When people think about teams, they typically think about sports teams. However, many businesses also use the concept of teams to focus individual workers on common goals. Teams, however, go far beyond athletics and our work lives. They don’t even have to be officially designated as a “team.” A team can be any group of people acting together with a common purpose.
Some teams, such as a college basketball team, have an official charter. Meanwhile, other teams don’t have a formal designation. In the latter case, people may work together for some common cause or purpose without officially forming into a team. For example, people often work together to free someone trapped in a car after there is an accident. In this case, there is a common purpose of saving someone’s life even though no one stopped to declare the rescuers a team.
When people come together with a shared purpose, clear agenda, and strong leadership they can plan and coordinate in a manner that creates amazing results. If we look at Apple, for example, Steve Job’s leadership and his development teams changed how most of us live our daily lives. This is true even for people that use competing products.
The Common Enemy
Sometimes leaders struggle to get the results they desire from their teams. To focus the team on a goal, the team leadership may identify an “enemy.” In the basketball example, a coach may target another team as an enemy. Often, the coach is trying to create or leverage a rivalry. However, they may have other motivation for selecting a specific team to target.
The focus on one enemy can have amazing results. During World War II, the Allies joined forces to stop the Axis Powers. People came from diverse socio-economic backgrounds, cultures, races, and genders for a common goal of defeating Hitler. Everyone was a part of the team. Some worked in factories, some fought, and everyone sacrificed. The patriotism and teamwork during WW II is unrivaled to anything experienced today.
However, having a common enemy also has the potential to have negative outcomes. In basketball, the team can become so focused on one team that they lose sight of the bigger picture. They put so much effort into beating one team that they lose games with other teams that they should easily win.
By becoming obsessed with beating an enemy, the team’s identity becomes based on the enemy. The team does not have its own identity because all decisions and actions are based on what is perceived to be needed to beat the enemy. They may be working to beat the competition, but if they win or the “enemy” goes away they are suddenly thrown into a new place with no identity.
Another risk associated with defining an enemy is that the enemy becomes the “bad one” and the team becomes the “good one.” By defining one as good and one as bad, the “good” team begins to believe that it deserves to win at all costs. The team may even see themselves as righteous and above others. This can lead to inappropriate, unethical, and potentially illegal behaviors.
Using the basketball example, there are certain teams that display less than appropriate sportsmanship. Sometimes these behaviors can even do physical harm to other players. Yet, they seem justified to the player and sometimes to the coaching staff, too.
Often not all players feel the same way. If they disapprove, other team members have to make a choice. They can stay with the team and overlook these behaviors even though they do not approve. Alternately, they can speak up knowing that there may be repercussions. If they disapprove strongly, they might even excuse themselves from the team.
In many situations, team members are pressured into remaining silent. To make matters worse, frequently people stand up for the inappropriate behaviors. This often takes the form of excuses and finger pointing in an effort to distract people from the inappropriate behavior.
The Value of Teams
A team is much more powerful if it has its own identity. That way the team can stand on their own. Their competition is less relevant. They can withstand changes that happen around them and are not reliant on their perception of the competition. The team is less likely to be overconfident or lose sight of the overall goals.
The world needs teams because people who are working together can accomplish amazing things. If leaders could engage large groups of people in a common purpose, with clear intent, and a coordinated effort, things we never imagined would become possible. Diversity of thought, discussion, and compromise, would unleash creativity like never seen before.