Just because you assemble great players does not mean you have automatically have a great team. I have always loved basketball, and I played throughout high school. Entering my junior year, our team was loaded with talent, and we were projected to contend for the state title. I was one of two juniors in our starting lineup, along with three seniors. However, a rift developed between the older and younger members of the team. In fact, the team culture became so toxic and divisive that the coach split the squad in half. Juniors played one quarter and seniors another; the two groups never intermixed on the court. Despite being blessed with exceptional athleticism, our team stunk. We won only three games the entire year.
The next season everyone wrote us off before the year even began. On paper, we were not an intimidating foe. However, we gelled as a team and played amazingly well together. Though far less talented than the prior year, our team was far more successful, capturing the league championship.
The Source of Unity
A collection of individuals does not become a team simply by putting on the same uniforms. Nor do persons suddenly transform into a team merely because they show up to the same workplace. A true team—one whose members work together to achieve greatness—has a unified vision.
As a leader, unity begins with you. You must find the dream in order to bring the team together. In teaching leadership, I encounter many organizations that are suffering because they have people in leadership positions that have never crystallized a compelling vision. The blind are leading the blind, and the organization is adrift as a result—lacking any clear sense of direction.
To rally a team around a common cause, you must see the vision clearly, say it constantly, and show it creatively. In my career, I have often failed at the second step, neglecting to repeat my vision enough. I’m an activator, and I am constantly on the lookout for the next challenge. Once I’ve communicated something, I expect that my people have caught the message, and I move on. However, followers need the vision laid out for them continually. Even if communicating the vision seems boring or repetitive to me, I have to remember that not everyone else shares my level of familiarity with it or my passion for it. Also, since organizations naturally experience turnover, I must share the vision regularly to make sure that newcomers grasp it.
The Value of Unity
Unity is the glue that holds the team together, in part by reducing competitiveness among its players. When people share a common goal, they have the mindset of completing each instead of competing against one another. That is, they look for ways to make the other person better instead of trying to outshine one another.
In addition, unity to the vision increases accountability among teammates. Dependent upon each other for success, they mutually spur one another on to peak performance. At the same time, when a team is passionate about bringing its vision to fruition, its members know immediately when someone gets off track. A healthy team confronts slackers and urges them to pick up the pace or else to find another place to work.
The Test of Unity
As leader, the goal is to have our team members:
- Understand the vision
- Take ownership of the vision
- Contribute to the vision
- Pass on the vision
If all four of those steps are taking place, then I am confident in the unity and cohesiveness of the team.
However, all too often we don’t even take the first step of ensuring that the vision is understood. Test your team’s unification around a common vision by performing the following exercise:
- Give each team member a 3 x 5 index card.
- Allow them five to ten minutes to describe your team’s vision (using 30 words or less).
- Collect the cards and review them.
Remember: it’s your responsibility to transmit the vision clearly—not your team’s responsibility to decipher it from their surroundings.