The Sum Of All Teams

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” – Michael Jordan


“Seventeen of France’s 23 World Cup players are children of first-generation migrants,” Ishann Tharoor wrote in the piece reflecting on both the multicultural nature of the World Cup and the gap between perception and reality when it comes to how ‘European’ the final stages of the tournament actually is.

73% of the team is made up of players from backgrounds different to that of strictly French geography. And on July 15th 2018 they prevailed as one team, representing not just one, but many countries. Celebrating diversity, perseverance, grit and a bit of luck. The power of belonging has a beauty about it. It has the ability to strengthen where we have come from and at the same time transcend it. To remind ourselves that our heritage is African and we play in French colours has both a paradox and a unifying contextual narrative to it. Patrick Lencioni said ‘Not finance, not strategy, not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage. Both because it’s so powerful and so rare.”

When a leadership team has a deep and unifying identity the ability to run the game plan, remain agile, seek the greater good, strive for the best result, deal with obstacles, expect the best from yourself, and others. It’s like the moment you see a team member owning their position, for better or for worse. It’s humble eye contact, the nod seeking forgiveness, or saying thanks. It’s this leadership identity that binds us through and through and makes victory sweeter, and losses more digestible.

The power in leadership identity for teams has three connected principles.

Where dignity is practised. People are treated as equal and valuable.

Where ownership is expected. Where the mission of everyone is bigger than the mission of just one.

Where consistency is critical. We have clear behavioural expectations of one another.

Holding this together are two seemingly paradoxical pillars that leaders have to hold in tension. They are the willingness to submit and having permission to shine. World class teams have and hold both these commitments moving between them as required. At some point the team we’re IN becomes the defining boundary for my actions, then as if some membrane has been crossed there is equal time for each person to shine in their superpower, and shine they must. The art is knowing which to do and when. To truly know when it’s time to put your own agenda aside or when to step up and shine.

That is a true team sport. What does this sum add up to? It adds up to this; Identity creates intensity. When we share a common what, we can serve a common way. The alignment this develops becomes almost intuitive and hidden at times, particularly at elite levels.

In practical terms it works like this:

Dignity + Ownership = Respect

Ownership + Consistency = Engagement

Dignity + Ownership = Trust

Leading teams that win is about leading teams that respect one another and respect the privilege of the work they do. They engage with each other in the mission. They operate in trust. Best understood as the ‘belief that each others intentions are good’ (Attribution: Patrick Lencioni for the best definition of trust in the world) Leadership Identity creates team intensity. That’s the sum of the parts.

Are you a team player? Share with us your views and experiences in the comments section.