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Got a Star Trek Team?

May 25th, 2012 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

I was sitting in my inspirational place this afternoon, thinking about the nature of teams. Specifically, I was thinking about the crew of the Starship Enterprise. For me, the key members were (will be?) Kirk, Spock, Bones and Scotty. I know the other regulars were important, but when you boil it down, these are the core components of the Star Trek team. The way the characters are constructed by the writers is genius, I think. They all have different strengths. They balance each other out. They have a common purpose. They communicate with each other fully without hidden agendas. They don’t always get along, but that’s clearly a strength. Together, they accomplish far more than they would acting individually, combined.

I happened to get an email shortly after this meditation from my good friend Lou Tice about the four main characters in The Wizard of Oz, and how they operate as a team in that story. Another great example of how a team comes together and what it can accomplish.

Somewhere in your organization there is a team. Don’t be fooled — you have a team. They might have collected together like scraps of food in the kitchen drain strainer, but they are a team. It could be a management team, a department team, an inter-departmental team, a sales team, whatever. Just because they might not be operating as a team should doesn’t mean they are not a team. They have a common purpose: the success of the organization. If your “team” isn’t as spectacular as the Star Trek team or The Wizard of Oz team, you might start at this point in your analysis of their efficacy. Do they know what their common purpose is? Have you conveyed the specific desired results of this purpose to them? Do they have a voice in determining those specific desired results? Do you have a buy-in from every team member on the overall purpose and direction of the organization?

I’m a firm believer in win-win. I don’t think there is such a thing as win-lose or lose-win. I think it’s either win-win or lose-lose. For some individuals, the conditions for a personal “win” are just too expensive for the organization they are part of. This is not a good match. Either there must be a compromise, or it is best for the two to part ways. Conversely, if the organization is taking advantage of an individual — that match is not good either. If each individual within your team does not have a win-win relationship with the organization, you do not have a complete buy-in. I don’t care what people chant to themselves over and over again as they endure a bad match (“I need this paycheck … I need this paycheck … I need this paycheck …” or “He’s the best we can find … he’s the best we can find … he’s the best we can find …”), you do not have a complete buy-in. Never assume you have a buy-in. If you’re not sure, ask. “George, do we have your buy-in for this project?” Sounds simple, but the question just doesn’t get asked often enough. Sometimes just asking can secure the buy-in, because what the individual may be harboring is the hidden non-buy-in, and if they are asked to expose it, they can get past whatever is blocking it. It might not be what you suspect. It might be that they honestly oppose a project that they think is not the best option for the organization. And if they lay that out for you, you can say something like, “I understand your position. We disagree on this point. What I am asking you to do is put aside your opposition and give us your complete buy-in, or tell me what it will take to get that.” Kirk, Spock, Bones and Scotty did that all the time, though not in those words, and sometimes someone punched someone else during the exchange, but they worked through the disagreements to get to the common purpose.

The best team I was ever a part of was my little league team when I was in the fifth grade. I vividly remember everyone on that team. Each player had particular strengths. No one was a bench-warmer. For the players who didn’t have a high skill-level, our coach found or developed one or two particular skills in those players and then capitalized on them. No one played a single position. Everyone backed up at least one other position. The greatest accomplishment might have been that everyone felt like an integral part of the team. Everyone felt valued. I was one of the younger kids on the team, and I always felt welcomed and included and even protected by the older kids on the team. I really don’t know how the coach pulled it off so well, but I do remember him being very specific in his expectations. We lost our first game, 7-0. He didn’t make a big deal out of it. He affirmed our value, told us he believed in us, continued to stress fundamentals, and we won every other game the rest of the season, including beating the team that beat us in that first game in the league championship game at the end of the season.

It seems that it has become increasingly hard in our world to compensate individuals based on the value of their contribution to the organization and to simultaneously foster a constructive “team” atmosphere. It is a challenge, to be sure. It seems like we’re making it harder to be flexible in how we construct our teams and our organizations. Guess what? No one said being successful was going to be easy. To succeed, you have to be ready to fail. I encourage you to evaluate your organization, and groups within your organization, as a team. If you are one of the grunts, part of the team, I encourage you to evaluate your position within the team and what you bring to the team in terms of value. Just imagine: a world of teams just like the Enterprise crew. Wouldn’t that be interesting?

You really can’t ask for much more than for life to be interesting.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper