The concept of teams is not new. Although a “teaming” revival has been zinging around the globe for several decades now, the concept has been around since before men worked in teams to hunt mammoth.
Yet most teams today are nowhere near as effective as they could be. The reasons are many; lack of structure, lack of well-defined roles and responsibilities, and lack of communication, to name a few. But one reason overrides all the rest—a lack of passion.
Passion is strongest when it exudes from a natural source, such as identifying and working within your true vocation—that career for which you are best suited. The ancient Roman poet and author Virgil understood this when he wrote, "your profession is what you were put on earth to do with such passion and such intensity that it becomes spiritual in calling."
The passion levels of which Virgil speaks naturally give birth to deep levels of commitment, and commitment by individuals is necessary for teams to flourish. All it takes is one team player that’s not fully engaged and the entire team suffers. As it’s often said, “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”
One place where teams often flourish is in the military. For example, during a recent conversation with a decorated Vietnam veteran, I was reminded of the strong team cohesion that exists among members of a military unit.
My acquaintance told me that he misses the synergy and effectiveness of strong team commitments. Even though he now holds a prestigious executive position, his perception of most corporate leaders is that they are “egocentric and driven by their own lust for glory rather than for the goals of the companies they lead.”
He added that many department heads and other team leaders often suffer from the same problem.
My acquaintance’s perceptions brought back some vivid memories for me, personally. Non-cohesive teams were an eye-opening befuddlement I experienced upon my own release from active duty. Within a short time of becoming a civilian after my military experience, I became acutely aware that team commitment rarely existed in the civilian workplace. What was called “team” in my corporate experiences didn’t come close to the commitment and passion of the teamwork I experienced in the military.
If passion is missing in the workplace, it is not for lack of trying by some. Tom Peters, a prolific writer and oft-quoted management guru, jets around the globe trying to instill passion into the corporate world. In fact, the word “passion” is the very first word listed on the web page describing what Peters’ organization is all about, and he has written several books about the importance of passion in today’s workplace.
Interestingly, Peters is also a Vietnam veteran. One could ask if this is a coincidence, or is there a connection? My own belief is that a connection exists.
Effective military units are comprised of people fully committed to their purpose. Their commitment levels include the knowledge that they may die trying to accomplish their tasks. It only makes sense that commitment levels this intense spill over into other aspects of a person’s life.
Don’t misunderstand—this level of commitment is not restricted to military personnel or veterans. Similarly deep commitment levels stem from the strong passion of one’s calling. The point is that on teams, if just one person is not willing to invest their whole self into a project, the collective passion may be diminished and the ripple effects will play out accordingly.
It’s a fact of life that not everyone has a passion for their work. Perhaps people don’t know their true calling. Perhaps they don’t want to know. For these reasons, managers and leaders can have a tough time building passion-driven teams.
Can passion be taught? Can it be fostered? The answer is yes. The key is to clearly spell out the goals and objectives of the team, and then find ways to tie those objectives to each team member’s value system. People will perk up and be more invested when their personal values are connected to the task at hand.
Values—those hidden motivators that each person has—drive behavior. Therefore, anyone trying to build a passion-driven team will need to either learn about how different people are motivated, or identify and recruit people who have a pre-existing, deeply-held passion about the purpose of the team.
Neither task is easy. But that’s why passion-driven teams are so rare.