This week, has been a week I’ve been thinking hard about teams. Specifically, how do people get beyond their own individual motives to work with each other. Ironically, I ran across a June 2006 Fortune Magazine article on teams about a Wharton Business School student, Jim Vesterman, who signed up for the Marines.
Here’s a brief excerpt which describes one of his first duties in boot camp:
“It’s called ‘two sheets and a blanket.’ When the drill instructor begins counting, you’ve got three minutes to make the bed – hospital corners and the proverbial quarter bounce. When you’re done, you’re told to get back in a line. The goal is to have every bed in the platoon made. So I made my bed, then I stood on the line. I was pretty proud, because when three minutes were up, there weren’t more than ten men who had finished.
“‘Ahead of the pack,’ I thought. But the drill instructors weren’t congratulating us. Everyone’s bed had to be made. So rip off the sheets and do it again.
“I ripped off the sheets, made the bed, and stood on the line. ‘We’ve got all day to get this right,’ the drill instructors were saying, looking at all the unfinished beds. ‘Two sheets and a blanket!’
“I ripped off the sheets again, and again, and again. Finally one of the drill instructors looked me in the eye. ‘Your bunkmate isn’t done. What are you doing?’ I thought, ‘What am I doing?’ Standing on line, thinking I’d accomplished something, while my bunkmate struggled.
“Together my bunkmate and I made our beds about twice as fast as we did alone. Still, not everyone was finishing. Finally we realized, ‘Okay, when we’re done, we’ve got to go help the bed next to us, and the bed down from that,’ and so on.
“I went from thinking, ‘I’ll hand my bunkmate a pillow, but I’m not going to make the bed for him’ to making beds for anyone who needed help. That first lesson was an epiphany for me: You can’t survive in the Marine Corps without helping the guy next to you.” (Fortune Magazine, June 1, 2006, “From Wharton to War”)
We are most successful when we work within organizations which are founded on the belief that individual success can best be achieved when the group as a whole is successful. But it’s hard. Working on a team requires many things, first among them is trust, which is only built by acceding a bit of control to others. Second is empathy, which permits you to see beyond your own sphere into the hearts, desires and struggles of those around you. Third is persistence, in which you don’t crawl into yourself when the team is failing, but continue to work at bringing the team together towards the goal at hand.
True success is not about you coming in first. It’s about us all coming in first together.