TEAM- By Tom Morris
We cannot do it alone! Sure, we may try. Sure, we may say, “I got this.” But day after day, I am reminded that building a team is an essential part of success. The dictionary defines ‘team’ as a group of people associated in work or activity. In reality, we all know it’s so much more than that.
As a leader of strength coaches and collegiate sport teams, I have the fortunate pleasure of being part of several teams. So, what does it truly mean to be on a team? What does it take to draw from your team’s energy and motivation? Here are a few key ingredients you need to build and sustain a successful team:
As Patrick Lencioni, author of the best-selling book Five Dysfunctions of a Team says: “Teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for protecting our vulnerability." To build trust with your teammates, you need to spend time and share in experiences, happy moments and tough ones. I remember my first 4-hour adventure race. An adventure race is comprised of 4 teammates that must navigate 200+ miles of white-water rafting, canoeing, mountain biking, and trail running. The highs and lows of this race are extreme. The training is intense. Training pushes you to a point of wanting to quit. It forced each of us to expose the person we truly were. During this race, we had an up-current canoe section which was 15 miles, at 2 o’clock in the morning. It was 50 degrees with the wind howling at us. White caps kept breaking the bow of the canoe. Every time we stopped to take a break, the boats would lose ground and be blown back. After 2 hours of paddling, we realized we were only half way. Freezing and soaking wet, we all looked at each other and thought about quitting. Then one of our teammates brought up all the training we put in. I brought up the sacrifices we all made for this race. The time we all took away from our loved ones, the early morning workouts, the casual friend get-togethers we said no to and, of course, the expense of getting to the race. Before we knew it, we were all feeding off each other; and the idea of quitting was gone. We continued to paddle and moved up to third place. We spent so much time together in these adverse circumstances that building trust was inevitable. You need to show vulnerability if you want to build real trust. This trust exposes the deeper parts of who we are and allows your teammates to impact and motivate all aspects of your life. Think of the teams you have true trust with and the circumstances there. Are there new teams you have to commit to doing this with?
In today’s fast paced world, to be part of a team, you must invest time, energy, and the effort to truly understand what your teammates are thinking and feeling. Again, this is a commitment you are willing to invest in. Some relationships are based on past history (high school buddies or sports teammates), and some are newer ones that are created by a common goal or vision. Maybe you are on the same team with someone at work or your training group. What ever your context, you need to invest time and energy in the relationship. I met my buddy Eric when I was a grad assistant at Penn State. He is the kind of teammate who understands the person that lies deeper than the superficial layer that most see day to day. He can tell from my social media posts when I’ve hit a rough patch, and he will be the first one to call me and check on me. The right team will be there for energy, perspective and accountability. I consider Eric part of my honorary advisory board. Make a list right now; who is on yours?
Diversity of Thought
The balance of individuals is also another crucial area when establishing a team. Building a team that compliments your own strengths and weaknesses is key to success. We would never win 8 national soccer championships with 8 strong midfielders on our Indiana Men’s Soccer team. You may not be a Division I coach, but for you, diversity means being around people who think differently than you do. These teammates bring balance to your emotion or emotion to your logic. One of my “advisory board members” is Dave, who recently had to bring me back to reality. We were competing in a hundred-mile road race. I took off from the start line and dropped the hammer! About a mile in, my buddy Dave started yelling, “Slow down, it’s a long race!” Dave was right. It was my first time back riding this distance, and I would have sabotaged the entire day starting off like this. Luckily, Dave spoke some logic to my hot-headed racing emotion and we successfully finished a great event. If you are like me and you count on your team to make you stronger and smarter, be sure that they see things from a different lens than you do, but also know you well enough to hold you accountable and be honest with you.
This ingredient is so self-explanatory! Team is what lifts us up, what gives us strength, and a few words that make all the difference. I recently went kayaking with my wife. If you know me, you can envision me on a Belyak, which requires core strength I barely have. Our goal was to cross a 4-mile lake. It was midday, the sun was high overhead, and the heat was barreling down. I had just started paddling again and the thought of crossing this lake was overwhelming. My wife a seasoned paddler, and she convinced me it was possible. I started off slowly and began the voyage. We only made it half way across; I looked at her and said, “Look how far we still have to go.” I was exhausted! I questioned if we would ever reach the other side. She replied, “But look how far we have come.” I looked back and realized the shoreline was further behind than the shoreline in front of us. It was all the motivation I needed! Who on your team reminds you of how far you’ve come? If you don’t have someone to do this for you, be sure to develop the trusting relationship and invite them on your team. If you already have them, drop what you are doing and write them a short note to thank them.
Team will help you do things that you never thought were possible. The energy and hope a great team supplies allows us to reach goals that we may have never thought possible. It doesn’t matter if you’re an athlete competing in an individual sport like triathlon, a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, or just a guy trying to cross the lake on a Belyak. Team is essential for achievement. We will have times when we doubt ourselves and need encouragement. That encouragement could be others saying that they believe in us or giving us a different perspective on our current situation.
Surround yourself with people who will listen to you, who will give you a different perspective and encourage you to achieve your best. Go team!
INDIANA UNIVERSITY, 2005-PRESENT ASSISTANT ATHLETIC DIRECTOR OF ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE
LASALLE UNIVERSITY, 2004-2005 DIRECTOR OF ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE
PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIVERSITY, 2000-2003 ASSISTANT STRENGTH COACH
CONTACT: 814) 777-1575 , TJMORRIS@INDIANA.EDU, HTTP://TOMSTEAMCHARITY.ORG/