This is the last part of our Linchpin series. You can catch up to speed by starting with our first post here.
Seth Godin’s book Linchpin contains some inspiring ideas regarding an individual’s approach to work. But what if you’re working on a team? Some people enjoy teamwork; others loathe it. What separates awesome teams from agonizing teams?
For this article, I’ll be using examples from three of my favorite teams: the 1992 US Men’s Olympic Basketball Team (AKA the Dream Team), the crew of the Starship Enterprise, and the Wu-Tang Clan.
A remarkable team usually includes a variety of personalities, skills and perspectives. This does more than increase strength. It also creates a healthy balance that makes up for weaknesses of individuals.
Depending on the circumstances, McCoy’s passion for humanity can be a great asset for the Starship Enterprise – or it’s downfall – and the same is true for Spock’s cold logic. Strong teams usually foster a sense of mutual respect for differences between teammates, and although Spock and McCoy disagree often, even these two have to recognize that their disagreements bring effective balance and practical perspective to the whole.
To be a great leader, you don’t have to be a totalitarian. Instead, intentionally choose a team that you can trust and believe in. Leaders are at their best when they make decisions that bring out the best qualities of their teams. Method Man sums it up with this picture when describing de-facto Wu-Tang leader GZA: “He the head, know what I’m sayin’. We form like Voltron, and GZA happen to be the head.” GZA (the Genius) is the unofficial head not because the Clan fears him, but because his smarts are recognized and respected by all other members and the hip hop community at large.
Share the goal
Every good team has a clearly defined goal, whether it’s bringing home a gold medal, boldly going where no man has gone before, total domination of the record industry, etc. Try to affiliate yourself with others who have the right goal in mind. If you’re a team leader, make sure the goal is defined clearly and communicated regularly. If you’re a team member, think about your daily work in terms of the shared goal. A team that knows where it is going and what it is striving for moves in the same direction and together. Teams without a common goal and clear understanding of that goal move individually and at odds with each other. Not very efficient or productive.
Respect the team
Michael Jordan reportedly told Team USA leadership he would not play for the Dream Team if Isiah Thomas was on the roster. Thomas led the Detroit Piston’s “Bad Boys,” a group of physically aggressive players that made MJ their favorite target. Thomas had even demonstrated he was willing to jeopardize his own success to harass Jordan: In the 1985 NBA All-Star Game, Thomas directed an effort of several NBA veterans to refuse to pass to the rookie.
Jordan made a wise call. He knew that his efforts for the team would be diminished if there was not a culture of respect.
When you are assembling/leading a team – Make sure your teammates understand your vision. If your goal has specific inspirations, share them early with your teammates, even as early as the prospecting phase. Ask for honest feedback. Is this a team you want to be on? Make sure members know that your feelings won’t hurt if they say no. You’d much rather hear a “no” than a lukewarm “yes.”
When you are volunteering for a team – Look for others who are intent on doing something great. Try to identify teams that have a strong sense of vision or motivation. Whether you volunteered or were arbitrarily assembled, try to understand the team culture. Be intentional about communicating early on with team leaders to understand what they are leading towards. Try to understand the big risks early and plan accordingly for your team’s success.
Choose the right tools – It’s a stretch to hope for great collaboration when you’re using tools that keep work isolated. The cloud democratizes work and makes it easy for developers to create new tools that connect teams. There are so many new applications that it’s hard to know where to start. Take time to learn about new tools and talk to leadership about how they could benefit your team.
Seth Godin’s Linchpin is a call to action to take work personally. It is a challenge to bring your whole artist self to the work that you do everyday, whether it’s alone or together in a team. Being a Linchpin means being relied on, being vital for the success of a project, putting yourself out there and risking failure. Godin argues in his book that working this way is the only way to truly feel fulfilled and excited about that chunk of your life you spend working, and it can transform it into something else altogether.
At Newmind we have been challenging each other to work this way since taking on this reading project. These ideas have been compelling for us and resulted in a lot of good conversations about how we organize ourselves, make objectives, measure outcomes, etc. I personally highly recommend the book both as a tool for personal productivity and as a general encouragement to bring your art to work.
Are any of your co-workers Linchpins? If so, how?
In what ways does your team collaborate well?