I am a Milwaukee Bucks Fan and they just won NBA Championship. It's the Bucks second championship in 50 years. After watching the games and listening to the post game interviews, one of the reasons they are so successful is they have a great team with great chemistry (and a greek freak). If they did not have the trust and chemistry, they would not have won the championship, they were not an NBA Superteam, just a group of guys who worked hard and believed in each other.
Watching the Bucks championship run and the post game interviews led me to think about teamwork in Information Technology (IT) and in my life. The 20 years of experience I have as a consultant and a manager has given me a unique perspective to witness some excellent teams and some very poor teams.
Have you thought about the best team or teams you have been on? What is the worst team or teams you have been apart of? In this blog I will discuss the best and worst teams that I have been on. I will also discuss what makes a good team and teammates vs a bad team or teammates.
Teamwork in Sports
Growing up, I participated in 3 sports, football basketball and track and this was my first taste of a good team vs a bad team.
This is something I do not talk about very often. Basketball was my favorite sport growing up. I spent hours shooting hoops and going to basketball camps, the best camp being at UW Stevens Point. I also participated in numerous 3 on 3 tournament's, which was a big thing in the nineties. In high school, my freshman and sophomore years I played on good teams with great teamwork. My junior and senior year, they were bad teams with bad teamwork.
The basketball team I was on during my freshman year had a good coach and he stressed teamwork and working together. He also did a great job of rotating players. He built a culture of success. A single game stands out where one of the point guards on the team kept shooting. (It didn't help his mom said Shannon shoot almost every time he had the ball). After the game on the bus ride home we vocally suggested that if someone would pass the ball to open players, the outcome of the game might have been different (he did not hit a lot of shots that night and the offense we ran worked best when the guard would pass the ball). He got the message and after that he generally passed the ball. I just remember that we generally enjoyed the game and had fun together. We also did not care about our individual stats as long as the game was won. If I remember correctly we went 10-4 that season. It has a fun group of guys and we always had fun in practice and the bus rides home. Like I said the coach developed a team that was 10 players deep and did a great job of making sure everyone had play time.
I had the same experience during my sophomore year until I broke a bone in my foot. The coach was not as good as my freshman coach (I have stories about the sophomore coach, but those are best told over a cold brew). Anyway, we also had a winning team. It was with different players from freshman year, but we had fun and trusted each other. The coach also developed a rotation that played 10 players, not 5 or 6. By developing all 10 players, we run teams who only played 5 or 6 into the ground. It also allowed him the ability to swap players if someone had an off night or if someone was hurt. We also had a winning record that year and the coach took us out for pizza in a big city near the small town were I grew up. While the coach was interesting, I will say that he set the foundation for success by pushing us and the drills he had us participate in. We also bonded over some of the crazy stuff we saw him do.
That leads to my Junior and Senior years, the team did not win and did not work well together. The primary reason had to do with the coach. He had some great talent in the prior years that in my opinion had the ability to make it to the state championship. That coach did not believe in developing his bench and his rotation was only 6 or 7 players deep. Once he got deep into the playoffs the teams with the deep bench would always beat him. He also made adjustments very late and only trusted a few players to shoot the ball, if someone he did not like or trust would shoot the ball, he would bench him. This coach also had a son who he moved up to the varsity team as a freshman. His son was not ready for varsity, but since he was coach's son, it didn't matter. That created mis-trust among the team, that combined with that fact the coach never really provided advice on how to improve and made adjustments late, the team had a losing season and it was not a lot of fun. It was obvious to most that the coach cared primarily about his son and getting his son the stats he needed. Had this coach focused on team and team work, he would have had much more success.
The coach who was the leader set the culture of the team. It was a poor culture and the team did not support each other. If you kissed the right butt, you had the playing time you needed, if not it was riding the pine.
It did teach me a life lesson that you can't always trust the leader to do the right thing. That hard work does pay off and don't expect everyone to notice or acknowledge hard work, other factors such as if you are in the in crowd or if you kiss the ring, that is what will get you ahead. If you recognize you are in that situation, keep working hard and if you can get out of that situation, get out as soon as possible.
This experience taught me how to recognize favoritism and life is not always fair and sometimes hard work does not pay off. It also taught me a lesson on what not to do. Finally, it taught me grit to be mentally tough, which I think is important. You are going to have a difficult path sometimes, it keeps you humble and you learn much more than if everything was easy or handed to you.
Another great team experience was in track. We had a great coach who encouraged us and truly cared. It did not matter what your last name was or if you were a teachers kid, you were treated the same. He also had the ability to find the an event in track for everyone, even those that were not the most athletic. He also offered incentives if you broke a school record (A porterhouse steak at a fancy steak house). I did hold a school record with my brother in the 3200 meter relay, but he broke it a year later and that record still stands today. Everyone on the track team got along well and provided support and encouragement to each other. The coach was a good role model, he was a volunteer fire fighter and was a big part of the small community I grew up in. If I had to break it down, he took an interest in everyone he coached, did not play favorites, was a community leader and held those he coached to a high standard.
TeamWork in Business
After college,I had my next experience of a bad team. I was hired to build white box computers with a small company (which is no longer in business). I was part of a department of two people with a manager, they had mostly sales professionals at the time. The manager put all of the computer parts in front of me and told me to build the computer. I had never done that before, so it was a steep learning curve. I was lucky because the other computer tech was a very nice and generous person and took me under his wing and showed me the ropes. The manager did not like the computer tech and attempted to undermine him. The manager was not a very happy man and took his anger and took his anger out on others. His form of teaching/leading was yelling or undermining others. Eventually, he fired the computer tech as he was jealous or worried that the tech would expose his lack of knowledge. I did not last much longer. His belief in teamwork was to listen to him and if you did not you got yelled at. He also like to create a wedge between people so they did not trust each other. It was an overall bad experience and a prime example of poor leadership and teamwork.
The best team I have ever been apart of was during my time at IKON Office Solutions. I had multiple mentors and very supportive team. I was 22 at the time and I looked like I was 18. I had many clients initially wonder if I was qualified to work in there environments due to how young I looked at the time. My managers and sales professionals always had my back and I proved to the clients I was qualified. I also had very smart senior engineers around me and they were not afraid to share the knowledge they had, which was rare among network and systems engineers.
I had two awesome bosses/mentors (I spoke about this in a past blog) that showed me the ropes on being a good consultant. I also had a boss that pushed me to become a better writer and provide better documentation, which proved to be valuable when I started my own business. My other boss was highly experienced in IT networking and IT security. He taught me a lot about Firewalls, DNS, routing/switching. He also taught me how to look at system/problem strategically.
If someone was experiencing a problem at a client, we would all pitch in or take a phone call from another engineer. Most people did not have an agenda and going to work each day was exciting.
What made this team so good? Having great leaders that cared about the team members they worked with and truly worked hard at creating a good company culture. They also did a great job of hiring, very few jerks or unmotivated individuals got hired, if they did, they did not last very long. They also had a great incentive program that took teamwork into account. Even if you hit your bonus, if your team didn't you got penalized. Having good senior engineers who were willing to show the ropes to the junior engineers was also very helpful.
Most people enjoyed hanging out together after work and we still get together from time to time. When IKON downsized everyone, I believe 5 or 6 of us started a business, which points to how strong this team really was. In fact, I still work with some of the members from this team.
I hope I get another experience like this before I retire.
What Makes a Great Team
What makes a great team is one that listens and is supportive. You can call anyone for help and they do not tell you it is not there problem or call someone else. They also do not have an agenda. What I mean by that is they only call you when they need you or are trying to push an agenda they want you to buy in or assist with. If you call them for help, if it does not fit the agenda, they are unwilling to help. A great team takes risks. Risk is sticking your neck out or doing something beyond their job description because it is the right thing to do, not the politicly correct thing to do. A great team helps other departments if they ask for help even if the other department should have that skillset. Members of a great team care less about who is right or who came up with the idea, they care more about solving the problem or working together at solving the problem. Great teams have a culture that drives out jerks and people who are lazy, they don't tolerate it. A great team does not avoid problems or complain about them. A great team tackles the problem and takes action.
Great teams generally have a great leader that listens to those they manage/supervises and resolves conflicts. That leader does not take the spotlight or only work with high profile people to make him/her look good, they delegate that team member who should be doing the work. They also check in with all of their team members, to make sure that they have everything they need. They also make sure they position the people they manage and lead to be successful at the current job and make sure they are developing the skills for the future. Finally the leader is responsible along with the leaders in his department to promote great teamwork and a great culture. If the leaders don't establish a great culture and promote teamwork, the culture will be rotten and the team will be rotten. Finally great teams are honest with each other, if they see an issue they call it out right away and don't let it fester or become a cancer.
A great team will have positive energy that makes you want to be part of. It makes the work day fun.
Bad teams have negative energy and interacting with other members of your team is exhausting.
During my days as a consultant I had the rare opportunity to witness many different teams from vendors, clients and business groups I joined. What I noticed with a great team is that they had a leader who cared and developed a culture of success. They made sure they build good relationships with those around them and showed general interest in people. They listen and address issues/problems and hold everyone accountable.
The bad teams also had a bad culture, the business leader or vendor was selfish and only cared about what was in it for them. They use people to get what they need have no interest in developing a relationship once they have what they need. They also do not clearly communicate what they want/need which leads to confusion. They also do not hold people accountable, which leads to distrust and people questioning the business leaders leadership skills.
During my time running a business my initial attempt at leadership and teamwork was a fail. I did not value relationships, I thought it was more about technical skill and getting work done. I quickly learned that you have to work at building a team and a culture and generally that comes from the leaders of the business/department/team you are on.
My point, is if you are a leader, make sure you devote time to team building. Take time to find out how your team members are doing, not just when you need something. Promote events after work were everyone can get to know each other, with Covid-19 this might be a virtual happy hour or doing something outdoors. If you see someone who is not a team player, you need to work with them and let them know there behavior is not acceptable.
Thanks to my wife for proof reading this post, I guess I am still learning how to be a great writer and her teamwork helps to make sure I don't sound like a fool.