My first Chicago Bears game was perfect. Snow fell in big, fat flakes. The air was cold enough to see each breath across our lips. With scarves wrapped around our necks and Hot Hands stuffed into our boots, Craig and I nestled high in the stands of Soldier Field, peering across thousands of fans braving the January afternoon. Something fortuitous was in the air.
When we experience a connection with an entity larger than ourselves, it feels magical. That connection to place, culture, or idea is hard to replicate in isolation, which is why collaboration is so special. Yes, we can achieve personal goals when we set priorities and forge bravely ahead, but we never accomplish as much alone as we do inside a powerful team. The structure of those teams may vary greatly: families, neighborhoods, colleagues, or sports teams, but what doesn’t seem to vary are the ingredients for team magic. For every great team I’ve been lucky to join, these ingredients were key.
Ingredient 1: Compliment the Complements
In the words of author Tom Rath, “Although individuals need not be well-rounded, teams should be.” A great team includes people who have strengths that we don’t have. It includes voices that present the world in a way that varies from our personal lens. We benefit by nurturing the people who challenge our impressions and ask for insight in the quiet spaces. If not, we end up spending too much time debating the same ideas in the same ways. This groupthink phenomenon is less about how similar we are as people and more about how similar we allow our group contribution to become. So, when we’re looking for a way to boost our team, let’s compliment the way we complement each other.
Ingredient 2: Discover What’s Under the Surface
“The world is satisfied with words. Few care to dive beneath the surface.” French philosopher Blaise Pascal is challenging us to dig. And where better to dig than to discover what our teammates have to offer? Spending time focusing on the talents and life experiences of teammates establishes respect for each person’s contribution. That means getting social and taking a real interest in each other’s hobbies & thought bubbles. Bring the coffee lover a special blend. Send the chef an interesting recipe. Share a song that matches the musician’s vibe. Noticing the particulars of our teammates says “I see you” and makes the work we do together more enjoyable and more productive.
Ingredient 3: Call it on the Carpet.
“That which a team does not want to discuss, it most needs to discuss.” (Paul Gibbons) Sometimes we need a good shove. Nudges that push us away from the edge of indecision and toward a plan. We’ve all found in ourselves in the “what do we do” social dilemma, back and forth chats about where to eat or which movie to see inevitably leaving everyone in the group frustrated because no one wants to make a decision. What would happen if we were more direct? Can stating our opinions actually be a sign of love and respect for the group? I think so.
Ingredient 4: Be a Force of Love.
“Just as the wave cannot exist for itself, but is ever a part of the heaving nature of the ocean, so must I never live my life for itself, but always in the experience which is going on around me.” (Albert Schweitzer) It’s easy to be negative. It’s easy to find fault with moments, mistakes, and those who make them. But whenever I remember the times when those on my teams (family, friends, co-workers) have been gracious and understanding with my own moments & mistakes, I’m reassured that it can be done. Being a “force of love” doesn’t mean we lower our standards or stop caring about the little things. Being a “force of love” does not equate to being a doormat. It just means that we feel empathy for the struggles of others and we recognize that living our best selves is a daily challenge. We forgive & see beyond the immediate. We stretch and take a breath.
We may not be able to enjoy our teams, even our home teams, the way we always have right now. But the spirit is there. And the spirit is the most important ingredient. Together, we’ve got it all.