The Nourishment of teamwork aka ‘When is a team really a team?’

The Olympic opening ceremony is tomorrow night and with 550 Americans making up the ‘US Team’ alone, you know why it takes approx. 3.5 hours to get everyone competing at the games into that field to celebrate the arrival of that torch.

I began to think about the nuances of what ‘team’ really means at the Olympics given so many of the sports represented are in fact for individuals. To be a team whether that be in a sporting context or otherwise there are some things that need to be true-

1. The common goal
In a team sport this is pretty clear, but how often in the workplace or within a family unit is that goal defined and understood by everyone ‘on the team’? If there is not a clear understanding of objectives and parameters the team can very quickly become scattered individuals all pulling in different directions with different priorities.

2. Clearly defined roles
This is critical, when roles are not clearly defined instead of a coordinated effort there can be duplication resulting in frustration, roles that are poorly occupied resulting in blame and overall team paralysis often resulting in conflict. It is important to note that ‘roles’ are NOT ‘people’. Roles can be shared, distributed, taken off and re evaluated over time.

3. Clear boundaries
This goes hand in hand with defined roles, what are the boundaries? Who has authority to make decisions? Who is empowered to do what and to which point? Be clear about boundaries within teams, it will actually help the team flourish.

4. A clear understanding of how the team will work together
I touched on this in the post on ‘Designing Alliances’; how will the team communicate, how will they want to be together in good times and more importantly in not so great times e.g. when the pressure is on? If this conversation takes place expectations are set as are consequences and rewards.

Making sure that the team has all the correct and relevant resources and acknowledging them is also paramount to success and what is really interesting here is that if these core ingredients are in place you are no longer just relying on the individuals having to like each other. The idea that team building exercises HAVE to be about discovering more about one another and likeability isn’t true, in fact depending on your company culture it could actually just instill that conflict is a bad thing and create more pressure when two people are really just not built to see eye to eye. Instead if conflict is seen as an aspect of diversity and there is appreciation for the role that each member plays you can still have a productive and happy team.

So back to the Olympics.. I wondered what the common goal is for the 550 athletes on ‘Team USA’ as it is called across many of the sponsoring and broadcasting websites and found that there are indeed medal counts and expectations to be met and it looks as if across history the US has won more gold medals than any other country, but what is fascinating are small asterix marks next to all of these statistics saying that the Olympic committee do not count the medals in this way… so just for kicks I went in search of the Olympic Charter and discovered that not only does the IOC not count the medals for each country they don’t even recognize its value, as far as the Olympic Charter is concerned “The Olympic Games are competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries.”

The UK’s daily telegraph reports that the Brits have ‘team’ medal expectations too –

“The figures are important as they are monitored by the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee, to ensure that “value for money” is obtained for government spending on sport. Gerry Sutcliffe, the sports minister, told the BBC it was “vital” the British team reach not just the 35 (medals) but the 41 figure. “That is a serious target,” he said. “We want it to be achieved.” Of those medals, UK Sport expects 10 to 12 to be gold. Mr Sutcliffe hinted that funding depended on success. “It’s vital in the sense of the investment that’s gone in,” he said.”.

Now to me that sounds more like an ‘expectation’ of a collective of individual talent and not a ‘team’ deliverable at all..yes each individual can absolutely play their part in doing the best they can, so in that respect roles are clearly defined, abeit more consistent with parallel paths than an integrated team system.

What might happen if each country’s ‘team’ didn’t walk into that opening ceremony together? Would havoc reign? What might be different? Is the use of the term ‘team’ just being used to earmark a group of talented individuals for want of a better term? Does this happen in your place of work too?

Hungry for more information I looked up what is called the ‘Fundamental Principles of Olympism’ to find out what the Olympics is beyond inter country medal trumping and return on investment and found the following –

1. Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.

2. The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.
(source – The Olympic Charter)

I will now be watching the sensationalized Olympic coverage with eyes focussed on joy, good example, respect and human dignity and looking out for moments when teamwork is truly evident.

© The Red Barn Cooperative – Working together to nourish lives
A Red Barn Coaching initiative

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