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What makes a team, a team?

The other night we watched Believeland, a 30 for 30 sports story on ESPN and it got me thinking about what makes a team, a team?

What makes a team able to achieve more than any of its individual people could on their own? Is Lebron James the greatest ever to play the game? Some would say yes, while others, like my husband would say no. But even having King James on the team hasn’t assured a Cleveland championship.

Every organization needs a complete team in order to achieve its goals. Take for instance my hometown team – the Detroit Pistons. Everyone loved hating the Bad Boys of the 90s but they put together a complete team over a few seasons building toward their back to back championships. They drafted Isaiah Thomas and then built their own culture (and not all of it good).

What makes a team? Is there a secret ingredient or a special sauce? While there are lots of books written on teamwork and team forming, I would like to offer the following as what I think is a team’s “secret sauce”:

1. Someone needs to have the vision to form a team (a team owner like Bill Davidson)
2. There has to be something for the team to rally around (an NBA championship)
3. The team has to own their culture (positive peer pressure and norms)

In order to win, the Pistons needed to build a complete team but they couldn’t do it with just anybody. They needed players who fit their particular culture and bought into their particular vision. I remember an interview where Isaiah said the team’s senior leadership met with incoming players and told them “this is how we do things here”. He said not everyone accepted their vision and as a result they didn’t last long in their organization.

People don’t naturally just become a team because a team doesn’t happen overnight. There have to be shared moments (triumphs and losses) which help the team bond. At some point the players on these respective championship teams knew they “had arrived” as a complete unit. They’d bonded.

We, in the manufacturing world, would do well to think through how we could better form our teams by providing the right vision, the right goal to rally around and by allowing our teams to own their culture. While there won’t be any replays of our successful meetings or deliveries on ESPN, we will have won our own respective championships.

Be intentional