On Teamwork

I guess before I wrote about leadership in an earlier post I should have written about teamwork. Because if you aren’t a good team player, you will be a bad leader. Just my two cents.

Ike would agree. That’s why I posted his picture.

No man in history, with the exception of Marshal Zhukov, ever controlled a mightier military force. Surely General Eisenhower could have called his own shots, done what he wanted, right?

Actually, no. To study Ike’s history is to look at a long chain of compromises and coalition and team building exercises.

Put simply, General Eisenhower was a supreme team player and eventually a mighty commander. But on many occasions it almost ended badly. Look, I’m not going to talk about Eisenhower at length; I cite his example because it’s a good one.

A phrase from Army OCS. “Never ‘get married’ to your plan, because it isn’t your plan. It is the commander’s.”

What does that mean?

OK- this is very important to the discussion. Everyone has a boss. Even Eisenhower had a boss- Churchill and Roosevelt. Eisenhower may have been responsible for the development of Operation Overlord (the invasion of Europe 1944), but his bosses owned the plan. They could, and did, attempt to modify the plan. Churchill was particularly bad about this, and Eisenhower clashed with him.

Eisenhower knew, however, that his civilian bosses were responsible for strategy and political considerations, and that if they offered changes to Overlord that he could not tolerate, he could remove himself from the team.

This is teamwork, too. Letting the person in charge know they are about to screw up. Eisenhower mastered politeness and discretion, but he would bring his point across, especially when dealing with sensitive subordinates such as Charles de Gaulle, among others.

Eisenhower’s extensive staff developed Overlord, and Eisenhower himself reviewed it and approved the Operations Order (mil speak for plan). But Overlord itself belonged to the politicians, and they would have answered to the people of their countries for its failure.

Eisenhower would have gotten the sack too, of course. That’s part of being a leader and team player as well.

But he knew that his failure would be paid by thousands of his dead washing onto France’s shores.

Leaders and team players are accountable. Where there is no accountability, there is no team. When you let your end drop, everyone else pays as well.

Real leaders look their people in the eye and say, “This is on me, and I need your help to make our plan work.” The leader needs to invest his or her people in the job at hand; they need to place a value and a face on what is going to happen.

Teams work best in small groups; the military has long known this.

What do I mean.

OK, let’s think about our ancestors. They had fleas and were nomadic, they were capable of enormous work performed in bursts, and everyone was related somehow within the average group of thirty to fifty.

About platoon size, actually.

And within the group there were families and friends. Groups of about ten.

Squad size.

Within the family were couples and surviving children, there were two or so dominant voices.

Fire teams.

It is at the fire team level that people are the most comfortable. This is no accident. It’s how our deep social structures operate. So let’s translate this into teamwork.

I’ve been told that no-one should ever really be in charge of more than three to five people.

I believe this to be true. Teams need direction; they also need delegation. A leader who tries to control every member of his team controls NOTHING!

Trust your people! If you have done the right thing as a leader, your team will do the right thing, too. Everyone goes into something with a good attitude, usually. The leader and the team need to find what motivates each person and get them to do that thing that they are good at, that they enjoy.

Do you really think that our 2000x ancestor Og the Magnificent was particularly skilled at cave paintings? Probably not. But Og identified a need for drawings of aurochs with massive genitalia, so Og figured out who had the keenest eyesight and the ability to make the desired mural. No more than three people were involved; Og did not need to control every step of the process.

Og was an ur-leader. Even though there was no word for leadership or teamwork at the time, our ancestors figured it out and passed the basics down to us.

A team:

  1. is small
  2. is cohesive
  3. uses delegation
  4. understands the job at hand
  5. knows who is boss
  6. is trained or trainable
  7. is self-aware
  8. uses good-natured competition
  9. has a clear goal
  10. attacks bite-sized problems
  11. finishes the work
  12. values quality, takes pride and ownership.

These are the very basics, and I’m sure I’ve forgotten some stuff.

But I think you all get the idea.

A leader must FIRST be a successful follower, a team player. People will follow such leaders into the worst sorts of hell and emerge out the other side successful.

“Don’t get married to your plan. It’s not yours.”

No, the plan belongs to the team!

3 thoughts on “On Teamwork

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s