By Jason Menard
It’s been proven over and over in sports that success does not come exclusively by having the best players — it’s having the best team that wins championships. After all, even on the Dream Team not everyone could be Michael Jordan. Someone’s had to be Christian Laettner.
That rings true in all aspects of life, including business and politics. Everyone wants to be (or thinks they are) the idea person, the visionary, the leader. There’s a whole market predicated on selling motivational posters to those who want to believe that individualism matters more than collective will.
It’s true that single-mindedness and tunnel vision can lead to successfully completing a goal or project. And if you’re interested in your own needs, that’s often enough. But true success — the kind that uplifts people from across all walks of life — can only come from balance and teamwork.
No matter how special they were, Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky could never win a championship by themselves. They needed a team of complementary players — from pluggers to stars — to make it work.
Every ‘player’ has strengths and weaknesses. They key is to balance them out. Greatness comes in many forms and sometimes that petulant, self-involved, but supremely talented person needs to be put in place by the team’s resident police man (or woman).
Whether you’re talking politics, business, or sports. My dream team’s recipe is always remarkably similar. Over the years, I’ve played each and every role on this squad — and it’s important to understand the value and needs of every person on your team to ensure success.
A Dash of Youth
They come in with fresh ideas. They’re also raw, often untempered by experience. Youth can be hampered by arrogance — and we’ve all been there. We all thought we knew everything coming out of school. It’s only as we age, do we realize what we don’t know. But that conviction of belief can be an effective resource for your team. Youth is also often likely to question the status quo. That can be a good thing, if handled well.
A Handful of Seasoning
Experience is good. Being obstinate is not. Sometimes those who have been around for a while are less willing to explore new alternatives. “Because we’ve always done it that way,” is a common refrain. It’s also wrong.
We’ve always done it that way is not an excuse. We’ve always done it that way because we’ve tried other methods and this still has proven to be the best option, is. But you need experienced team members who are willing to listen, learn, and respect youthful opinion.
Every team needs a cheerleader. Whether it’s the unfailingly optimistic guy from customer service, or the woman from distribution with the wickedly funny sense of humour, you need people that can keep people motivated and happy to participate. After all, projects can become a grind; frustrations can set in; and when you’re dealing with multiple personalities, conflicts will arise. You need those people to take the edge off.
The idea people. How something gets done isn’t so important. The “wouldn’t it be great if…” mentality is. This can be someone not even on the team — it could be the owner, or the person who created the task. The challenge with the visionary is that he or she has to be willing to accept changes to his or her vision, caused by the reality of time, resources, and scope.
To counterbalance the visionary, you need someone with a firm concept of what’s actually possible. Anything can be done with enough time, effort, money, and creativity. But knowing what can be done with the resources at hand is important. This person can help keep the team on task by preventing scope creep (or flights of fantasy), but her or she has to be tactful in how to do it. You can be realistic without being negative.
Some people are great at just putting their shoulders to the grindstone and getting work done. They don’t need flattery or praise, they don’t need to be coerced. They don’t need to be falsely inspired — they enjoy working and getting their hands dirty. You want people on your team who will say, “Tell me what to do and let me do it.”
Not everyone is good at scheduling or staying on task. Having people that are good at tactfully keeping people on topic is a resource worth its weight in gold. Setting expectations up front, through agendas, can help as long as you’re willing to be flexible. Nothing’s more detrimental to finding a solution than cutting off a great discussion simply because of a pre-established arbitrary time limit. The Taskmaster is also a great person to keep around during the execution phase — ensuring that commitments are kept, milestone dates are reached, and follow-ups are scheduled.
And, if you’re lucky, you’ll find that Wayne Gretzky. That guy or girl who just gets it. No process can explain it, but he or she has natural ideas, innovation, and abilities. As long as he or she is a team player, you’ve got a winning combination. The challenge comes when The Natural feels above or apart from the team — and if things don’t go how he or she prescribes, they pout — or worse, try to undermine the project’s success.
In both business and politics, you run into problems when you lose organizational capital and history by getting rid of all the veterans. It’s why cries of “throw ‘em all out and let’s start fresh” are short-sighted. Your recipe can’t be too salty, your hockey team can’t be filled with all veterans — you need to find balance.
Balance the new blood with veteran savvy; allow the enthusiasm of youth to invigorate the older crowd, and let the wisdom gained by experience help steer the exuberance of youth away from wasting energy on wild goose chases.
In politics, business, or sports, the Dream Team is just that — a team. No one person is perfect, but if you can develop a group that complements and supports each other, great things can happen.