One would think success would be commonplace, a daily occurrence. Yet there have been literally thousands of self-help books written about teams, all giving solid advice how to form the most effective teams and achieve their collective goals. So why it is that so few teams actually reach those goals?
Long lines of cars commuting people to work each day. Crowded trains and busses. As these souls make their way to 'work' how many feel that they are part of a bigger plan - a plan to save the planet, to make a difference, to have impact, go public, or get an app into the App Store; or simply generate a new idea, a new chemical compound, or help improve someone else's life? What is the goal they seek, whether it be money, fame, fortune? Or is it complete ambivalence, because it’s just a job or a means to put food on the table or a roof over their head? So many people working so hard, for so many hours, with lack of clarity and leadership supported defined goals.
Written by Daniel James Brown, The Boys in the Boat is a story that takes place during the Great Depression, a story about men, a story about teams, a story about overcoming unbelievable adversity to win. Yet in so many ways, it’s the secret recipe of the ingredients that yield the strongest teams. A group of men from varied backgrounds, who came together to trust each other and themselves, to win the gold medal in the 1936 Olympics. Each character, or more specifically the 9 collegiate level men who finally brought together the right chemistry, who were able to pull ahead from last place, overcoming a delayed start, one oarsman with a high fever, the worst lane placement despite winning the qualifying race, to win at the Berlin Olympics. Yes, you read that correctly – this team rowed with one oarsman with a high fever who originally scratched from the boat the day of the race until the other 8 team members lobbied the coach to include him. Secondly, the boat was inexplicably placed in the worst starting lane, with higher winds and currents against them, despite a long-standing Olympic rule that placed boats winning the qualifying round into the best lane. And finally, a German announcer who shielded the Americans from hearing the starting gun, causing mass confusion on the line and resulting in a 3-second delay starting the race. So how could they possibly have come from last place and beat many other boats filled with stellar rowers and coxswains? They were led by a coach who loved the sport of crew, studied it, honed his strategies, and more than anything else recognized the right mix of culture to assemble the greatest crew team to ever row together.
We find similar stories in our professional lives. With so much talent available to participate on an Agile team, a Quality Control team, a team of programmers, how does one recognize the individuals, their talents, their styles, assess them, and form the most effective team? And there has never been a time in the 20,000 year history of our species where so many resources were available at our fingertips. Learning from the real life story of the University of Washington crew team, we know that trust is the most important ingredient, trust that every single person on the team is pulling for the exact same goal, trust that each person is contributing at their peak level of performance, trust that no one has ulterior motives, trust that each team member has honed their craft with long hours of dedicated study and practice.