1-teamOne of the reasons I love that my two sons play organized sports is all of the lessons that come from it and the discussions I get to have with them as a result.

This spring my oldest son, Dylan, is playing soccer for a team in one of the top divisions in the state. At this level, every kid is big, fast, and game-smart, and the competition is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

Back in March his team played in the Nike Invitational Tournament in Chicago, which is loaded with top teams from all over the Midwest. Clearly, his coach wanted to get a feel for just how good the team was, as they hadn’t played together except for some sporadic indoor leagues over the winter.

Over the course of the weekend it was clear the Dylan’s team had a lot of talent. They had size and speed. They had physical players, finesse players and a great goalie. His team had everything required to field a competitive team at this level. And they lost every game that weekend, badly!

While it was clear they had a lot of talented players, it was also clear that each of these players was playing for themselves and not the player next to them. Each player made play after play based on their high level of skill and ability. Because they decided to work as individuals rather than as a team, they struggled game after game.

Dylan and I talked about this on the ride home, and I sensed his frustration. He couldn’t understand why his team, filled with so much talent, wasn’t successful. Through this discussion, he realized he didn’t really know his teammates very well, and that most of the players on the team only communicated with the two or three other kids they actually knew. There was no joking around either. There was only anger, frustration and blaming over who’s supposed to do what, or why something wasn’t happening.

I asked him what he planned to do over the next few weeks to get to know and like his team members. He paused for a moment and then it came to him. He was working so hard to prove that he fit in, he had forgotten the reason he was on the team. Dylan is a Leader, and his team badly needed one.

He’s always been the smallest kid on the field, and thanks to his mom and dad’s genetics probably always will be. While he is a talented player, and has extreme game awareness, it’s his energy and enthusiasm that are contagious for every team he’s ever played for. That energy seems to get kids around him to rally and work together. It also helps that he talks a lot (again genetics), so he is constantly communicating with the other players and giving vocal support and helping the team make corrections on the field.

At this level, every team has the talent and ability to succeed. The difference between winning and losing is so small that the only thing separating those that win and those that don’t is how the team utilizes that talent and how much the players care about the guys wearing the same uniforms playing along side them. Are they willing to sacrifice themselves and their own personal glory for their teammates? Are they willing to play together as a team?

These past few months, I noticed the guys started talking to each other on the field and sidelines. I could hear that they were no longer blaming others when mistakes were made. I heard only support and constructive feedback on various plays. I watched each of them start to bond with kids that were strangers a few weeks earlier. The most important thing I noticed was that they were all smiling again.

This past weekend they had three hard fought games against much better teams than they played in Chicago, and they won all three games. They now sit atop their division.

During the car ride home, I asked Dylan what changed and he laughed. He said they all know and like each other now, so it’s a lot easier to communicate on the field what they want to do. He also told me he enjoyed playing along side a certain player because they each knew that the other guy always had his back, and that allowed both of them to take some chances to help the team.

I noticed something else this past weekend. The boys looked like they were actually having fun.

Think about any successful team in sports or business. Very rarely do you find them not having fun. Do they work hard? Absolutely! Do they put in endless hours, you bet! Are they willing to sacrifice personal gain for the success of the team? Always!

At any level of business there is usually a lot of talent. How that talent works together and synergizes relationships is what makes the difference in successful teams and organizations.

You don’t have to be best friends with the people you work with. If you have good relationships with the people you work with, you’ll have a better chance of being a high performing team.

Consider the following:

Do you respect your team enough to communicate your needs in a constructive manner?

Can you make course corrections without blaming others?

Are you utilizing the talent you have, or placing your focus on what you don’t have?

Do you have one another’s back so you can take some calculated risks that can help your team succeed?

Are you having any fun in the workplace?

Or, are you still playing for yourself and your own personal glory?

If you don’t feel like you are part of a high performing team, what are you planning to do in the next few weeks to remedy the situation?

Thoughts for the week:

“Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, and small minds discuss people.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

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

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” – Henry Ford

“The strength of a team is each member. The strength of each member is the team.” – Phil Jackson

“No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it.” – H.E. Luccock

“Teamwork is the secret that makes common people achieve uncommon results.” – Ifeanyi Onuoha

“We must all hang together or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” – Ben Franklin

Looking forward to our next conversation