Make Your Team Better

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There’s a story about basketball’s Hall of Fame superstar, Magic Johnson, which may or may not be true. But it’s a great story anyway.

Supposedly, he was the star player on his team in high school and one of the best players at his age that anyone had ever seen. Naturally, he received a lot of praise for his ability to score points and make dazzling moves on the court. One day, his coach took him aside and said something along the lines of: “You’re a great player, and we can win a lot of games with you playing as great as you do. But we can win a lot more games, and a lot of championships if you use your abilities not just to play great yourself, but to help your teammates play their best, too.”

According to the story, Magic thought about that idea for a while and then nodded. “I can do that,” he said. And the rest is history.

The lesson Magic learned and took to heart is one that you can also put into practice. Here are some ways to make your team better:

Do Your Personal Best

While the emphasis in this column is on making your team better, never forget that the foundation of team success rests on everyone performing at their best. This includes you.

Making your team better is not about you backing off from delivering your best. It’s about changing the emphasis of what you do from trying for personal success to facilitating team success.

Be the Missing Piece of the Puzzle

Every team benefits from the contributions of each of its members, and functions at its best when those various contributions mesh together smoothly to provide all the necessary ingredients of success.

This creates the opportunity for you to make your team better by identifying where the team needs a bigger contribution, and by providing it.

This special contribution may not reflect your greatest strength, and may not give you the most pleasure. But if that contribution can help your team perform better, you may decide to put team results ahead of your personal agenda, and deliver it.

Build Team Spirit and Cohesion

Teams perform at their best when they know, like, and trust each other. This allows them to communicate effectively and intuitively so they can tightly coordinate their efforts in response to current opportunities or demands.

You can make your team better by demonstrating the power of putting the team before one’s own interests, of developing strong relationships with teammates, and of learning each other’s’ strengths, weaknesses, and preferences.

When team members know and trust your team spirit, they will begin to build trust between each other. The result will be a strong team spirit of togetherness, and an in-depth communication style that broadly maximizes team results.  

Practice Obligation and Accountability

Teams perform at their best when every team member feels obligated to deliver a top-notch performance. But this performance must be driven from within. Not surprisingly, a strong team spirit is part of the foundation for this kind of obligation and accountability.

The strongest teams grow comfortable holding each other accountable for their performance, demanding the best and working closely with each other to resolve difficulties or obstacles that may undermine a team member’s performance.

These behaviors don’t take hold unless team leadership explains them, demonstrates them, and encourages them as the team coalesces into a cohesive unit.

Develop Humility Within the Team

Teams perform better when everyone understands that success depends not on just a few superstars, but on all of its members.

Just as the engine of a car largely determines its performance, the contributions of key team members may largely propel the team to success. But even the most powerful engine will not move a car forward without the steady contributions of its wheels, gears, and other vital parts.

That’s why every successful team’s spirit and cohesion must include an explicit understanding that success springs from team performance, not from the extraordinary efforts of a few team members who are expected to simply carry the others along with them.

Certainly, teams benefit from gifted, charismatic leaders who inspire others to great heights of performance. But any team member can make their team better by contributing their best and helping others to understand what makes a team successful.

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