of Charmed, Friends or The Three Musketeers. Films and television shows that focus on the power of teamwork are often well loved for their portrayals of dissimilar individuals that come together and connect with each other. This is something companies can learn from, too!
The president of Nissan Design, Jerry Hirshberg, has taken this lesson to heart. He kick-starts innovation by encouraging people with contrasting skills and abilities to collaborate. Their different ways of approaching a problem make them more likely to hit upon a unique solution, a process of innovation that’s at the heart of many of Nissan’s most popular vehicles.
Lovers and couples embody the most natural partnership humans can form: pairs. Pairs are common in businesses, too – particularly in stories of success. Although we all dream of making it big on our own, we often need a partner to overcome unforeseen challenges.
Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz was determined to expand his business in the early ’90s. After opening a few hundred new stores across the United States, however, his company began to suffer. His ambitious expansion caused many problems; customer service deteriorated and communication between different levels of the company became poor. It was clear to Schultz that he needed someone that could return the art of customer service and employee engagement to Starbucks. Enter Howard Behar, who became president of Starbucks in 1995. Behar, whose personality complemented Schultz’s, had big ideas about employee culture, and he used his expertise to create a work environment that met the needs of employees. This inspired them to provide top-notch customer service, which made a world of difference at Starbucks. Thanks to the Schultz-Behar partnership, the company expanded internationally.
Partners can differ in two ways: they can have contrasting personalities or contrasting skillsets. While Behar and Schultz had complementary personalities, the pair of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak was a winning one because of complementary skillsets. Jobs was a charismatic, entrepreneurial leader, while Wozniak was a veritable tech genius.
However, even partners that aren’t total opposites can achieve success: they can simply push each other to be the best they can be. Bill Gates and Paul Allen exemplify this. These two former computer nerds took control of their destiny when they teamed up to form Microsoft.
The two plus one trio is particularly common. They often form after an original pair with similar skillsets joins an individual with different strengths to achieve a common goal. Take Walter Brattain and John Bardeen, for instance. Brilliant physicists at Bell Labs, Brattain and Bardeen made a good team. So when their boss, William Shockley, was tasked with designing a solid-state amplifier, he enlisted the help of the Brattain-Bardeen duo. The two physicists worked together on the project, while Shockley used his supervisory and leadership skills to keep the project running smoothly. The result was their invention of the transistor in 1947. Less than a decade later, they were awarded the Nobel Prize as a trio for their efforts.
When a partnership welcomes a third person to collaborate with each member of the pair individually, another type of trio forms: the parallel trio. An example of this trio type is the collaboration between Federico Faggin, Masatoshi Shima and Stanley Mazor, who all worked together in the ’70s at Intel to invent the microprocessor. Faggin and Shima were responsible for hardware design, while Faggin and Mazor worked on the operating code to load into the chip itself. This trio dynamic is particularly powerful because of third members like Faggin, who act as a synthesizer between two contrasting partners, preventing one from dominating, and ensuring the trio members’ objectives are aligned.
In a team’s life cycle, the first and most crucial step is always the team’s formation. The way a team begins will shape everything it does in the future, so it’s worth considering the three factors that matter most: diversity, communication and size.
Diversity can give a team a major edge. A team with mixed strengths and backgrounds always has a better shot at success. But only if these teams are able to develop a common culture that keeps them together.
Communication is another vital element for new teams. Communication allows teams to build a shared culture, to resolve personal disagreements, to designate roles effectively and to ensure everyone is aligned toward the same goal. It’s a simple solution, but regular meetings work wonders for team communication.
If your team is too big for one room, you could look into video conferencing. But you’d be better off forming a smaller team in the first place. This brings us to the third crucial factor for forming teams: Size. Smaller teams not only have an easier time communicating; they’re also better at building strong bonds necessary for great teamwork.
The team leader also plays a central role in ensuring these bonds develop and flourish. Why not commemorate the day your team came into existence with a “birthday”? On the very first day that your team gets to work, gather everyone together so they can meet and greet, and share their stories and contact information.
This is also a great opportunity for the team leader to introduce the culture and values envisioned for the team project. But not by listing them in bullet points on a slideshow! Get your team engaged with its culture by designing a kickoff event that encourages the attitudes you want your team members to exercise during your project.
Humans can achieve great things when they work together. So make the most of teamwork by building teams that are diverse, connected and motivated. This will give your business the edge when solving new problems and embarking on projects.