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Success Takes More than One Superstar

By Dan Bobinski

Last week we saw the third and final(?) retirement for basketball superstar Michael Jordan. After his unbelievable years in Chicago and bigger than life status on a phenomenal team, Jordan’s retirement with the Washington Wizards came after a losing game in a losing season on a team that couldn’t seem to find its rhythm.
It illustrates quite well that one superstar does not a team make.
Teamwork works. Although I’m not a big fan of acrostics (where each letter of a word is used to create a slogan or set of pithy statements), the acrostic for TEAM, Together Everyone Achieves More, carries a lot of weight. Another popular saying is “There’s no “I” in TEAM.” So true.
Whether on the court or in the workplace, teamwork means appreciating, valuing, and capitalizing on the contributions of each player. Teamwork also requires a willingness to adapt to the styles around us, so that we can communicate better and learn from each other.
Recently I conducted a teambuilding workshop for 22 middle managers in the northwest. One of the teaming activities created four “departments” within one “organization” comprised of the group of 22. Unfortunately, they just couldn’t see that they were all on the same team! They viewed themselves as being part of a department, complete with blaming other “departments” and denying the errors they made, even during the activity.
During the debrief, it was uncovered that departmental struggles are the norm at their work, where unintentional mistakes by one person are often seen as intentional by another, and departmental in-fighting is common. One manager proudly stated, “I don’t get mad, I get even.” I was glad to see his acknowledgement when it was pointed out that this kind of mindset prevents the benefits one gets by operating as a team.
Michael Jordan himself went through a period in his career where his ego was getting the best of him. It wasn’t until his coach approached him and pointed out the negative ripple-effect of Jordan’s attitude that Jordan came around to being a true team player.
As he moves back to the Wizards’ front office, Jordan says he plans on “finding players with desire, passion and a willingness to learn and be coached — even if they are considered marginal by the NBA's talent standards.”
Jordan has the right approach. If he finds players with a passion for working as a team, they can rise above otherwise debilitating obstacles. The same goes for workplace teams everywhere, but it is a slow road coming. Too many ambitious workplace “superstars” want the spotlight and the glory, even if their “team” doesn’t fare as well. Don’t get me wrong: We need superstars who rise above the norm, and people who will stretch the boundaries, taking us to new levels. But we also need superstars who recognize that without a fully functioning support team around them, their new levels may never occur.
It appears that Jordan has joined the ranks of other lifelong learners – learning from their mistakes, even if they’ve had great successes in their lives. What's the benefit? The Wizards, although disjointed and appearing ragtag, can be rekindled with the aid of Jordan’s new insights.

For those who will never earn $30 million on shoe endorsements, the truth of what Jordan has learned still applies: 1) Get a passion for working as a member of a team. 2) Value the differences. 3) Instead of criticizing differences, adapt your behavior to capitalize and build on them.

© 2003 Dan Bobinski / Leadership Development. Dan Bobinski is President of Leadership Development. He can be reached at (208) 375-7606 or by Email at dan@leadershipanswers.com.

NOTE: If you liked the principles espoused in this column, you will also enjoy an excerpt from Living Toad Free: Overcoming Resistance to Motivation
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