A real team is a group of people who leverage each other’s strengths, and overcome each other’s weaknesses, while working toward a common goal.
March Madness is close upon us. The number of teams and the intensity of the tournament itself are fantastic reminders of what a team really is. There are always pretournament favorites who lose early and a few Cinderella stories where a low-seeded team makes it to the final rounds. There is more at play here than simple talent, just as there is in successful lean journeys.
What is a team? I’ve asked people all over the world that question, and I always get the same answer: A team is a group of people working toward a common goal. That is only half of the answer-necessary but insufficient. A real team is a group of people who leverage each other’s strengths, overcome each other’s weaknesses, and are working toward a common goal. Without all three they are just a group of individuals, not a team.
There are always groups that play basketball beyond their on-paper talent, accomplishing more than anyone would expect. That is because as a team-not a group of individuals-they combine their talents. Each player does not need top-of-the-line talent, because each player knows how to leverage the individual strengths of the other players.
There is also a team that has tons of talent and is expected to walk through the tournament, but ultimately falls short of expectations. You might chalk it up to a bad day. Instead, maybe it was just a bunch of individuals going out to win, and not playing particularly well as a team.
What does it take to be team? First, know thyself. A core skill of lean is deeply understanding the current reality of the situation or process you are dealing with. Team members must know their own weaknesses, as well as each other’s strengths. Humility isn’t one of my strengths, but self-awareness is, and knowing my weaknesses allows me to benefit from the strengths of others.
The second component of becoming a team is being capable of rotating leadership. This is not about taking turns or giving everyone a chance-it is about leveraging strengths. Different people must be able to step up to the role when their particular strengths-perhaps safety or crisis management-are required.
Consider as an example a flock of geese. You will often see them migrating in a V-shaped pattern. This is to leverage the trailing wake of the lead bird. But if that bird stays in front the entire time, it will tire, lose speed and the flock becomes less efficient. The geese rotate this role spontaneously, without regard for the alpha in the group, and they can fly 71 percent farther with this changing leadership than without.
Last-but by no means least-a team does need that common goal. From a principle standpoint, we call this high agreement of both what and how. A team needs to have a high degree of agreement on what the goal, metric, tactic, or milestone is and what it means. The team also needs a high degree of agreement as to the how, the method, the process or the technique for achieving the goal. Both are necessary-neither is sufficient alone. This principle is defined as valuing a common way or process more than you value your own way. This definition is one thing that makes great teams so elusive. But knowing is the necessary first step in the right direction.
You’re part of a team. Do you know the strengths of each of your teammates? Are you aware of your own weaknesses? Do you ask for help when needed? Do you value a common way more than your own way? You can help your teammates become a better team by being a better teammate yourself.
Lean begins with you.
Jamie Flinchbaugh is a founder and partner of the Lean Learning Center in Novi, MI, and the co-author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean: Lessons from the Road.He shares his successful and varied experiences of lean transformation as a practitioner and leader through companies such as Chrysler and DTE Energy. He also has a wide range of practical experience in industrial operations, including production, maintenance, material control, product development and manufacturing engineering. Jamie is a graduate fellow of the Leaders for Manufacturing Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where his research thesis was on implementing lean manufacturing through factory design. He also holds a B.S. in Engineering from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA, and an M.S. in Engineering from the University of Michigan. To contact Jamie directly, go to the web site www.leanlearningcenter.com.